He was born in Dallas, Texas, but New Mexicans proudly claim Michael Martin Murphey as one of their own. His musical journey spans more than half a century. He has thrilled and entertained us with vocals, guitar, banjo, piano, harmonica and mandolin. His hits include "Wildfire" and "What's Forever For" and countless others, and his original songs have been recorded by the Monkees, Kenny Rogers, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Denver, Hoyt Axton, Johnny Cash, Tracy Byrd, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Dolly Parton, Johnny Rivers and Billy Ray Cyrus to name a few.
In 1990 Murphey returned to one of his first loves, cowboy music. His "Cowboy Songs Vol. 1" was so popular and highly regarded that Warner Brothers Records created an entire imprint called Warner Western. Murphey founded a Western cultural festival called Westfest, a celebration of American Western showmanship, culture, lifestyle and scholarship. He expanded his genres again in 2009 with the Grammy-nominated "Buckaroo Blue Grass." That project -- and two subsequent releases, "Buckaroo Blue Grass II" and "Tall Grass & Cool Water" -- topped the Bluegrass charts.
This summer, Murphey's Rocking 3M Chuckwagon Amphitheater has partnered with Texas Red's Steakhouse for its 10th anniversary, with a series of outdoor concerts (a tented venue is on-site in case of rain) featuring Texas Red's brisket and cowboy food and the legendary music of Murphey and his band. There will be dinner concerts throughout the months of July and August and into September.
We caught up with the ever-busy Murphey long enough to ask a few questions.
How have you been keeping yourself sane, healthy and creatively stoked during the 18-month quarantine?
I turned to internet broadcasting, creative writing and composing, classical and jazz guitar music lessons, health and business pursuits I could accomplish at home in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado -- by Facebook live, YouTube live, Zoom and Pro Tools Recording at home. I actually made an album of all-original songs written and performed with my son, Ryan Murphey during 2020 and the first half of 2021.
I also concentrated on fitness outdoors and indoors (when raining) on a daily basis -- walking, hiking, Nordic skiing and stationary bike. We grew a garden that provided more than half the vegetables and herbs we consumed. We ate at home. I worked hard with my attorney to recapture a large part of my song and recording catalogue. We started offering my music directly to people who like my music by email. No more gatekeepers! I also launched an online series called the Lone Cowboy Hour which focused on one person and one instrument, sharing songs.
Tell us about these Chuckwagon concerts -- what's the experience like for you and for the attendees, and how does it feel to be doing live music again?
Our Rocking 3M Chuckwagon Amphitheater offers "brisket, beans, bread and ballads" in a spectacular mountain setting by a lake surrounded by tall pines. This year is our 10th anniversary. Collaborating band members are Gary Roller on bass, Ryan Murphey on guitar and mandolin and Carin Mari on guitar. We all love playing together again. We're presenting new music this summer, so it's a positive, challenging learning experience for all of us.
Tell us about the venue, the food and the ambience.
The venue is rustic log construction that fits the old log and wood-siding cabins that contain our kitchen, restrooms and service equipment. The outdoor stage is in front of one of the ponds and has the mountainside as the background. It's a perfect environment for relaxed enjoyment. We have a tent to cover the audience when it rains, but we are under the stars most nights. Our food is Western-style smoked brisket, ranch beans, coleslaw, cornbread with cobbler for dessert. We serve coffee, spring water and fizzy drinks. The "ambience" is like going back to a ranch-style summer camp in your childhood. We are a family-friendly venue. Families can walk along the ponds, look in teepees and even fish if they bring their equipment.
New Mexicans claim you as their own. How did you come to make New Mexico your home?
I moved to New Mexico from Colorado because I loved the culture. Also, I have vacationed in the towns of Red River, Taos and Santa Fe since childhood. It's always felt like home there. Today I divide my time between Texas, Colorado and New Mexico -- and all of those places feel like home, but New Mexico is the most mystical of those places. I'm an outdoorsman and a nature poet, so you can imagine the inspiration I get while in New Mexico
What new projects are in the works? What are you looking forward to?
My new album is "Road Beyond the View." It is a duet album with Michael Martin Murphey and Ryan Murphey. We sing and play all the songs (which we wrote together) using only guitars. The acoustic and electric bass player is Howard Hudiburg of Seguin, Texas. The drummer/percussionist is John Hammond of Nashville, Tennessee. The album is full of American Southwest imagery, with an emphasis on New Mexico. The cover is by Taos artist Ed Sandoval. The photography on the album is by Taos artist Bill Curry. The album is released on the Wildfire Productions label, available at first at my concert venues beginning June 24th, then released digitally, on CD and vinyl over the summer and fall.
I'm currently working on a set of songs about American wild places to be released late next year. I'm also looking forward to serving as the Honorary Chair of the Bicentennial of the Santa Fe Trail, which was opened up by Mexico to American traders in 1821. William Becknell made the first legal trading trip from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, 1821, and returned to Franklin, Missouri, in 1822. He went to Santa Fe by way of Taos. Taos always played a vital role in the Santa Fe Trail trade. It really should have been called the Taos/Santa Fe Trail.
And finally, anything you want to talk about that we've left out?
I think that about covers everything.