Michael Martin Murphey Puts His Cowboy Boots in Bluegrass
Michael Martin Murphey wondered how he would be accepted in bluegrass circles when he released 'Buckaroo Blue Grass' in 2008. The Texas-born singer/songwriter is not wondering anymore. The album was nominated for a Grammy for best bluegrass recording and the follow-up, 'Buckaroo Blue Grass II,' has just been released.
Michael's original concept was to cover some of his songs that had already been covered by bluegrass bands. Artists including Flatt and Scruggs, the Seldom Scene, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver and the Country Gentlemen have recorded his familiar tunes, including 'Carolina in the Pines,' 'Dancing in the Meadow' and 'Fiddlin' Man,' so Michael knew those songs would work in the bluegrass world.
While those particular tunes don't stray too far from classic bluegrass subject matter, a look at the new album offers a few surprises. First there's a duet with Carrie Hassler on Michael's classic pop-country hit, 'Wildfire.' There's another duet, with bluegrass veteran Audie Blaylock, on decidedly non-bluegrass artist Marty Robbins' 'Running Gun.' And an even further surprise inclusion is an early MMM hit, 'Cosmic Cowboy,' which was a phrase used to describe the group of musicians who lived in and worked out of Austin, Texas, in the 1970s. The references to skinny dippin', burial grounds, guitar licks and a harvest moon in the lyrics really aren't that out of place in bluegrass music.
"Cowboy music and bluegrass music are really not all that far apart," Michael tells The Boot. "I've always used some of the bluegrass musicians on my cowboy albums, so they were already familiar with me and my music, so that wasn't a big stretch either."
Michael's son, Ryan, was once again at the producer's helm, working out arrangements and hiring musicians who would ensure that the sound was authentic. The album was recorded live, meaning the vocalist and musicians were all in the studio together recording the songs. It made for some interesting sessions during the course of the recordings.
"When we got ready to do 'Cosmic Cowboy,' Ryan wanted musician Charlie Cushman to play a double speed banjo solo on top of a country rock beat like Bernie Leadon did on the Jackson Browne song, 'Take It Easy.' Cushman said 'I don't know if this will work' and then he played it like you would play a really fast bluegrass song over a rock beat. It turned out great."
Michael says that working with Ryan is like paradise for him in the studio. "I love just going in there and singing and let everybody play Ryan's arrangements. I don't think I can remember once saying during a session 'I think we should do it this way.' We had talked it all out in advance, what instruments we should use on different breaks and songs, and when we went in the studio it was all done the way I heard it. It's been great turning over the reins to him; I think he knows what to do now better than I do."
Michael adds that he thinks the Grammy nod was a validation of Ryan's ability as a producer as much as it was a vote for him as an artist. "You don't get a Grammy nomination because you're somebody's son," he points out. "It validated that he's a really good producer because NARAS voters are very critical about how an album sounds. I was thrilled for him about the nomination, even more so than for myself."
'Buckaroo Blue Grass II' is available on Rural Rhythm Records. Michael recently performed at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, and is heading out on his winter/spring tour, with bookings in Arizona and Colorado through March.