Michael Martin Murphey, the “Singing Cowboy Poet,” brings his Cowboy Christmas Show to the Hill Country on Nov 27. The live multi-media performance hearkens back to the first Cowboy Christmas Ball in 1885 at the Star Hotel in Anson, Texas.
Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas Show will be on Sunday, Nov 27, beginning at 3:00 pm at the Kathleen C. Cailloux Theater, 910 Main St, Kerrville. Information and tickets: www.caillouxtheater.com, 830-896-9393.
A Cowboy Christmas
by Phil Houseal
If you are dreading the holidays and their treacly traditions, you need to buy your ticket right now for Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas Show at the Cailloux Theater in Kerrville on November 27. Spending an evening with the legendary “Singing Cowboy Poet” and singer will cure those holiday blues in ways only a cowboy can.
This ain’t Murphey’s first rodeo. The Texas native has been a force in the music business since his breakout hit Wildfire in 1975. Over four decades he has evolved and grown, turning out progressive country standards including Carolina In The Pines, What's Forever For, Cosmic Cowboy, Geronimo’s Cadillac, and Cherokee Fiddle.
Murphey is a talented performer who brings a surprising depth to any discussion. He studied classical literature, medieval and renaissance history, and literature at UCLA.
When I learned I would be able to interview the artist, I was star struck. It’s one thing to talk to the guy who plays the turkey baster, but a star of Murphey’s magnitude has been asked all the questions. So I devised a unique interview strategy: I asked friends what they would ask him. They came through with some excellent questions, and some turkeys (What would you do for a Klondike bar?).
So for the rest of this column, I’ll step aside and let Michael Martin Murphey do what he does best - use his own words.
Do you still use fingernail clippers to trim your strings when you change them?
“Ha! That is assuming I change my strings. I just wipe ‘em off and play another show.”
Why did you start playing?
“My grandpa gave me a ukulele he had brought back from Pearl Harbor when I was 4 years old. He lived in Hawaii but came back to Texas to die. I figured out from that that I loved playing stringed instruments. Next thing you know I’m playing guitar.”
You have written and recorded dozens of hits over four decades, and you continue to tour and turn out acclaimed recordings. What is the key to longevity in the music business?
“Work. I am either writing songs, playing songs, or recording songs. It is a three-pronged attack. I have always got more songs around than space for them on an album. I’m always working on some new material. I can tell you this: When the luck comes, you better be ready.”
Advice to up and coming songwriters?
“Write, write, write. If you want to be a writer for a living, it is a good idea to study music and literature. If you don’t want to read the classics, there is plenty of other stuff to study. That’s where you learn phraseology and rhyme schemes. I strongly recommend taking courses in college in poetry and creative writing. I even try to write emails using good form - I don’t use shorthand when texting, because that dumbs down the language.”
What is the secret to success in the music business?
“It is writing or having access to excellent material. You have to have songs that connect with people. I wouldn’t worry about commercial appeal; it is better to have original songs that people connect to. You can test that in a bar or pizza joint, even if only 30 people are sitting there. It is not about you; it’s about them. You have to produce an emotional reaction in the people who are listening. The music just adds emotional impact to what you are saying.”
On playing in the Hill Country?
“Anybody who doesn’t like the Texas Hill Country needs to have their head examined. This drought is just part of the cycle. I am impressed with the way people survive, without a lot of whining. A while back we tried to put together a benefit for ranchers and farmers, and they said, thank you, but no thank you - we don’t need charity. Every time someone does a benefit, the government comes in and then next thing you know there are strings attached.”
What can people expect at the Cowboy Christmas Show?
“The Cowboy Christmas Show is based on the idea of an old time cowboy remembering back to a simpler time. We go through some of the hit songs, worked in with the Christmas theme. This is a full production show; I don’t just stand up and play. We have a campfire on stage, great lighting, and archival video of actual cowboys showing on video backscreens. We are telling a story up there. People are going to be astounded this year at the stuff we are putting on screen. You’ll see what ladies wore to the ball in the early 1900s, pictures of old cowboys, and old time trail riders who actually went up the Chisholm Trail.”
“My goal is to have any Texan walk out with their chest swelled with pride.”
And even if you are not a Texan, after the Cowboy Christmas Show, you'll leave as a cowboy.