Navigate / search

Michael Martin Murphey’s career

Michael Martin Murphey performs a soundcheck at the 2017 Symphony in the Flint Hills. Murphey joined the Kansas City Symphony for a night of country and classical. (Photo by Hannah Roberts)

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey performed at the 2017 Symphony in the Flint Hills as the featured guest artist alongside the Kansas City Symphony. The Texas-native, where his pioneer ancestors settled in 1858, has a four-decade career of over 35 albums. Here are some highlights:

  • While in California in the mid-to-late 60s, where he studied creative writing at UCLA, Murphey led the country-rock group the Lewis & Clarke Expedition. One song he wrote, “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?,” was recorded by the Monkees.
  • Disillusioned with the Southern California music scene, Murphey left Los Angeles in 1968 to take up residence in the San Gabriel Mountains. Kenny Rogers gave Murphey his best showcase as a songwriter at the time by recording an entire album, “The Ballad of Calico,” comprised of songs Murphey had written about a Mojave Desert ghost town.
  • Back in the Austin, Texas area during the early ’70s, he fell in with Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson and B.W. Stevenson as part of the Outlaw country movement.
  • In 1971, he was signed to his first solo recording contract on A&M Records. His first album, “Geronimo’s Cadillac” (1972), yielded a hit in the title song.
  • A second album, “Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir,” was well received critically and a hit in the Austin area, leading to a new moniker for Murphey “The Cosmic Cowboy.”
  • It was his second album, “Blue Sky – Night Thunder,” that marked Murphey’s commercial breakthrough. He had first heard the story as a child of a ghost horse rescuing people in the desert, and he dreamed of something similar one night as an adult. He set it down to music and lyrics the same evening. The resulting song, “Wildfire,” got to number three on the pop charts in 1975 and became Murphey’s first gold record.
  • He saw more success with “Swans Against the Sun,” which included his first country chart hit, “A Mansion on the Hill.”
  • In 1983, Murphey was voted Best New Male Vocalist of the year by the American Country Music Association.
  • It was after this that Murphey fully returned to one of the first loves of his life: cowboy music. In 1990, he recorded “Cowboy Songs,” made up of traditional and popular songs from the genre, including “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” That record stumbled on a niche waiting to be filled, selling several times more than any of Murphey’s other Warner Bros. releases.
  • Murphey has since recorded a number of additional albums focused on Western songs.

— Andrew Linnabary