june 2009

TheBluegrassSpecial.Com Interview

Michael Martin Murphey

From Cosmic Cowboy To The Buckaroo of Blue Grass

What a long, strange trip it's been for Michael Martin Murphey, cowboy poet, honest-to-God rancher, friend of the farmer, and common-sense conservationist

By David McGee

Michael Martin Murpehy

In Texas in 1970 there emerged a solid class of new artists who were rejecting (not totally, but in large part) what the country mainstream was offering. One of those setting the pace in Austin was Dallas-born Michael Murphey (who later used his full name, Michael Martin Murphey, to distinguish him from the actor Michael Murphey), who was less an outsider than an insider with a saboteur's instincts. He didn't reject the establishment so much as figure out a way to maneuver within its framework while playing by rules partly of his own making. He wasn't merely testing the waters; he knew the waters well, having learned the nature of their ebb and flow at an early age. He was on the coffeehouse circuit, playing original material, by the time he was in high school and before going solo in his senior year performed with his friends Owen "Boomer" Castleman and Bob Jacobs in The Lost River Trio. By the time he was 18 he had his own TV show in Dallas.

Matriculating first to North Texas State College and then to UCLA in Westwood, California, Murphey continued writing and performing while studying classical literature, medieval and renaissance history and literature, poetry and creative writing. He started making a name for himself in the folk clubs, and in 1964 signed a songwriting contract with the publishing concern Sparrow Music. Another venture with Castleman ensued, this a band called New Survivors, whose other members were a bass player named John London, who had played on James Taylor's debut album, and another aspiring singer-songwriter named Michael Nesmith, who would find success not as a New Survivor but as a member of The Monkees (who recorded a catchy version of the Murphey-Castleman-penned "What Am I Doing Hangin' Aound?"). The New Survivors recorded one unreleased album, disbanded, and Murphey and Castleman then formed a duo, Travis & Boomer, which begat the Texas Twosome, who were joined by a third member, on banjo, a formidable instrumentalist named John McEuen, who became a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and remains a tireless champion of acoustic roots music.

It was in another duo with Castleman, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, that Murphey began to find not only a distinctive voice as a songwriter, but a mission as well, that being to fuse country, folk and pop and add to the blend the lore and poetry of the old west, whose history had been one of the passions of his life, dating back to childhood years spent riding horses on his grandfather's and uncle's ranches, and his lifelong love of the land and the people who work it. As a youth he had absorbed his family's tall tales about the cowboys, Native Americans and the notorious characters and great deeds in old west history, and not least of all, was enchanted by the cowboy songs his relatives sang to him. Out of this came a strong social conscience and a deep, abiding love of the land and nature, all of which informed his original material. After one unsuccessful album, though, the Lewis & Clark Expedition disbanded, Castleman going his way, Murphey retreating with his new bride (Diana Palmer, formerly a secretary to Beatles manager Brian Epstein) to a bungalow in the picturesque mountains above the Mojave Desert.

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"Indian Reservation"
Like he was: In 1967, Murph formed the "Lewis & Clarke Expedition" with Owen (Boomer) Castleman. The group recorded one self-titled album for Colgems Records, producing a modest hit in "I Feel Good (I Feel Bad)." This is the original version of the song later covered by Paul Revere & the Raiders, who took it to #1 in 1971. What you don't hear on the Raiders' great version that is present here: the verses sung in Cherokee, and a decidedly seething attitude as the song progresses.

The young man came down from the mountain in 1970 and moved to Austin, where he became one of the most popular artists in a burgeoning and fertile music scene that featured a raft of gifted singer-songwriter types working the Austin-San Antonio-Houston club circuit (notable among the venues of choice were the Armadillo World Headquarters, the Id and the 11th Door [Austin] and the Old Quarter, Sand Mountain and the Jester [Houston]), including Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, the mercurial Townes Van Zandt, and bringing up the rear, a younger guard that included Houston-born Rodney Crowell, and Steve Earle. Murphey was referred to by the locals as the "Cosmic Cowboy," and legend has it that a then-strait-laced Willie Nelson caught one of Murphy's shows at the Armadillo and was inspired to toss out his conservative suits, and let his hair and his beard grow.

But Murphey and the others weren't about looking the part of outsiders. They were about asserting a fresh view of country music. "When I went back to Texas and Austin in the '70s, everyone was pretty much listening to rock' n' roll; but my idea, along with Willie, Waylon, and others, was to revive the songwriting ballad tradition of Texas and reconnect it to cowboy music," Murphey recalled in an interview with The Performing Songwriter magazine. "My music had been influenced by rock' n' roll and pop music, too, as well as the modern country music of the day, but I couldn't get around the Western theme—it was all about loving the culture of my Texas roots. We were the hip, turned-on people of the time, but trying to salute tradition. This is what made Texas music different than anything else that was going on because nothing else saluted tradition. Everybody else was trying to do something far out, and Texans were trying to reconnect with their roots in a turned-on way."

In 1972 Murphey made a splash with his first album on A&M, Geronimo's Cadillac. The title track (a Top 40 hit, peaking at #37), which referenced the ill-treatment of Native Americans throughout U.S. history, brought considerable media attention Murphey's way and as a result, a greater awareness among music fans nationwide of the fertile new scene in east Texas. It also led him, descendant of Irish freedom fighters, full-bore into activist causes on behalf of Native American tribes, a commitment to which he has never abandoned. Written as a protest song after Murphey saw a photograph taken of the Chief being paraded in a Cadillac convertible, the least of "Geronimo's Cadillac"'s achievements was its ascension into the Top 40; in 1974 it was used at the occupation of Wounded Knee (resulting in Murph being placed, to his great satisfaction, on the FBI's "watch" list) and resulted in him being adopted into the Lakota Nation by the Dull Knife Family, by request of medicine man, Guy Dull Knife.

Handsome and literate to boot, he came to embody the image of the new breed of artist coming out of the Lone Star State, his public persona sealed by the title of his second album, 1973's Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir. Three years later, Murphey, now on the Epic label, hit it big with "Wildfire," a story song inspired by tales of ghost horses Murphey had heard in his youth. The single was a smash, reaching #3 on the pop charts and dominating radio playlists coast to coast. Ultimately its success hurt Murphey critically, as the song's soft pop arrangement, triumphant, catchy chorus, and Murphey's clear, soaring tenor voice disguised the mystical nature of the tale he was telling; in the late '70s, when his pop career was foundering, he began doing solo shows, accompanying himself on guitar and piano, and in this stark setting, "Wildfire" took on a new gravitas, when it could be heard for the eerie invocation that it was. Moreover, Murphey's band at the time included musicians who were coming to his country music steeped in jazz; the melding of those influences evoked the spirit and style of one of his Texas musical heroes, Bob Wills, and proved to have a deep influence on succeeding generations of stylistically eclectic country bands, with members of both Alabama and Lonestar tipping their hats to him for the sound he fashioned and from which they drew inspiration for hugely successful careers.

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Like he was: Murph live on The Midnight Special, 1976. In 1975 "Wildfire" had been a #3 pop hit, and had topped the Adult Contemporary chart.

After leaving Epic and wandering unsigned for a couple of years, Murph returned to the major label game as a Capitol artist, and could not stop having hits, with songs he had written and with well-crafted tunes by other top-drawer songwriters such as Jesse Winchester (Murph's version of Winchester's wry "I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl" was a #3 single in 1987) and Rafe Van Hoy (whose winsome ballad, "What's Forever For?" Murph took to #1 in 1981). Although he was becoming the poster boy for the critically derided infusion of softer pop influences into mainstream country, Murph went his own way, resolutely so. Even as he was dominating the airwaves and the charts, though, he was sewing the seeds of the artist he's become. In 1985, he performed with the New Mexico Symphony in a concept show he titled, "A Night in the American West," the first in what became literally hundreds of performances with American and Canadian symphonies. In his interviews and other public pronouncements, he invariably directed the conversation into social issues, such as the plight of the American farmer, the destruction of the Plains, the treatment of Native Americans, and made clear his love of the cowboy life and ethos. In 1987 he was no longer simply talking a good game, he was playing it too: he founded a Western cultural festival, WestFest, which started in Colorado and expanded to other states; and in 1989 he put his career on the line by insisting on recording an entire album of cowboys songs. Warner Bros., his label at the time, demurred-basically told him he had lost his mind—but then cut a deal with him to back the record if he would take on the marketing and promotion himself. Cowboy Logic, the album, was released in 1990, and fans flocked to his finely crafted arrangements of beloved cowboy standards such as "The Streets of Laredo" and especially to his folksy original treatise on the cowboy way, "Cowboy Logic," which became a hit single. Cowboy Logic reignited interest in cowboy music—or, as Murph believes, spoke to Americans' inherent love of the cowboy song and cowboy singers—and was received with enthusiasm by the press (the Chicago Tribune's Jack Hurst opined that it "raises a cult musical genre to the level of mainstream art") and public both. A custom label, Warner Western, was formed, and Murph stayed on a path he has never left. Cowboy Songs has become a cottage industry, with five volumes so far and a sixth due this fall. He is a working rancher and horseman who has until recently divided his time between the Bobcat Cabin Ranch in Red River, New Mexico, and the Little Ranch On the Prairie in Viroqua, Wisconsin (both part of his Rocking 3M Ranching operation), but he's now leaving Wisconsin and settling in Colorado. Not to overlook the most important part of his legacy, he is the father of six children, two sons and four daughters (and one granddaughter), all of whom are either outdoors or artistic (or both) types, with solid achievements already to their credit in their various pursuits.

Murph's been singing about all kinds of freedom for a long time, from the ghost horse Wildfire running free to himself, on a strong mount, on a wide plain in the sun, at large and unfettered on the land. He is strong in all his convictions, and studied, too. As his online bio notes: "He's never allowed anyone to look down their nose at the culture of the outdoorsman, farmer and rancher. He's been a strong advocate for the study, preservation, and respect of American culture—especially the elements that the world loves about Americans: individualism, outdoor adventure, Cowboys, Indians, and the songwriting traditions of popular and roots American Music. He is a witness for Christianity as a faith and philosophy of life, with respect for other world religions."

In this issue we pay tribute to the monumental contribution Murph has made to this country's music, culture and sense of itself. His new album on the Rural Rhythm label, Buckaroo Blue Grass, provides the springboard for such reflection as it features bluegrass versions of popular songs he's penned over the years, some of which he's recorded ("Carolina In the Pines"), others made popular by other artists (including a festive bluegrass treatment of the aforementioned Monkees recording of "What Am I Doing Hangin' Around"), with a stellar cast of musicians backing him (Sam Bush, Rob Ickes, Charlie Cushman, Andy Leftwich, Ronnie McCoury, Pat Flynn, Craig Nelson, Mike Stidolph, Clay Rines, Matt Wilkes, David Davidson, bluegrass royalty Rhonda Vincent adding harmony on "Lost River," with his son Ryan on guitar and producing). It also includes a new song, "Lone Cowboy," that summarizes his personal code, and reprises the stirring "Close To The Land (America's Heartland Theme)," from his 2007 album, Heartland Cowboy: Cowboy Songs Vol. 5, a celebration of the unflagging work ethic of family farmers, and especially of the sine qua non of the equation: the women who "can back up a trailer and run a Bobcat," a theme he takes up again on that album on "The Wheel Comes Around," making Murph the only high-profile artist out there acknowledging the distaff side's contribution of mind, muscle and heart "from sunup to sundown" in keeping the land fruitful and food on our plates.

His buddy John McEuen pretty much nailed it when it comes to explaining the mystery of Murph's art. It should be evident to anyone who casts a discerning eye on the man's odyssey lo these past 40-plus years, but in a nutshell McEuen says it all:

"Michael is with music, the way James A. Michener is with his writing. If he wants to write about the desert, he'll stick himself in the desert until he comes out with a song. If it's about the mountains, he'll go to his cabin outside of Taos. He has a propensity for living his music."

From the Cosmic Cowboy to the Buckaroo of Blue Grass, Michael Martin Murphey has always been the real deal. Saddle up and ride, folks. We've a long way to go.

Michael Martin Murphey


How was this album born? Where did the idea for it come from?

Michael Martin Murphey: It was my idea.

And did you envision it from the start as a kind of overview of a certain type of song you had been writing over the years?

Murph: Here's what happened. I had been doing cowboy music since 1989, but when I go up on stage to play a cowboy show, people want to hear material from my old albums. So the first half of the show would be pop and country hits and album cuts that were popular; the second half of the show would be purely cowboy music. I noticed that the cowboy music end of it towards the end of the first portion of the show was inching towards the more traditional country stuff I had done, and bluegrass stuff—people were asking for "Boy From the Country," "What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round," "Lost River," because in cowboy music you do a lot more acoustic. There's not a lot of electric band stuff in cowboy music; it's more like what bluegrass players play-it's acoustic. So the audience was requesting this stuff and I noticed that the first half of my set list now looks like practically a bluegrass band show, or a traditional country music show, and the second half about a third of the cowboy music is heavily influenced by bluegrass. So maybe I should try a hybrid of the two. My agent books a lot of the best bluegrass bands in the country, and I keep up with bluegrass; what's been happening since satellite radio came along is some bluegrass channels where you can hear the wide range of material being presented by bluegrass bands. But the stations are able to go back and be retro, and about every seven cuts they'll play the Seldom Scene, or the Bluegrass Cardinals, or the Country Gentleman. Well, those are all bands that recorded my songs. So I'm listening to the bluegrass channel and every once in awhile I hear one of my tunes. Cowboy music doesn't have a lot of airplay; you have to really look for the record; you have to really want it to get it. Or get it streamed over the Internet; we don't have our own channel on satellite like bluegrass does. So I said, "I think I'm gonna come up with a cowboy's take on bluegrass." Arguably that may have been what I've been doing all along. So I called it Buckaroo Blue Grass, and I went back over all my albums and found the obvious things, like "Carolina In the Pines," "Lost River," "What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round," "Fiddlin' Man," that came right to mind. I had asked my son to produce it, and when we were picking material he said, "Dad, we got enough material here that's bluegrass-based to do three albums." So we're doing the second one right now, and it's again all retro except for one or two new songs, back to the old material. I'm so happy with the way this came out, so I'm using the same guys pretty much in the studio on this second album. But I'm also coming out with a cowboy album that's all cowboy songs, in October; it's not a Buckaroo Blue Grass series record; it doesn't get into any other subject matter but cowboy, but it uses the same players as Buckaroo Blue Grass. I'm just having a great time, because now I'm getting to play bluegrass festivals, getting invited to play at Return to the Roots in Owensboro, and I notice that since I did this album I'm getting a lot more attention out of WSM because I've been on the Grand Ole Opry a lot more. WSM in Nashville has been playing a couple of cuts off the album, and that station's the torchbearer for keeping all the different subgenres of country music alive.

I just want to say it was not a business move, it was a from-the-heart move. It's something I've always wanted to do; it's the first album I've ever made that has no drums on it; it's all acoustic, there's not one electric instrument on it. I picked the guys, though, that had done a great job on my cowboy albums to come and do their bluegrass thing. I've used Pat Flynn, Sam Bush, Craig Nelson, all those guys, Ryan, my son, I've used them on probably 90 percent of the cowboy recordings I've done.

"America's Heartland"
"She ain't got a thing to prove/She simply does what she must do/from early morning 'til the sun goes down"
Michael Martin Murphey performing "America's Heartland" (from the albums Buckaroo Blue Grass and Cowboy Songs, Vol. 5), a song that honors his mother and his wife, and the under-acknowledged contributions of female ranchers, performed at a Lone Cowboy Campfire Concert. Unionville, MO, October 19, 2008.

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If anyone were to think this was a business move, they should listen to the two new songs, which are two of your best songs ever, and strike me as two of the most personal songs you've ever written—"Lone Cowboy," the first cut, and "Close To the Land (America's Heartland)," the final track, which closed your Heartland Cowboy: Cowboy Songs Vol. 5 album from 2007.

Murph: Yeah, they're personal. "Close To the Land" is more about my family, although the second verse, which is about women working on a ranch, is about my grandmother and my wife, both women who can run farm equipment and back trailers. But "Lone Cowboy" comes from the fact that four years ago I turned sixty and I said, "You know, what I really remember best about my beginnings is getting in a vehicle or on a train and taking my guitar with me, just going down the highway, playing gigs by myself." I loved those days. So I wondered if it would be possible to do that again, and everybody was saying, "Oh, man, you can't go out without a road manager, you're sixty years old. You can't make all those drives by yourself." I said, "You know, I'm gonna test myself and see if I can do it." So I started going back and doing solo acoustic tours and doing it all by myself, traveling by myself, doing my own road managing, standing behind the table and selling my CDs, running the credit card machine, tearing down at the end of the night, loading everything in, and you know it got me in the best shape musically and physically that I've ever been in in my life. I didn't need to go to the gym anymore. Loading in, loading out every day it put me in front of the microphone and in back of the microphone to look at what the sound it, and also just gave me the ultimate seminar in independence. I've always been fascinated by solo performers anyway; I've always been a fan of guys like Leo Kottke, George Winston, Buffy St. Marie, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, some of these people who can get up there and perform solo. I've also been fascinated with comedians who can get up there by themselves-some of the Blue Collar Comedy guys are some of the most brilliant comedians I've ever seen and they play to stadiums. Where the rubber meets the road on that is Steve Martin, who as a musician and a comedian can get up there as a one-man show and play to 20,000 people. I thought to myself, Solo performing doesn't get the credit. People think you have to show up with a band. But you came to a lot of stuff I did solo acoustic. Back in those days, when we were in Tulsa, there wasn't very much of it. If you had a hit record, all the promoters wanted you to show up with a band. But I would play western art museums and folk music clubs, and everybody would say, "Don't do it! You're running your career down." That looks like you can't afford a band. Well it's not about affording a band-I still have a band, I still do fifty percent of my touring with a band. The biggest tour of the year I do is with a full band. The first time I tried it I bought a brand-new mega-cab pickup truck and travel trailer. I put a GPS on it, I got the Bluetooth phone and I felt like I was in an airplane cockpit. I'd go into real backwater places in Montana and up in the mountains, where I could play a gig and ride horses for two or three days, buy horses, visit ranches. There's all these venues back in there that are under the radar-chuck wagon shows and little county fairs, places where they can't afford to hire Brooks & Dunn or even Michael Martin Murphey and his band, but they can afford to hire you solo acoustic. I worked for the Pendleton Roundup, I worked for the Spirit of the West rodeo over in Washington state, the fifth largest rodeo in the nation and it gives all its money to scholarships for kids in the 4-H, so they don't really hire big-name entertainment that costs a whole lot of money and they do solo acoustic shows, and everybody goes to that. Then they have a local band to play for the dance. All of a sudden, man, I was in that VFW world, and I was in that little county fair world, playing around campfires at horse sales, lovin' it—ovin' it! It was back to Woody Guthrie. After three years of doing that I wrote "Lone Cowboy."

Speaking of "Close To the Land," there are not many western songs that reference the role of women in that culture. You said you were writing about your family, but you've made a larger point about something that's often obscured in this history and almost completely ignored in song, that being the important role women played and continue to play in that world.

Murph: Yeah, it was intentional to put that in. Wyoming was the first state to give women the vote; it wasn't Massachusetts or New York, it was Wyoming. Why is that? There's a line in the song, "She ain't got a thing to prove/she simply does what she must do/from early morning until the sun goes down." My grandmother was not a feminist—none of the women of that generation thought of themselves as feminists—but they had gone through World War II, like my mom, and when the men were gone to war, even in the city, the women basically propped this nation up. I think that's the real roots of valid feminism, the World War II women in America, and in Russia, who stepped up and ran the manufacturing lines while the male mechanics were gone, and proved what they could do. But ranch people and farm people have known this all along—you cannot have a ranch without teamwork. A woman cannot sit around watching soap operas, eating chocolates and going to the shopping mall on a ranch or on a farm; that won't work. They do physical labor. My grandfather never thought a thing about asking my grandmother to get out and run the tractor when he was sick. He didn't ask her to do it when he wasn't sick, but, parenthetically, a lot of women liked it so much that they actually said, "Hey, let me do it." My wife is like that. I have to drag Karen out of the pickup and off the tractor, and my girls are the same way. I'm really glad I was in Wisconsin for awhile. It may be living up there that caused me to write that song the way I did. Up there these farm families milk cows—it's a team, 50/50. Women run the home, manage the home and do all this other stuff, and that's what that song is about. But I'm not saying it to be politically correct, because I really do not care for a lot of the radical feminist people. I think they're setting up straw men and knocking them down. But maybe I think that because I come from a culture where this was settled a long time ago.

Once again here's a song you wrote based on your own experience, observations about your family, and it reaches out beyond that to touch the listener in very personal ways too. When I first heard the song, I could not get the image out of my mind of my grandmother in Guin, Alabama, when I was very young and going down there in the summers. They were sharecroppers before I was born, but my memory of them is on that small farm in Guin. That woman, honestly, I do not have any memories of her sitting down and relaxing, except at the dinner table. She was up before sunrise, she worked out in the field all day, she fixed three meals a day, and then she went to bed at some point, but long after I had retired after having done not much more than picking corn and beans for a few hours. So the song really hit me, because it was about who she was.

Murph: I hear the halting in your voice and it does the same thing to me. What brings me to tears is those kind of people, and it's tears of joy and pride. When I sing that song on stage, that gets more emotion out of the audience than any other song I sing, particularly when I look out and am not blinded by the spotlight and can see their faces, I see an older farm or ranch couple, or a younger couple, and I know they're remembering people like that. But what brings the most tears is not the line about my grandfather, the way it starts, but about the women, because right at the time I sing, "She'll run the tractor, water stock/fix the truck, and feed her flock/but somehow she gets roses from the ground." Somehow she's still a lady; somehow she still manages to plow her garden. When I sing that line, I see the men turn and look at the women, and it's either, "Hey, grandma was like that," and they're both in tears, or else daddy is looking at momma and saying, "Okay, baby, somebody finally gave you your due. That's the way I feel about you." I get maybe over-intellectual and philosophical in the third line, but I'm a big believer in the idea that culture comes from agriculture. That the basis of what makes a human being spiritual is being close to the land, because once you're close to the land you realize, "Wait a minute. I have no control over this. I can work with it, but it's a way bigger force than I can ever imagine." And whether you see that as raw nature and not God, or whether you see it as God, however you see it, the great world religions all emanate from the land—whether it's Jesus Christ preaching a sermon about planting seeds and you reap what you sow, and working in the vineyard; or Buddha talking about going out into the wilderness and communing with nature, then working doing simple farm work, or Hindus doing the same thing, the Muslims—the philosophy emanates from the way the land works and natural law. It'll put you on your knees. A blizzard in South Dakota like the one they just had that killed probably a hundred thousand animals, the power of that will bring you to your knees. You can't run a farm or a ranch without knowing that there's some forces here that you are not in control of.

Sequencing on a record can sometimes be telling. Is there a reason you put these new songs as bookends to the older material on Buckaroo Blue Grass?

Murph: The sequencing was done on purpose that way. "Lone Cowboy" comes first because it's the most cowboy of any of the songs on the record, besides "Close To the Land." Since it's called Buckaroo Blue Grass, I wanted to open up with the fact that there is a new song here, it's not all retro, and this is a cowboy's take on bluegrass. I end with the same statement-I want to remind listeners that this is a cowboy's take on bluegrass. It's not the mountain man living in a cabin in North Carolina, this is not the moonshiner, this is not gospel music from the little church down in the holler, this is music from the wide open plains and the prairie. But we've always listened to, liked and played that music.

Over the years your music has had a bluegrass tinge, some of it's been outright bluegrass, a lot of bluegrass bands have covered your songs, but you have not done a pure bluegrass album before. Why did you choose to do one now, and to take some of your older material and cast it in this way?

Murph: I love bluegrass and I love bluegrass songwriting. For a very short time while I was living in California, I got drafted into the Earl Scruggs Band, right after Lester Flatt left, and I played with Earl Scruggs for about a year, playing mandola. Not mandolin, but the instrument that's five steps down tuning from a mandolin. Had a great time. I listened to bluegrass my whole life, growing up in east Texas. We were in the Piney Woods and were very affected by southern music, as much as we were cowboy music. We felt like they went together. I haven't really returned to that feeling until now.

Why did I go back and do the old songs? Basically because I wanted to make a bluegrass album and I needed to have some validity, because everybody knows me as a western singer and a country singer. And what calling card do I have to get into this now? The calling card is the material. So I went back all the way to "Geronimo's Cadillac," and even songs I wrote before that, that I felt like were either do-able as bluegrass songs or were outright bluegrass songs that I wrote. "Lost River" was on a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album; "What Am I Doing Hanging Around" first came out by that great bluegrass band The Monkees and Doug Dillard played banjo on it. Somebody just brought me the vinyl the other day—the album was called Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.

This is really a sidebar to what we're talking about, but the interesting thing about the Monkees, because of Nesmith, is if you listen to modern country music now, it's heavily influenced by the sound they got even when they were playing rock 'n' roll. The people who were actually writing the material that Screen Gems got 'em to do, or that Mike Nesmith did, "Last Train to Clarksville," "What Am I Doing Hangin' Around," "Daydream Believer"—these are all songs that made it in pop music that were recycled as hits on the country charts, and I think it had a big influence on the sound today. Nesmith was really a flashpoint for that combination of country and rock that got started way back then.

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"What Am I Doing Hangin' Around"
The Monkees, on Nashville Now in 1989, the year Michael Martin Murphey recorded his first album of cowboy songs, performing "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round," sans Mike Nesmith. The Murphey-penned song appeared on the Monkees' Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. album in 1967.

How did that song get to the Monkees?

Murph: I was in a band with Nesmith called the New Survivors in California; we were a farm team for the New Christy Minstrels. When I first got to California, I went out there to study classical history at UCLA; that's what I told my parents. The real reason was I wanted to get into the music business and Texas didn't offer much in that way. I played around the folk clubs and got involved writing songs for a publishing company owned by Randy Sparks, called Sparrow Music. Then Randy Sparks started a bunch of different groups that were clones of the New Christy Minstrels. It was such a successful formula, the Minstrels—Kenny Rogers came out of it, Barry McGuire, all these people came out of the Randy Sparks deal, and I was one of 'em. Nesmith and I were in a band of his called the New Survivors. We were sitting around one day rehearsing at Randy's office, and he had Variety magazine and all the trades laying around. He was very serious about getting music out to the movies and all that-he was a good businessman. So Nesmith picks up Variety and says, "Hey, look at this—they're having an audition for people to be in a rock band that's gonna have a TV show. The audition is tomorrow. We all oughta go down there and audition." I said, "Nah, we don't have a chance of getting into that. First of all, I've got a Texas accent and they're not gonna hire someone with a Texas accent. And this thing looks like it's a clone of Help and A Hard Day's Night." Nesmith said he was going to go down there anyway, and I said, "Nesmith, you don't have a chance. You got a worse drawl than I do, and they're not gonna see you as an actor." He said, "Well, what have we got to lose, really?" So they go down there—Davy Jones was working in Randy Sparks's organization then, and Peter Tork, even Mickey Dolenz was in a band, Back Porch Majority, that Randy had; we were all in the Randy Sparks deal. These cats go down there and as it turns out, all of the Monkees, every single one of them, came out of the Randy Sparks stable. They came back and said, "We're in, man!" I said, "You gotta be kidding." And a year later they were the biggest rock band in the world; they were outselling the Beatles.

Randy Sparks
Randy Sparks, above, with a Gibson 18 string guitar, signed a young Michael Martin Murphy to his Sparrow Music publishing firm, which also included all of the musicians who were originally cast as the Monkees.

A lot of interesting people were hanging around Randy Sparks at that time, but the reason for that is because he was offering a job. We actually worked on the weekends at Ledbetter's, a club in Westwood. So Nesmith, a year later, calls me up and says, "I really want to take care of you guys that didn't make it into the Monkees. You're all still starving songwriters, so Murphey, I want to do 'What Am I Doing Hangin' Around.'" I said, "Go for it," you know, but I had to publish it through Screen Gems; it was the first song I ever made a buck on. It if hadn't been for that, I probably would have had to start pumping gas in about three months from that time. It took a year to get your royalties, even if it did come out on an album. The album sold four million copies. Back then BMI was giving advances, so I went down to BMI and I said, "Hey, I've got a song on a Monkees album," and they said, "How much do you want to stay with BMI?" I said, "Well, how about ten thousand dollars?" That was a huge advance then; that was enough to keep me going for another year in addition to the work I had. Nesmith and I stayed friends over the years, and I was his biggest fan and supporter when the Monkees fell apart and he kept on going and, as far as I'm concerned, made the masterpiece albums of progressive—if you want to call it progressive-country music. "Joanne" [Nesmith's 1970 solo single, recorded with his First National Band; it peaked at #21 on the Billboard singles chart] is a great song, a great record. It was on the pop charts, but today it's a country song.

You have a wealth of material you could choose from, but I notice on this album an absence of material from the Capitol/EMI period. Is that because it was more pop-oriented material?

Murph: On the next one, there will be. It just worked out that I went back to the earlier things.

If you look at the first four, five albums that I made, I was living in Austin, then I was living in Colorado. And I fell in with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I was friends with John McEuen way back in California—in fact, I was friends with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band when Jackson Browne was playing washboard in the band. I was a student at UCLA, McEuen was a student at USC, and somehow we were able to get past that and work together in a couple of bands. If you think the rivalry between Texas and OU is bad... But I worked in some bands with McEuen—we had a band called the Boomer Boys and the Texas Twosome, which is me and Owen Castleman, who eventually called himself Boomer Castleman. He and Jeff Hanna and all those guys were friends from the very beginning. They recorded "Cosmic Cowboy" right around the time I made my second album, and we were all playing gigs in the same area, had known each other in California, and they came in and sang on "Carolina In the Pines," and McEuen is the banjo player on "Carolina In the Pines." So we all came out of the folk deal—we're all fans of Doc Watson and real traditional country music, Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, those people were all our heroes. We were trying to write songs that were in the genre, and of course McEuen was never really a songwriter but I brought him in to play—he still plays on my albums on a pretty regular basis. I missed having him on Buckaroo Blue Grass by a couple of days. I had the recording sessions planned and he was going to come in, but he couldn't get out of a performance contract he had, so I used Charlie Cushman. Glad I did, because Charlie is just awesome.

Not a bad option if you had to replace McEuen.

Murph: Well, you know, McEuen is the progressive, cool choice. Cushman is such a hillbilly—he is the ultimate Renaissance hillbilly. His style is so Scruggs, it's so traditionally based, he hardly ever plays any of the Bill Keith chromatic-style banjo, which I also really love. That's the genesis of people like Bela Fleck. But Bill Keith developed that style way back when he was playing with Bill Monroe and Monroe told him, "Stop playing it that way!" Keith's whole thing was to try to get every single note in a fiddle tune that you could play and not slide into it, or bend into it or anything like that. That was chromatic playing. That was a big deal in banjo playing forever, until just recently when guys like Cushman went back and said, "No, let's play it like Earl would play it." And you know what? That really puts the "blue" back in bluegrass, because Scruggs put a lot of blues in his playing. So I just love Charlie's playing and I used him on the whole album.

I got Pat Flynn and Sam Bush to record in the same room. I don't know how many people know this, but for years and years would not record in the same room—they may be on the same project, but they wouldn't record in the same room. For Buckaroo Blue Grass I called up and said, "Can you guys suspend that and be in the same room, Sam, if I put you all the way over on the other side of the room in an isolation booth? And I put Pat on the other side, would you guys play at the same time? I want to make this live with no overdubs. I want to sing live with the whole band, and then if we have to go in and fix anything we'll fix it, but I want it to be me in a booth singing while you guys are playing." Sam said he would call Pat and see how he feels about it, so I got them in the same room and they were actually laughing and kidding and joking around, and doing okay.

I don't want to go into it, it was different personal lifestyle choices they made, and whichever one made it, they couldn't be around each other. But they're both great guys and I've used them both through all the cowboy projects. And Sam, who's better known as a mandolin player, plays a lot of fiddle and mostly fiddle on the next Cowboy Songs album. NewGrass revival offended a lot of purists, but I know the falling out wasn't over that; it wasn't over music, because they all still are proud of what they did. But "Renegade" and a couple of other tracks coming out on Cowboy VI are definitely not purist bluegrass, and I thought, as a newcomer in the bluegrass genre that I hope gets airplay, am I gonna come in and do progressive? It's already weird enough that a cowboy singer is doing a hybrid of cowboy and bluegrass. So I better sound really traditional. So "Renegade" is going to be on there, "Swans Against the Sun" makes an appearance as a bluegrass tune.

Rob Ickes came in to play, as far as I'm concerned he's the greatest genius young player in the land. And I really appreciated Andy Leftwich, out of Skaggs's band, playing fiddle on this project, and he's coming back to play on the next one. I appreciate the bluegrass bands that have cut my songs and the bluegrass players that came in and supported me on it, and I'm not abandoning the genre after one album. We're gonna keep going here.

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"Geronimo's Cadillac."
Murph introduces one of his most famous songs with some background on the titular character's strength and fortitude, even when in captivity, and his return to the land post-incarceration. During the siege of Wounded Knee in ?, the Lakota Sioux attempting to reclaim land they felt the government had unlawfully seized from the tribe blasted this song from the building they were occupying, resulting in Murph winding up on the FBI's "watch" list. He uses the example of the Native Americans to illustrate how American ranchers and farmers are experiencing a similar fate of having their land confiscated via eminent domain claims "to be turned into something other than productive land to grow food."

To take you back in your history a bit, you mentioned that your first cowboy album came in 1989, when you were on Warner Bros. You'd had a lot of success commercially up to that point-at Warners, Capitol, Epic. At the time you turned to the cowboy songs, did anyone at Warners ask, "What are you thinking?"

Murph: You have just added one hour to this interview.

The short version, please!

Murph: Yes, it was a war. I was dropped from the label when I told Jim Ed Norman, the president of Warner Bros., that I felt like I wanted to return to my roots. I said, "Being a Warner Brothers artist, I've got some justification for this." He said, "What is that?" I said, "Linda Ronstadt just made an album of all-mariachi music because that's her roots. It's not a rock 'n' roll album, it's not a country-rock album, it's not a pop album, it's all mariachi in the Spanish language. And it's a hit, and everyone at Warner Brothers said it wouldn't be." I remember sitting next to Mo Austin at the BMI dinner in Nashville, and Mo leaned over and said to me, "Linda Ronstadt just made this album of all Mexican songs. What am I gonna do? Do you think it has a chance?" I said, "Well, people are returning to their roots."

Not long after that Eric Clapton made an album called Unplugged, in which, although he's British and blues are absolutely not his cultural roots, it is his musical roots. He went back to Robert Johnson, and the world loved it. So I said, "Jim Ed, based on those two albums and their success, I want to make a cowboy music album. That's a return to my roots, except it's both my musical and my cultural roots." He said, "I think that's the stupidest idea I've ever heard in my life." I said, "What if I told you it has the chance to be the soundtrack to a television mini-series called Lonesome Dove?" He said, "Tell me a little bit more about that."

So I told him, "I just came back from New York and I tracked down the people that own the property Lonesome Dove for film rights. I met with the producer, Suzanne DePasse, and told her that I think Lonesome Dove has the opportunity to revive cowboy music through the score, because it has every element of every great cowboy song in it. Larry McMurtry always uses song titles for the titles of his books. Leaving Cheyenne comes from "Goodbye Old Paint"—which you could easily do, by the way, as a bluegrass song-

Hint, hint...

Murph: And on Cowboy Songs 6 I do—you watch out. So I'm flying back and forth and riding trains out to California to meet with Suzanne DePasse, and I'm trying to tell Jim Ed, "This mini-series is going to be incredible. It's going to bring back westerns." He said, "Well, I don't know." I said, "Just read it." He said, "I don't have time to read! Too busy running a record company." I had gone to the book signing when Lonesome Dove was published, and got McMurtry to sign it—it's one of my prized possessions, my first edition of Lonesome Dove with McMurtry's signature in there.

I knew this was a chance to bring back western music along with western films. There were no westerns being made. Meanwhile, Suzanne DePasse is having a hard time selling this series idea to a network—nobody wants it, and nobody will make it as a feature film. Nobody. McMurtry wrote that story as a script for John Wayne and Henry Fonda when they were still alive, and no movie company would take it. So he turned around and made a novel out of it. Suzanne finally got it sold as a mini-series, right at a time when mini-series were falling off in popularity. So Jim Ed said, "No, this won't work. If you want to do this, Murphey, you can take it down the street and see if you can get another record company to do it."

In those days, because I had had some hits, I had a lot of artistic freedom, and I'd gone into the studio and spent fifty thousand dollars making what I thought was going to be the soundtrack to Lonesome Dove, the basic tracks, real stripped down versions, lot of stuff without drums. I played it for Jim Ed and he said, "Michael, this is not going to get any airplay. This is going nowhere on the country chart. We can't put out 'Red River Valley' and 'When the Work's All Done This Fall.' We can't put out 'Home On the Range'!"

I said, "Well, I got a couple of contemporary songs on here, too."

He said, "Yeah, but life is already passing you by on that. Country music is morphing into pop music"—and Jim Ed was one of the main proponents of that, and I had been one of the main proponents of it, too—I don't have a problem with hybrids. I wouldn't have been a country-rock artist if I did. But it's always good to remember where the hybrid came from. To cross a quarter horse and a thoroughbred, you have to have a quarter horse and a thoroughbred. Once in awhile it's good to stop and look at the greatness of the quarter horse for a minute. You have to have a purebred to make a hybrid, and sometimes hybrids are just as much fun and are just as useful.

So I wanted to go back to the pure stuff and combine it with the contemporary sound—Cowboy Songs, Vol. 1—but I didn't go far enough to suit the record company. So I was on the street. I took it to Jimmy Bowen, I took it to Rick Blackburn at CBS, I took it all the way to the top at every major label and they all turned me down. I was still signed to Warner Brothers, but Jim Ed said, "Murphey, if this is the way you want to go, we'll release you to go elsewhere."

Michael Martin MurpheySo I spent about a year doing it, then WestFest that year drew a bigger crowd than Fan Fair in Nashville did. I'm doing a little Texas bragging here, and it's always useful to look for a proviso when a Texan is bragging. Arguably the reason we drew more is that it rained like hell in Nashville. But there was a story in Billboard that "Michael Martin Murphey's WestFest in Colorado, a salute to western culture and western music, outdrew Fan Fair." And by that time we were doing cowboy poetry, all that stuff. This was 1989; WestFest started in 1987.

Jim Ed called me up on Christmas Eve and said, "Murphey, Merry Christmas. I got a Christmas present for you. I want you to come back in the studio, finish up that cowboy album and we're going to put it out. But don't get too excited, because it's up to you to promote it. We as country music marketing people don't know how to market a cowboy album. Our radio people are telling us we can't get it played. It's up to you.

"I hope, when you get through this phase in your life, you'll come back and start making mainstream country music again."

It was a war. It was one of the worst times in my life. People were literally ridiculing me about it. I'd walk into the Warner Brothers building, and the head of radio at that time—whose will remain nameless—would look at me with my bolo tie on and go, "Here comes Captain Turquoise!" "Here comes Roy Rogers! Happy trails!" I'd say, "I'm sorry, I've been so inspired by the cowboy poetry events in Elko that I've got to go down this road for awhile."

Finally I had the president of the company's backing, but I was still on my own. Basically what he was doing was throwing down the gauntlet and saying, "You think cowboy music can come back? Prove it."

At that point in my life I became a promotion man, a marketing man, a selling apples on the street vendor. What I did to get the album off the ground was to visit Ralph Emery, who at that time had the most popular show in country music, Nashville Now, and I said, "Ralph, I got an album of cowboy music coming out." I knew his best friend had been Marty Robbins. All he ever talked about was Marty Robbins, even after Marty was gone, how great Marty Robbins was. And he'd say to me, "Murphey, you remind me of Marty. You've got the love of the cowboy in you as a country music artist." So I told him, "I've got a surprise for you now. I've made an album with a lot of the music that Marty did." I played it for him and said, "Can you help me? Warner Brothers won't take this to radio. How am I gonna get this off the ground? Can you help me?"

He said, "I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm going to build a totally different set for Nashville Now, just for one show. It's going to be a western town, and I'll come out in a Doc Holliday outfit with a cowboy hat on. And I want you to bring on your fellow artists who are in this genre"—I had used Don Edwards, Red Steagall, Sons of the San Joaquin, Waddy Mitchell and all these people that nobody knew anything about in Nashville but were actually doing okay with careers as cowboy singers and cowboy poets.

I went into the studio, finished up the album, brought it to Ralph. The show was just another installment of Nashville Now, which was on five days a week, but he really hyped it for three or four weeks, saying, "Be sure and watch our show, a tribute to the American cowboy, on Monday night, such-and-such." He also told me to get a multi-level telemarketing company on board where viewers could call an 800 number to buy something that's not in the stores. He said, "I want you to hire one of those, Murphey, and we will run free ads for your album with the 800 number on it."

I said, "You gotta be kidding. You'll do all this for me?" He said, "Yeah. All I want you to do is sing some of those Marty Robbins on the show." That's how deeply committed he was to a revival of cowboy music, and how deeply he loved that man. So the Sons of the San Joaquin, Waddy Mitchell, Suzy Bogguss, who was on the album singing "Happy Trails," I think Baxter Black and Don Edwards. We did all that music, and the next day they got four thousand orders over the phone for Cowboy Songs, Vol. 1, through that 800 telemarketing company that had nothing to do with Warner Brothers. Then it took off and started selling, and after about two weeks Jim Ed called me up and said, "Merry Christmas again. We're going to take 'Cowboy Logic' to radio." I said, "Can we do a video?" He said, "No. We're not going to spend money on a video. They're too expensive." I said, "If I can get a video made on a low budget, would you let me do it? I'll direct it, I'll get the cowboy to be in it, but I really believe a video is the way to go with this thing because you may have problems with radio, and you know that." He said okay, waited until we put the "Cowboy Logic" video out and it went to the top of the video airplay charts at TNN and CMT, then they released the single because it was so driven by people calling radio stations asking, "Where's that song about the cowboy logic?" It became my best selling record ever—it outsold "Wildfire," it outsold "Blue Sky, Night Thunder," it outsold anything I'd ever done. But it didn't get beyond the twenties on the charts because not one station east of the Mississippi would play it. It was off their radar; they didn't want to play cowboy music because they were already on that roll of the hot new country. I wasn't playing the hot new country with cowboy songs—I was playing the cool, old country.

It still was a war for three or four years, and Cowboy Songs didn't go gold overnight. It takes about fifteen minutes for Garth Brooks to go gold, or platinum; it took us ten years. Cowboy Songs took ten years to go gold; it's not quite platinum yet, it's right on the edge. But it's consistently been on the racks, it's consistently been selling. I think it did two things, and neither one has anything to do with Michael Murphey. It proved there's a pent-up desire to hear roots music in this country, and Linda Ronstadt and Eric Clapton helped me prove that, or maybe I helped them prove it. Either way, those albums fostered a whole Americana roots things that's been going on ever since. So it proved that, and it also proved there's a pent-up desire for people to keep cowboy in country. The American public cannot get past a country singer being a cowboy.

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"Cosmic Cowboy" 2008
Michael Martin Murphey performs "Cosmic Cowboy" at the Woodstock Opera House, Woodstock, Illinois, January 26, 2008.

And on that point, you have another volume of Cowboy Songs coming up this fall?

Murph: Cowboy Songs, Vol. 6 is coming out on Rural Rhythm. I did three Cowboy Songs albums on Warner Brothers, then formed my own label, WestFest Records, and did Cowboy 4 and Cowboy 5 on that label, and now comes Cowboy 6 on Rural Rhythm. I own the masters, it's a leased master deal.

And another bluegrass album.

Murph: Yeah, same deal as before, with a couple of new songs and we're going back over material-some of it's stuff we cut last year that didn't make it on Buckaroo Blue Grass. We cut about 15 bluegrass tracks, and about 12 cowboy tracks using the same players, just took a slightly different approach musically on the cowboy stuff. So there were some leftovers. And there were a few tracks on Buckaroo Blue Grass that are not just down-the-line bluegrass, and I was nervous about putting that on Buckaroo Blue Grass. I wanted to sound like a band that would walk up on stage headlining at a real dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass festival and this is what it would sound like.

The last time we spoke at length was when you were in New York to appear on Letterman's show about three years ago, and your focus was on the dire situation on the Plains, how we are losing the Plains much like we're losing the Amazon, to development, but in this case the development being huge corn crops being planted in places where they weren't meant to be to provide the basic ingredient for Ethanol. What's going on now?

Murph: We're still losing the Plains. I was really hopeful a new Administration in Washington might change things. But there was only about thirty seconds of discussion about the Ethanol thing in one Presidential debate. I thought maybe Obama would move away from it, or McCain, if he won. I thought both might have said, "We better take a second look at this Ethanol thing, because it's causing people to carpet the world with corn and distiller's grains instead of bringing the prairie back to being a grazing environment," which is the way it was. Before Iowa turned in to a corn patch, it was prairie. Now you can hardly find any prairie, except in places where it's too rocky to plow. Then you'll see some tall-grass prairies and grazing. The only place you see big patches of grazing area in the whole Plains environment is where you really can't plow. Sen. McCain did fight against the Ethanol bailout stuff and the price supports for Ethanol; Obama was for it, but he said, "We better take a second look at this because we're starving people." But nothing's been done. It's only been a hundred days or so, but I hope he'll take another look at it soon. The Democrats are supposed to be real environmentalists; if they're truly environmentalists they better take a second look at what's going on out there on the prairie. We're still seeing eminent domain taking a lot of ground, we're still seeing price supports creating a situation where a corn farmer really doesn't have any choice but to play along with it, because the price is so much higher. But it's artificial—you can't make Ethanol without artificial government price supports. Can't do it; it won't compete with oil. We're getting way off the subject of music here, but it is the subject of my music. I haven't written a song specifically about it yet; I've tried but I can't quite get my arms around it. On Cowboy Songs, Vol. 5 I wrote a song, "Storm Over the Rangeland (The Ballad of Kit Laney)" about one of the worst Federal government confiscations of a ranch that ever happened. But most of the time I'm just talking about the poetry of the Plains, the beauty of it, the greatness of it, and I hope people understand that it's kind of sad to see a corn patch go over the top of that. It takes a billion gallons of water to make one million gallons of Ethanol, and okay, maybe Ethanol isn't causing the kind of emissions that contribute to global warming, but using up a billion gallons of water to make one million gallons of it is depleting the Ogallala aquifer. [Editor's note: the Ogalla Aquifer covers some 174,000 square miles under portions of eight states-South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming-and according to a U.S. Geological Survey provides drinking water to 82 percent of the population within the aquifer boundary, in addition to yielding some 30 percent of North America's ground water for irrigation.] So what are we doing here? A lot of this corn that they're growing now is being grown in places corn was never grown before, and it's all done with irrigation, an artificial situation. That irrigation water coming up out of the aquifer, combined with the Ethanol plants using it, people say, "Gee, doesn't it just go up there, distill itself and turn back into rain? Doesn't it turn into a cloud and come back down?" No, it doesn't. That's not what happens. Ultimately it does, but it's a real slow process. We're taking a lot more water to the surface than we ever have been in history, and it's evaporating. It's not a resource we can use in a real streambed or something like that.

Michael Martin Murphey

It's not a renewable resourace.

Murph: It's renewable, but you're talking a couple hundred years—you can't use that water immediately again. So if you get into a drought situation, and we did the last couple of years in Texas and Oklahoma—terrible drought situation in places where you've never seen drought before, had all these fires—I think it's a real serious situation that's not being addressed. People think the environmental problem is in Yellowstone Park, but it's out there in the national forests somewhere in the west and in the Rocky Mountains where we want to take pictures. No one wants to take pictures of Kansas and Nebraska, so they ignore it. It's the kind of ground that doesn't look pretty on a Sierra Club calendar, but if you're out there... All I would say to somebody who likes to camp out and lives in an urban environment, if you're a camper, take a vacation and go to Nebraska. Go to the Sand Hills and check into a campground and stay there for three or four days on your way to the Rockies. You may not ever make it to the Rockies. If you're seeking real escape from an urban environment, those are the places to go now; not Rocky Mountain National Park. I'm talking about the poetic side of it, but I think the poetic side of it is what makes people want to save it. If we don't have an urban constituency saying, "We have to save the Praire," it won't happen, because there's not enough people living out there to save it.

My most succinct comment on all this is in the introduction to a book called The American Farmer: The Heart Of Our Country. Paul Mobley is a New York photographer who quit his job and went on the road and photographed farmers and ranchers for three years and took 33,000 images and put out this book. Then Katrina Fried interviewed the people he chose to put in the book and it's published by Welcome Books. He asked me to write the introduction to the book. My statement in there, which is a thousand words, is the most succinct version of the answer to that question.

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Murph is a common-sense conservationist, working to save and restore the great forests, prairies, farms and ranches of America. Here's a recent public service announcement he did for www.wildfirefoundation.org.

(In an exclusive feature, TheBluegrassSpecial.com is reprinting Michael Martin Murphey's introductory essay from American Farmer, and also an excerpt featuring Ms. Fried's interview with farmer Alice Wiemers of Hondo, Texas, whose stock in trade is grain, livestock and honeybees, both pieces illustrated by Paul Mobley's photos from the book, which can be purchased directly through links provided on this site.)

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