By Jeffrey B. Remz, May 2004
avid Lee Murphy must have thought he may become dust on the bottle. After all, he had not released an album in more than six years and "Tryin' to Get There" was released on a label that while usually putting out quality music had yet to see of its releases break big.
Until now. The Illinois native is back on the charts with "Loco," a song that has a Jimmy Buffett bent.
"It's definitely got that kind of vibe," says Murphy, in a telephone interview from Nashville where he is based, of the song he wrote with frequent, longtime songwriting partner Kim Tribble.
And Murphy, whose music has a good amount of guitars, sometimes Stones-style, while keeping it country, seems quite happy on Audium Records, also the home of folks like Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, The Tractors and Daryle Singletary.
"I had considered other labels a few years prior to that, but I had talked with Nick (Hunter, the head of Audium) and to some other indie labels. But I really like Nick Hunter and the people that they had down there. It seemed right. It seemed like the place to go."
"Actually I do feel like the timing is right," says Murphy of "Loco" and his brand of country. "It feels really good."
And unlike some artists, who seem to pay little attention to the charts, Murphy was very cognizant of how "Loco" was climbing.
"We're just having fun. I don't want to really guesstimate how the record is going to do, but we're getting a lot of great feedback from radio stations around the country."
Some might say it was about time for Murphy, who once upon a time had a pretty good career going.
Murphy grew up in the southern Illinois town of Herrin where he "listened to everything. Country was a major influence, but I listened to everything from the Beatles to Skynyrd. Just always Waylon and Willie and those guys like that."
Murphy left Illinois for Nashville in 1983 with the idea of pushing his songwriting skills to eventually put out his own record. He formed a band and played the club circuit.
Murphy managed to get a few cuts covered including "Red Roses Won't Work Now" by Reba McEntire and "High Weeds and Rust" by Doug Stone.
Murphy's manager also pushed his client at record companies, sending out demos to them.
Nearly a decade after he arrived, Murphy hit pay dirt with Tony Brown, then MCA artists & repertoire executive.
MCA signed Murphy and also chose the song "Just Once" to use on the soundtrack of the bull riding movie, '8 Seconds" with Matthew Perry. Murphy's first song to hit the charts had help from Tribble. The song wasn't a big hit, but it got Murphy's name out there.
By 1995, Murphy had huge success with "Party Crowd," the most played country single of 1995, and the big number one hit, "Dust on the Bottle." He followed that up with hits with "Out With a Bang, "Every Time I Get Around You" and "The Road You Leave Behind" in 1995 and 1996. He also released his second album "Getting' Out the good Stuff" in 1996.
But by Murphy's third release, "We Can't All Be Angels," out in 1997, his luck had changed with no single reaching higher than 25 on the Billboard charts and a career perhaps in limbo.
And it had nothing to do with the quality of the album. The music was not a radical departure at all from his first two releases. But the marketplace displayed an increasing tendency towards merging country and pop music, meaning folks with a bit of an edge to their music weren't making it any more.
Singers like Mindy McCready, Bryan White, Ty Herndon and Kevin Sharp topped the charts. The twangy side of country was giving way to the pop sound of Shania Twain and others.
Looking back, Murphy still isn't very happy with the label's push behind the music.
"I was in the witness protection program (with the third album)," says Murphy. "I don't know. I thought it was a pretty good album. My wife thought it was the best of the three on MCA, but anyway..."
"That was a period of time where there was a lot of corporate buying out going on, and it just didn't get out there. Nobody heard it. They didn't (promote it). It just didn't happen. That was it. That's okay. Everything happens for a reason." Murphy's tenure with MCA was over after "We Can't All Be Angels' fell flat.
Sometimes artists look for a label deal right away.
"I made a conscious decision after that whole thing just to kind of start writing songs and pull it back a little while, and I stayed at the farm."
Murphy did not disappear off the face of the earth though.
"I was playing out - I went to Europe. I went to Australia a couple of times. I toured the states and Canada every year. I was out there on the road. I just wasn't touring as hard, and I wasn't worrying about trying to do anything but have fun and go out on the road. I wasn't trying to make records. I didn't want to go out and get a record deal."