ELKO – Michael Martin Murphey is not only celebrating the 40th anniversary of his album “Blue Sky – Night Thunder” but also the introduction of his new album “High Stakes” and how he is trying to be a maverick in its distribution.
“Well, it’s an exciting moment for me because I’m premiering new material at the same time I’m celebrating an album that’s 40 years old this year, because I have a new album, Cowboy Songs Volume VII, and it’s called ‘High Stakes,’” said Murphey.
“It’s the seventh in a series of cowboy songs I started making in 1990. It’s fun to be presenting brand new stuff and celebrating an album that’s 40 years old at the same time. That’s a particularly great moment for me because ‘Wildfire’ is my best known song, ‘Carolina in the Pines’ is my best known song and several of the songs on the album are constantly requested even 40 years later,” he said.
Murphey said the album even appeals to a younger audience. He explained, “I get kids who are 7 and 8 years old right on up to whatever the dividing line is to say they’re not kids anymore bringing vinyl copies to me to be signed.”
Murphey’s performances at the Gathering are on Saturday at a variety of times: 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. “Michael Martin Murphey’s Songbook” will be at the Elko Convention Center Auditorium; 2 to 2:30 p.m. – autograph sessions at the Convention Center gift shop; and from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Murphey will be standing in for Ian Tyson at the Convention Center Auditorium.
Murphey’s new album will only be available at his concert venues and will be available at Cowboy Poetry.
He started this because his son, “who’s a young, high-energy techie, said ‘Dad you really just need to be a maverick … sell these things at your shows as a service to your fans before you put them out in any other setting,’” said Murphey.
“Because people miss packaging, people miss having that little booklet in there in the CD where they can read the credits and find out who made the record,” he said. The depth of the album and the artists, he said, doesn’t come through, especially when an individual downloads one song at a time. He or she is “not getting the feeling of an album that’s got kind of a unifying concept to it.”
Additionally, he is contemplating putting some of his better known albums and newer material out in vinyl. He said some of these works never came out in vinyl and a lot of artists are going that route.
“I understand it’s about 25 percent of the physical sales,” said Murphey.
He said that is a fairly surprising statistic because the older crowd remembers the “physical product” and has the money to spend on physical product.
“The younger crowd missed out on packaging…What’s going on in the book world is sort of proving that this digital thing is maybe a big fad right now. They’ll always be digital downloads but I think ultimately physical product will come back — books, for example, Barnes & Noble is seeing a resurgence in people actually buying real books,” said Murphey.
Because he was signed to other record labels, some of Murphey’s work is available to stream. However, his new product is not. He said he just started his own record label and has taken back the rights to five or six of his past albums. “Cowboy Songs IV, V, VI and VII” will no longer be available for streaming.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said, explaining that artists such as Garth Brooks have repudiated the practice because “it kills record sales and it eliminates people being able to make a living, who are really good songwriters and professionals, who have turned out some of the best songs of their time.”
The Meaning Behind the Work and Cowboy Poetry
“We only made that album available at the venues and we did really well with it. I’m really happy with this strategy of people buying the whole album and getting the whole artistic goal that I had for the album, which was to put a collection of songs together that were cowboy songs that address a certain theme and issue for now,” Murphey said about “High Stakes.”
This new album, in particular, has many meanings for the artist including the “struggles of people in the cattle business and some of the environmental issues that we’ve had.”
“That’s why I love the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. If you want to know what the Cowboy Poetry Gathering means to me, that’s what it means to me. It’s a gathering of people who truly, truly understand the land and truly understand the importance of agriculture in our culture,” said Murphey.
This album is about rural life and that’s what Cowboy Poetry and songs embody, especially, he explained, in an age where country music is really not coming from people who work the land – like in the Hillbilly Era when country music started at the Grand Ole Pry. At that time, Murphey said the artists “lived off the land.”
Nevada is a “flashpoint” for Murphey over a misunderstood issue. He discussed grazing and how there needs to be more cattle on the land. The misconception that wildlife will die with more grazing is incorrect to him.
“As it turns out, we don’t have enough cattle on the land. All you got to do is listen to one lecture by Alan Savory and he’ll tell you that the real problem with global warming, which is happening on a microclimate by microclimate basis adding up to a macroclimate problem, is because we don’t have enough cattle on the land, properly managed.”
His new album is about the “renegades and rebels,” who “stood up and said ‘no, we’re not going to be denigrated as people who are destroying the environment. We are actually helping the environment.’”
He said this is not a partisan issue, but proper policies need to be created in this country instead of putting agriculture to the side and not paying enough attention to it.
That’s not totally what the album is about. Murphey also has love songs and songs looking toward the emotions and the social life of people in agriculture and how that life transfers to urban people.
“High Stakes” is also about beauty. Murphey told the Free Press that in order to protest something, he said he has found the best thing to do is write songs about the beauty of the culture. This is what he did when being an activist for the Native American culture and this is his hope for the cowboy culture – people will fight for what they respect.
“Once people buy into the fact that it’s a beautiful culture, they’re going to save it,” he said, explaining if one goes to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, he or she will walk away with a love and respect for cowboy culture.
“The Cowboy Poetry Gathering is just tremendously important,” he said.
“The main message I’m trying to tell everyone is agriculture is the issue. Agriculture is the most important issue in our world that we need to think about. Technology isn’t going to feed people. Technology will help feed people by being applied to agriculture. That’s my main goal right now, trying to get people to have a positive view,” he concluded.
Guitar Donation and Ian Tyson Concert
Murphey will also be donating a black guitar with the words to his song “Wildfire” written on it through his non-profit foundation, with the proceeds going to the Gathering.
“They’re very good guitars….It’s not a high-end guitar but they sound great,” he said. The guitars also have the ability to be plugged in.
“I wanted something that if people wanted to play it, they could play it. It wasn’t just something that they would hang on the wall.”
Murphey will perform classic cowboy songs: “Ian Tyson songs that I will be performing for the people who have to miss out on Ian.”
Murphey said this concert is really about his friend.