Michael Martin Murphey could not believe his ears when WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour host Michael Johnathon called and invited him to perform on the show live in Eureka Springs for the town’s 66th annual Original Ozark Folk Festival this weekend.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Of course I’ll come for the show,’” Murphey says. “I have done his show and he’s become one of my best friends, and Eureka Springs is one of my favorite places.
“When I was a child, my grandmother and my uncle had a ranch in the Mena and Y City area, and I’d go there in the summer. Sometimes we’d travel up to Eureka Springs. Back then the town was practically in ruins, and the hair would stand up on the back of my neck seeing all those old buildings and stuff.”
Murphey, 68, is a native Texan, but now divides his time between that state and his ranching activities there and in Colorado, Wisconsin and New Mexico, plus touring of course, which keeps him busy for an average of 200 shows a year. He’s busy now promoting his latest album, Red River Drifter, released July 9 on his own label,Red River Entertainment.
Though his initial success was in the emerging “outlaw” musical movement in the early 1970s, when he burst on the scene with “Geronimo’s Cadillac” and “Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir,” Murphey had tasted musical success in 1968, when Kenny Rogers & the First Edition recorded a double album of Murphey’s songs in a concept album about a ghost town, The Ballad of Calico.
“I’m still fascinated by ghost towns!” Murphey says. “And the boom towns that can turn into ghost towns or vice versa.”
The topic of ghost towns has Murphey planning to perform one of his songs this weekend, “Healing Spring,” which he notes was inspired by a youthful visit to Eureka Springs, where he noted the town’s signature features were sadly defunct.
“The song is on my 2009 album, Buckaroo Blue Grass, and it was written from the perspective of why are we killing our healing springs?” he says. “I’ve heard that the only comparable sort of springs are in Russia. But the song reflects an old legend about how if you go and get healed by a spring, you’re supposed to go back and thank that spring the rest of your life, but in the song, the fortunate person waits too long, and when he returns, the spring has run dry.”
Murphey will perform solo, although he frequently tours with a band, sometimes featuring his son, Ryan Murphey, who produced Red River Drifter, and plays guitar and mandolin on the album. Father and son wrote the songs together, and it makes for one happy family, Murphey says.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world to be able to work with my flesh and blood,” he says. “We’ve worked together since I taught him banjo and guitar when he was 3 and by the time he was 6, he was appearing with me onstage on Austin City Limits.”
Murphey’s best-known hits include “Wildf ire,” “What’s Forever For,” “Cowboy Logic,” “Still Taking Chances,” “Don’t Count the Rainy Days,” “Cherokee Fiddle” and “Carolina in the Pines.”
Johnathon and his Wood-Songs Old-Time Radio Hour is normally based in Lexington, Ky., but Johnathon could not resist the chance for a road trip to the town of Eureka Springs, to take part in one of the nation’s oldest continually held folk festivals. The show is broadcast each week to more than 2 million listeners and viewers of 500 radio stations worldwide, including the Armed Forces Radio Network, public television stations and the Blue Highways TV Network.
Other musicians who will play around town during the festival include Clancey Ferguson, The Ozark Alliance, Mountain Sprout, David Kimbrough III, Fiddlin’ Banjo Billy Mathews, The Clark Family Trio and Martin Johnson.
66th annual Original Ozark Folk Festival Noon Friday: free music in Basin Park featuring Michael Johnathon 11:30 a.m. Saturday: free music in Basin Park, featuring Ozark Folk Festival singer-songwriter contest 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Michael Johnathon’s WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, featuring Michael Martin Murphey, plus Leroy Troy and the Tennessee Mafi a Jug Band, The Auditorium, 36 S. Main St., Eureka Springs Tickets: $75 VIP, $45 orchestra, $35 balcony in advance; $85, $47.50 and $37.50 day of show (479) 253-7333 ozarkfolkfestival.com
Weekend, Pages 40 on 10/24/2013
Print Headline: Murphey gallops into Eureka Springs