Michael Martin Murphey is more than a special project. For most of the eighties, he was my boss, my songwriting partner,
and a good friend. We traveled many miles together, played a lot of great shows, and suffered through a few bad ones,
usually when one of us was either sick or tired. (or sick and tired)
Michael and I met backstage at the Grand Ol' Opry. I was playing with the Thrasher Bros. and they had just lost their record
deal with MCA, so my job was a bit tenuous. In talking with Michael, I mentioned that I had developed much of my piano style
from listening to his old pianist, the late Jac Murphy. Michael's eyes lit up as he'd had several pianists since Jac had passed
away, but none that could play his style. I gave Michael my number and he called a few days later. I told him that the next time
he was auditioning pianists, I'd like a shot at the job, and he told me that his current keyboard player had just resigned. I sent
him a tape of my playing and a month later we were on stage together at the beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, in
two sold-out concerts with Willie Nelson.
Soon we were writing songs together and Michael introduced me to his producer, Jim Ed Norman. I began playing on
Michael's records, (my first master sessions in Nashville). In 1985 we began playing concerts with symphony orchestras, and
I fell into the role of liason/translater between the conductors and Michael and the band. I had the opportunity to work with
orchestrator Nick DeCaro just a couple of years before his death, and developed an interest in composing orchestral music.
We played many memorable shows but my favorite memory is of the smallest show we played. Michael and I were returning
from a Canadian tour, just the two of us and a bus driver driving across the big-sky country of Montana. Michael had an old
friend in Red Lodge, and we stopped to visit. They were reminiscing about jam sessions they used to have in the seventies,
and decided to get one together for that evening. One thing led to another and the plan shifted to Michael and I giving an
impromptu free concert at a small bar in downtown Red Lodge, a prarie town starved for entertainment.
As we pulled into town that night we were surprised to find the club packed, with people standing on the sidewalk around the
club, just hoping to listen through the open windows. It was so crowded that we could only play two songs, then take a break
so people could move to get a drink, use the bathroom, etc. For two hours, we'd play two songs, break, two songs, break.
Afterwards, we were greeted by an endless line of locals, saying, "You don't know what you've done for our town!" and
"Nobody ever stops to play here!" One guy from South Dakota had been called by a Red Lodge friend and flew over in his
For years afterwards, folks from Red Lodge, MT would turn up at other shows around the country. One night at Caesar's
Palace in Las Vegas, the curtain went up, and as we launched into our first song, a cowboy in the back hollered "RED
LOOOOODGE!!!" at the top of his lungs. We could hardly sing for laughing.
Eventually, I got frustrated with the tremendous amount of down-time on the road. (You wait for 23 hours, then play for one)
We were also expecting our first child, so I said farewell to the road, to Michael, and my brothers in the band. I miss their
friendship, camraderie, and the applause, and it took quite a while to settle into being home, as after ten years, traveling really
gets into your blood.
It was time to shift gears into being a session musician and now I've shifted gears again into being a composer and producer.
But whenever I get back to Montana, I always stop at Red Lodge...
______________________________ _Michael Martin Murphey's Website