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Michael Martin Murphey

In many ways, Michael Martin Murphey has the career that Michael Nesmith of the Monkees -- with whom Murphey performed early in both of their careers -- might have had if he had never been picked for the NBC series. A guitarist/songwriter, Murphey led the country-rock group the Lewis & Clarke Expedition in the mid- to late '60s 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." For a time he was known as the Cosmic Cowboy after one of his early songs. Murphey moved to Liberty Records in the early '80s and later jumped to Warner Bros., where his interest in cowboy and Native American subjects led to the foundation of the Warner Western imprint, a subsidiary label devoted to cowboy music and poetry.

Murphey was born in Dallas, TX, and quickly took to playing the ukulele. He had a special love for cowboy stories and songs and also read avidly as a boy -- especially the work of Mark Twain and William Faulkner -- and was writing poetry before he was in his teens. He began performing as an amateur while in junior high school and within a few years was playing the clubs around Dallas in the early '60s, combining country, folk, and rock music. Somehow, despite the inherently conservative nature of all of those audiences, Murphey made it work, and he formed a band with a decent following in the area around Dallas. He studied poetry and writing at the University of California, and soon after arriving in the Golden State he was signed up as a songwriter with Sparrow Music. By 1964, he was a popular figure in the folk clubs around Los Angeles and had formed up with three likeminded musicians, Nesmith, John London, and John Raines, under the name the Trinity River Boys, who recorded one never-to-be-released album before disbanding.

In 1967, Murphey formed the Lewis & Clarke Expedition with Owen Castleman (aka Boomer Clarke). This group recorded one self-titled album for the Colgems label -- not coincidentally, the label for which the Monkees, of whom Nesmith was a member, recorded -- and got a moderate hit out of the single "I Feel Good (I Feel Bad)." It was around this time that the Monkees recorded Murphey's "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?"

Murphey left Los Angeles in 1968 to take up residence in the San Gabriel Mountains, where his songwriting blossomed anew. He was signed to Screen Gems (the publishing arm of Columbia Pictures, which also owned Colgems) as a songwriter, and with the exposure that he received from this association, wrote songs recorded by Flatt & Scruggs and Bobbie Gentry. It was Kenny Rogers who gave Murphey his best showcase as a songwriter, however, by cutting an entire album, The Ballad of Calico, comprised of songs Murphey had written about a Mojave Desert ghost town.

Back in Texas, in the Austin area, during the early '70s, he resumed his singer/songwriter career and fell in with Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, and B.W. Stevenson. He also put together a new band that specialized in country-rock and folk-rock. In 1971, he was signed to his first solo recording contract on A&M Records, and his first album, Geronimo's Cadillac (1972), yielded a modest hit in the title song, which was covered by several other artists, including Hoyt Axton, and also taken up as an anthem by Native American civil rights activists. A second album, Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir, was well received critically and also a modest hit in the Austin area.

In 1974, Murphey moved to Epic Records, a division of Columbia, and recorded the first of six albums, Michael Murphey, that same year. It was his second album, Blue Sky - Night Thunder, recorded in 1975, however, that marked Murphey's commercial breakthrough. He had first heard the story about a ghost horse rescuing people on the desert when he was a boy, from his grandfather, and Murphey dreamed of something similar one night as an adult and set it down to music and words in half an hour that same evening. The resulting song, "Wildfire," got to number three on the pop charts in 1975 and became Murphey's first gold record. Another song off of the same album, "Carolina in the Pines," also made the Top 30.

He saw more success with Swans Against the Sun -- which included his first country chart hit, "A Mansion on the Hill" and "Flowing Free Forever," both in 1976. "Cherokee Fiddle" off of that album was a modestly successful single for Murphey, but six years later Johnny Lee brought it into the Top Ten and into the movie Urban Cowboy. Up until 1981, he'd been known as Michael Murphey, but that year he began making a series of film acting appearances, starting with Gus Trikonis' Take This Job and Shove It, and began using his middle name in films and on albums, as a way of distinguishing himself from the actor Michael Murphy (Manhattan).

In 1982, Murphey signed a recording contract with Liberty Records, which yielded two original albums, Michael Martin Murphey and The Heart Never Lies, as well as a best-of -- made up of superb re-recordings of his A&M and Epic hits as well as his original Liberty hits "Still Taking Chances," "Love Affairs," "Don't Count the Rainy Days," "Will It Be Love," and "Radio Land," the latter a sort of country-flavored equivalent to "American Pie." By that time he'd been voted Best New Male Vocalist of the year 1983 by the American Country Music Association. Additionally, his re-recording of "Carolina in the Pines" rose to the country Top Ten 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 Five with "A Face in the Crowd," recorded with Holly Dunn, and then reached the number one spot with "A Long Line of Love." Murphey's singles chart success slackened off after 1989 with "Never Givin' Up on Love," which had been used in the Clint Eastwood film Pink Cadillac that same year.

It was after this that Murphey returned to one of the first loves of his life, cowboy music. In 1990, he cut an album, Cowboy Songs, made up of traditional and well-known popular songs from the genre, including "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." That record uncovered a niche waiting to be filled, selling several times more than any of Murphey's other Warner Bros. releases. That success, in turn, led the label to establish its Warner Western imprint, which, in addition to Murphey (who also produces a lot of the work), has also recorded the harmony group the Sons of the San Joachin, veteran singing cowboy Herb Jeffries, and poet Waddie Mitchell.

Murphey has since recorded a number of additional albums featuring Western songs. Cowboy Songs III (1993) features a duet with the late Marty Robbins, no doubt inspired by the success of Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable" duet with her own father -- using a voice track recorded by Robbins in 1960 -- on the song "Big Iron." In 1996, Murphey released a live album on which he is backed by a full orchestra. He has also organized a series of annual celebrations of the American West, called West Fest, which he stages in various Western states. Cowboy Songs 4 appeared in 1998 and several collections followed. In summer 2002, his storytelling continued on Cowboy Classics: Playing Favorites II. Buckaroo Blue Grass appeared in 2009 from Rural Rhythm Records, followed by Cowboy Classics: Old West Cowboy Collection later that same year. Lone Cowboy, a solo live set recorded at the Western Jubilee Warehouse in Colorado Springs, appeared early in 2010. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

gjbrownutah
I saw MMM at a outdoor show in Orem Utah. Great entertainer and a refreshingly open conservative Christian. Wonderful family show! Cowboy music is good fun.
jimlong3169
John Denver Is a Great Entertainer, but He can't hold a candle to MMM ! This is a truly One of a Kind Master of Cowboy/Weste r n Music ! Geronimo's cadalic makes the hair on my neck tingle, other very true to life story-songs are his specialty . He also displays an abiding respect for our real pioneers & Cowmen that is sincere ! Good Listening for All Generations & a great way to learn something of the Real History of the west !
harveycarmen
I first saw M.M.M.at Copper Mountain West Fest, in the 80's, I think , and realized how much of his music I loved. We were never introduced but he pulled me up from my seat on the ground right in front of the stage and we danced, making me a lifelong fan. When they played Wildfire in that setting at C. Mt. it was sooo amazing. I have lots of pictures of the occasion and when I look at them or hear his music it takes right back to C. Mt. and Toas, N.M. Thanks for the memories. Great guy!
One of my all time favorite songs.
@Jon Wailin - if "Wildfire," is any indication, I would say MM has it hands down and he doesn't sound like the kind of guy who would imitate anyone. Certainly John Denver least of all. John Denver was a country pop artist with the emphasis on Pop. Michael Murphy is the real deal, read his Bio!!!!###!!
Haven't heard this song in ages. Forgot how poignant and haunting it was . As a matter of fact, when the intro came on, I said to my son, "OMG, I love this song!" Then I realized what song it was and actually stopped doing what I was working on and sat down and LISTENED. Great song, great memories, and GREAT artist who I understand is politically active in the cause of Native Americans--- w h a t a wonderful package.
Anyone with a heart for animals has soul!
I would love to have just the music to this song......fa b u l o u s !
I met him at the Cowboy Christmas Ball in Rock Springs Wyoming around 1999.
T2 LOVES THIS SONG
bpinkston680 2
I have met Michael Martin Murphey at my Cowboy Christmas Ball , he would sing there every two nights or maybe one or three nights on Thursday , Friday, and Saturday of December close to the 30th of December is when we have the Cowboy ball at Anson,Tx . That's where I live , every single person from a state would cone to my little town to come dance and also see MM and I believe Michael has good country songs :)
Just want Pandora to know that when Michael Murphey's Wildfire plays, the lyrics to Janis Ian's Truth at Seventeen are displayed. How do I get this notice to the powers-that- b e in order for them to correct it ??
I wish Pandora could include more of Michael Murphy's older albums, in particular Cosmic Cowboy
Met MMM in Taos, NM in the '80s and he was very gracious. Enjoyed many of his shows at the Sagebrush Inn and after each show he joined the audience and visited until the hotel manager said it was time to go. Great songwriter/m u s i c i a n . Super nice guy, also.
I have been a MMM fan since Wildfire and over the years have seen him in smaller venues where he was very personable with the audience. He even did a concert at a local ballfield with his mother in the audience. I live in the Midwest where he's owned a ranch. Locally active doing some great concerts in awesome settings. Have a lot of respect for him at this time of his career. Hope we all mellow this well.
jfunk260
I met him when Wildfire became a hit and he was one of the rudest stars I met. He expected special treatment and was an a**. I met lots of stars where I worked at the time and they all treated the staff great except this one.
rev.hawley
Michael, you need to tour with the singles that were so beautifu and loved by so many of us. Blessings, Jon
Only a handful of artists took a shot at being John Denver soundalikes. Of that group, MMM was the best.
c.park250
I have always loved Wildfire because of its haunting musical and visual effect
chrisjohnleo
Talking about hard to find, my favorite MM album was Peaks and Valleys, Honkytonks & Alleys. This was a studio set on one side and a semi- or completely live set on the other. It has my favorite example of how touching and insightful writing can portray a character completely : Once a Drifter. Great song, wonderful artist !
We moved to San Antonio in '88, and happened on an outdoor concert in a parking lot alongside the Bluebonnet Palace in Selma, where Michael M Murphey as performing. We knew of MMM from living in Austin and Houston previously, so we knew of his music. This night, there was a stunning lightning storm out to the West, as a background for the stage. It made an incredible, memorable night, musically and visually.
I love his music. I enjoy his song writing & how it hits the heart of true feelings.
like this guy
mikestyp4
love this song
I was in the studio audience one night at The Tonight Show when John Denver was the guest host for Johnny Carson and his guests were MMM and Glen Campbell. The three had never formally met and the show turned into a big story-tellin g jam session. We named our new puppy Murphey with the 'e' in tribute to Michael. Still have my Blue Sky... and Geronimo's Cadillac LPs. Great memories.
I miss the West Fests...and MMM sure has the gift for storytelling .
diamondsonri s e
Michael Martin Murphy touches those who listen with a heart that longs for something true, honorable, and durable in time when those values are often hidden, rather than lifted.
pjh226
I hunt second hand book and music stores and I find quite a few old mmm albums in good shape. I have gone on a personal mission to rescue them. I especially like the old vinyls. Lone Wolf is one of mmm's great but mostly forgotten albums. Be sure to catch his Christmas concert if you can.
Could someone please explain to me why it seems to be impossible to find a copy of Michael Murphey's "Swans against the Sun" album? I have found some awesome websites that help you find long lost music and you can download songs from relitavely unknown or forgotton artists but this album is -so far- only available on E-bay for $62 as a collectible. It seems there must be some feud over the rights or something. Why can't I just download it from I-Tunes or Amazon as an MP3 file or other? Thanks fo
I totoally love every song the he has performed... h i s talent is rare...
One of the first albums that I bought, great artist.
he still has me DISENCHANTED .
klmstevens
Love his music, and have almost every CD. Still working on getting all of them. I first heard his music about 10 yrs.(I think) ago while visiting in Sedona, Arizona. I immediately bought the CD and have continued to follow his music. I especially love the cowboy songs. Linda
mstex3d
Where might be "Alleys of Austin" from about 1974?
Is it as gone as the Armadillo?.. .
Aaahhh...Tho s e were the days.....

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