Waco audiences will get plenty of Murphey’s love for American folk music, Christmas and the West in his Thursday night Cowboy Christmas Show, but not from another Murphey labor of love for another genre of Texas music, the progressive country or outlaw country that rolled out of Austin in the 1970s.
He recalls that time in his album “Austinology: Alleys of Austin,” released this fall and featuring the likes of Nelson, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Randy Rogers, Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Amy Grant.
Murphey was a leading practitioner at the time, a regular at Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters, the lodestone of progressive country, with such fellow musicians as Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Gary P. Nunn and Waylon Jennings.
Murphey left Austin in the mid-’70s, in part due to his national success with the country pop hits “Carolina In The Pines” and “Wildfire,” but would shift to celebrate and promote Western music later in his career, retaining a fondness and appreciation for his formative Austin years.
The songs chosen for “Austinology” aren’t a greatest hits of that time, though they include his “Geronimo’s Cadillac” and Guy Clark’s “LA Freeway,” as much as examples of the songwriting and sound that shaped Texas music and Americana to this day.
He picked songs that came out during his years in Austin, 1968 to 1974, with numbers written by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Clark and Steve Fromholz, whose “Texas Trilogy” Murphey calls “one of the real masterpieces of Texas music making.”
“The biggest challenge was winnowing down to 10 to 15 songs on the album,” Murphey said.
As observed in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s exhibit “’Outlaws and Armadillos: Roaring Country of the ‘70s,” much of that music endures and continues to draw new fans, either for the original songs or its influence on today’s Americana and Texas country.
He attributes that to a fertile creativity in Austin at that time, when Murphey, Rhodes Scholar Kris Kristofferson and well-read Nelson and Walker bounced ideas off each other before putting them to sound or paper.
“I think the music was just thought through better,” he said. “Now, we can put out a song as soon as we write one, but then you had to write it down and you had to focus and think it through.”