Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


MURPHEY, Michael Martin

(b 13 March 1945, Dallas TX) Contemporary western singer, songwriter, guitarist and actor. He grew up on a rich heritage of western folklore, and sang cowboy songs at gatherings around campfires at Sky Ranch, Lewisville TX. He formed the Texas Twosome in high school, blended country, folk and rock music in coffee houses and clubs around Texas; joined Steve Fromholz in forming the Dallas County Jug Band; moved to California to study poetry and writing at UCLA. He signed as songwriter with Sparrow Music; performed at local folk clubs; teamed up with Michael Nesmith, John London and John Raines as the Trinity River Boys; recorded an unreleased album for a small record label. He formed the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Owen 'Boomer' Castleman, recorded I Feel Good, I Feel Bad for Colgems: the title song was a top 60 pop single '67; he signed to Screen Gems publishing.

Murphey has written more than 400 songs, some recorded by Roger Miller, Bobbie Gentry, the Monkees etc; wrote 22 songs about a ghost town and The Ballad Of Calico was turned into a concept album by Kenny Rogers '71. He moved back to Texas and settled in Austin playing in various bands or as a solo act; signed to A&M as Michael Murphey he scored his biggest hit with 'Geronimo's Cadillac' '72, followed by 'Cosmic Cowboy', creating a 'Cosmic Cowboy' style that blended western ideals with contemporary country-rock. On stage during this period he was at the center of the 'redneck rock' movement with Willie Nelson and others as Austin began to take the music back from the Nashville 'countrypolitan' style. He moved on to Epic '74 and to Denver where he recorded Blue Sky -- Night Thunder '75; singles 'Wildfire' and 'Carolina In The Pines' were pop hits. He made his first impact on country charts with 'A Mansion On The Hill' '76 but it was another six years before he made a real breakthrough with no.1 'What's Forever For' '82; more country hits followed on Liberty, EMI-America and WB including a second no.1 'A Long Line Of Love' '87. His 'Cherokee Fiddle' was revived by Johnny Lee '82 and featured in the film Urban Cowboy.

He began using his middle name to avoid confusion with actor Michael Murphy; appeared in films Take This Job And Shove It and Hard Country, the latter based on his screenplay. He concentrated on the roots of western music in the 1980s, songs of the cowboy in the '90s; inspired by the old Wild West shows of the past he launched West Fest, a three-day festival of Western Americana with major country stars, with Native American dancers, singers and craftspeople; initially staged in New Mexico but spread to festivals in Colorado, Texas and California; a new label Warner-Western was formed to market and promote cowboy music including several prominent cowboy acts such as Don Edwards, Waddie Mitchell, Red Steagall, etc. Murphey released cowboy albums and undertook concerts, occasionally with local symphony orchestras.

Albums included Geronimo's Cadillac '72 and Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir '73 on A&M; Michael Murphey '74, Swans Against The Sun '75, Flowing Free Forever '76, Lone Wolf '78, Peaks, Valleys, Honky Tonks And Alleys '79 all on Epic; Michael Martin Murphey '82 and The Heart Never Lies '83 on Liberty; Tonight We Ride '86, Americana '88 and Land Of Enchantment '89 on WB; Cowboy Songs '90, Cowboy Christmas and Cowboy Songs II '91, Cowboy Songs III -- Rhymes Of The Renegades '93, American Horses '94, Sagebrush Symphony '96 all on Warner-Western.

He was still at it in the new century: Lone Cowboy and Campfire On The Road were solo albums on Plectrafone, recorded live at the Western Jubilee Warehouse Theatre in Colorado Springs.