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Michael Martin Murphy
American country singer, Michael Martin Murphey is not only a great performer but has also made name as a song writer. In the mid-to-late '60s he led the country-rock group the Lewis & Clarke Expedition and had some pop success, and even got one song, What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?, recorded by the Monkees (with Nesmith singing lead, natch).
His songs were cut by the likes of Flatt & Scruggs, Kenny Rogers, Roger Miller, and Bobbie Gentry, and he eventually began recording for A&M Records, and later for Epic Records, where he enjoyed a huge pop hit in the 1970s with Wildfire. He was also associated with the outlaw country movement. Today he is one of the most highly regarded recording artists in all of country music.
Born on 14 March 1945 in Dallas, Texas, Murphey moved to California after high school where he played guitar with the pop group The Lewis and Clark Expedition and attended the University of California, Los Angeles. Murphey was anxious to work his way into the music business as a singer and songwriter. In 1967, he formed the Lewis & Clarke Expedition with Owen Castleman (aka Boomer Clarke). This group recorded one self-titled album and got a moderate hit out of the single, I Feel Good (I Feel Bad). His big break came through Mike Nesmith, an old friend from Texas. Nesmith, himself a folk-rock singer, had landed a job with The Monkees, an enormously popular television pop group. At Nesmith's request, Murphey wrote a song for a Monkees album--What Am I Doing Hangin' Round--and the album sold some five million copies. The success of that song earned Murphey a song publishing contract with Screen Gems. He penned a few more numbers for The Monkees but soon became disenchanted with the Los Angeles scene.
In 1971 Murphey returned to Texas and became an active member of the so-called outlaw movement there. During this period he performed a number of times at the Armadillo World Headquarters. He played and sang, mixing such genres as country, rock, and folk, and was often on the bill with other maverick performers such as Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker. One of his best-known songs from this period is Geronimo's Cadillac, a forceful plea for Indian rights that became an unofficial anthem for the Indian movement in the early 1970s.
In 1975 Wildfire became a Number One pop hit, Murphey's first. The singer had another charted pop release the following year with Carolina in the Pines. Murphey's success in the pop format was fleeting, mainly because he preferred to sing and write country music. By 1979 he was living in New Mexico and creating songs based on country, rock, Spanish, Indian, and western styles. By the mid-1980s he was a regular on the country charts, with hits such as What's Forever For, What She Wants, and Don't Count the Rainy Days.
The American Country Music Association named him 1983's best new male vocalist of the year. His rerecording of Carolina in the Pines rose to the country Top 10 in 1985, outperforming the original Epic version. In 1985, Murphey moved to Warner Bros. records, making his debut on the label with Tonight We Ride. A year later he got to the country Top 5 with A Face in the Crowd, recorded with Holly Dunn, and then reached No. 1 with A Long Line of Love. His chart success slackened after 1989 with Never Givin' Up on Love, from the Clint Eastwood film Pink Cadillac that same year.
His next album Cowboy Songs was released in late in 1990 and was not expected to be a commercial success, since there hadn't been a recording of authentic cowboy music in more than two decades. Even Murphey was reluctant to release singles or make music videos based on the project. He reconsidered this decision, however, and the first single, Cowboy Logic, became a hit.
The song helped to sell the album, which performed far better than expected. The album earned the praises of country and folk music critics nationwide. The album certainly reflects an ongoing interest in Murphey's case--the artist has long been a champion of the western wilderness and its creatures. In 1986 he founded an annual festival, WestFest, celebrating western art and culture, and he has been almost single-handedly responsible for resurrecting the cowboy's image in Nashville.
Murphey demonstrates his musical ambitions on 1995's Sagebrush Symphony, recorded with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra. In 1998, following his departure from Warner Bros. Records, Murphey started his own record label. Murphey performed Wildfire on Letterman's The Late Show on May 22, 2007.