Texas native Michael Martin Murphey and his vivid country/pop/cowboy songs will be showcased Saturday at the Cultural Activities Center in Temple.
Perhaps best known for his 1975 pop hit “Wildfire,” Murphey paid his dues in Austin’s nascent progressive country movement, composed chart-topping pop and country ballads: “What’s Forever For,” “Don’t Count the Rainy Days,” and lately has released albums of traditional and original cowboy music. Respect for the natural world and a love of the land are recurring motifs in his work, and Murphey’s latest CD, 2013’s “Red River Drifter” continues those themes.
The singer-songwriter, who celebrates his 69th birthday today, has six gold albums to his credit. He’s traveled far from his days with Gary P. Nunn and Bob Livingston at the Armadillo World Headquarters, and mainstream hits like “Carolina In The Pines,” written for his then-wife, as well as forays into more traditional bluegrass, horse-themed CDs and even his authorship of New Mexico’s official state ballad have added to his success.
Murphey’s voice, a time-burnished, husky tenor, has become a pre-eminent musical embodiment of the Western horseman, rancher and cowboy. Besides a spread in Linden, he owns residences in Wisconsin, Colorado and New Mexico and has increased his efforts over the last decade on the issue of property rights — protesting unfair land acquisitions across the western states.
His songs have been recorded by Kenny Rogers, Cher, Lyle Lovett, John Denver, Roger Miller, the Monkees and others. A major force in the cowboy song genre, Murphey’s 1990 album “Cowboy Songs” is credited as “resurrecting” the traditional forms. He was honored with five awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for his accomplishments in the westerns and cowboy field.
“Tickets are really going fast,” said Jane Boone, marketing director for the CAC. “The pre-show barbecue dinner is filling up, too. We’ll have a limited overage available for the dinner until 10 a.m. Saturday.”
Murphey first heard the story of a phantom horse that rescued people in the desert from his grandfather. Years passed and the songwriter had a dream about the story, awoke and wrote the words and music. Though it’s been nearly four decades, Murphey’s big hit about the ghosts of a woman and a horse named Wildfire still stir deep sentiments.
“What I’ve written over the years has always reflected what was influencing me at the time,” he said. “I grew up in Texas, the world’s number one musical crossroads where anything goes musically.”