By Blake Maddux
James McMurtry’s Facebook page describes him as having a “steady fan base since 1989”.
In a 1992 interview, singer-songwriter James McMurtry said: “When I was about seven years old, she taught me three chords on the guitar. That was the start for me, and I learned the rest myself.”
“She” was his mother, Josephine “Joe” McMurtry (née Ballard), a Shakespearean scholar and professor of English at the University of Richmond.
In the same interview, he admitted, “If it hadn’t been for my father’s connections, I wouldn’t have made it anywhere.”
“Dad” is Larry. He is a novelist whose works have been made into big screens such as movies. Hud, of last kamishibaiand Dear Terms and on a smaller scale in the form of several works based on his work. lonely dove book series. (Larry McMurtry also co-wrote the script.) Brokeback Mountain. )
So it was exactly when James McMurtry confessed in a recent phone interview I had with him that “I don’t read a lot,” until James McMurtry finally took the word. It’s no surprise that he’s made a living out of something.
McMurtry’s Facebook page describes him as having a “steady fan base since 1989.”
It’s a shame because if this is obviously accurate, it means fewer people have heard his latest album, which is 2021’s masterpiece. horse and houndmore than any of his previous efforts.
But the fan base he’s gained—and likely maintained—includes a wide range of familiar authors and fellow music-makers.
Among them was former University of Maine student newspaper columnist turned novelist Stephen King, who said, “James McMurtry may be the truest and most fierce songwriter of his generation. I can’t,” he said. And Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed “America’s head of rock critics,” named McMurtry’s 2005 song “We Can’t Make It Here” the number one song of the 2000s.
Members of the latter camp included the late Monkey Michael Nesmith (“James McMurtry is a true Americana poet”), John Mellencamp (who produced McMurtry’s first two records), and INXS keyboardist. Andrew Faris (“lyrically gutsy, musically gutsy…we need James McMurtry to bring in)”. “More of Us”), former and current (respectively) Drive-By Truckers Jason Isbell (“I don’t think anyone writes better lyrics”) and Patterson Hood (“McMurtry is the best It may be a writer who has been talked about.”).
The following Q&A is based on a chat I had with fellow Austin-based singer-songwriter BettySoo before his March 21st show at City Winery.
fusion of art: What do you think is responsible for your “Los Angeles vibe” and “Warren Zevon specter”? horse and hound?
James McMurtry: don’t know. Recorded at Jackson Browne’s house in Santa Monica, it’s like a new room. I don’t know if Zevon ever recorded there. The guitar reminded me of his.
of: Randy Newman once said, “An interviewer would ask why it took five years to make an album, and I would say, ‘It took less than five years—5 I didn’t do anything for years.'” I used to watch TV just like you. ” Any answers as to why he had a 6 year gap? complex game and horse and hound?
JM: (laughs) When the record comes out, it comes out. My second record came out about three years after the first, and people complained about it. Well, it was ready after a year, but was shelved for two years. Such things happen all the time.
For this record, we tracked it in 2019 and overdubbed it for the rest of 2019, but it wasn’t completely done before lockdown happened. That slowed down the process considerably. I still had to use the keyboard, I had to mix, I had to master. I couldn’t tour for a while after that, so the release was exactly what the label wanted.
of: What is the specific meaning of “Horse and Hound”?
JM: For me, it was just about the inner demon. As you know, horses and hounds are used to chase foxes and fugitives. one or the other. In Texas, the prison system ran a dog-like program until about five years ago.They stopped chasing escaped convicts from Huntsville [Texas] Not so long ago, dog trainers always rode horses to catch up with their dogs.
ofQ: You sang your views on the Bush administration on “We Can’t Make It Here” in 2005 and “Cheney’s Toy” in 2008. Just how rich was the first term of Trump’s presidency?
JM: I don’t know if I wrote anything about it. I don’t plan on writing about any particular subject. I listen to the words that go with it, and when it becomes a cool song, I complete it.
of: “Ft.” has a reference to “Fox News fiction”. Walton wake up call. ”
JM: That’s right. It’s pretty flirtatious. And the wall is also mentioned, but if you want to build a wall here, you usually hire Mexicans. And quite often Mexican citizens.
of: This song adds a little flirty after seven mostly somber tracks. Losing your glasses happens so often that you can’t help but write about it, right?
JM: No, I heard it in my head and needed the chorus, so I just pasted it in there as a placeholder for when I get the actual chorus. Then I played it to the guys and they just loved it. It saved me some work, so I thought I’d just leave it as is.
That’s where wordplay comes from.I don’t remember where I started, but I play 30A every year [Songwriters] Festivals around Graton Beach in the Florida Panhandle [where Fort Walton is located]. It’s always freezing because it has the same northerly winds as in Texas. In Florida we often find ourselves playing outdoors in temperatures of 30 degrees.
of: “Field of Rapeseed” contains some very specific geographic references that aren’t necessarily associated with you. Was that song inspired by real events?
JM: This is fiction, but I have visited those places, so I know the places. If you haven’t driven back and forth between Alberta and Saskatchewan many times in the summer, you probably know what rape fields are like. And Santa Cruz is one of our major markets.There’s a station there, KPIG, off Watsonville [California] It has always been a big supporter. So we’ve been around Santa Cruz, Aptos, San Jose, Saratoga, and more.
of: Both “Jackie” and “Decent Man” are very detailed story songs. Has anything really happened in any of these songs?
JM: They are fiction. “Decent Man” was actually stolen from Wendell Berry. This is his short story that I spun from a different point of view, a different season, a different gun chamber. But that’s the story of Wendell Berry’s “Pray Without Ceasing.” Great story.
I called Mr. Berry and gave him credit. I don’t usually do that, but in his case I thought I’d ask. He called back and said: “No, it’s a different medium. Use this.” I didn’t know him, but his father did. You have to call him on the real phone at his farm in Kentucky. He doesn’t email or anything. [Here is a 2022 New Yorker story about him.]
of: What inspired you to think about religion on your first single, ‘If It Don’t Bleed’?
JM: I got this concept from my cousin who was addicted to cocaine for a while. After he went through hell, after I complained about the littlest things, he said: If you don’t bleed, you’re fine. ”
of: “Vaquero” is dedicated to Bill Witliffe. Who is he? Why is this song partly sung in Spanish?
JM: he wrote the screenplay for lonely dove It was a miniseries and was an old friend of the family. I haven’t spoken to him in a while, but recently I’ve finally been able to get in touch with him. Then I was out and heard that he had passed away. This is one of the few songs I’ve actually written for one person, him.
In the 60’s he published a really nice photo book called “”. cowboy. He had a friend who ran a large open ranch in Mexico, about 750,000 acres. It’s a really great book.
And he had another photobook. life jumps, “Life Jump”. A term used in northern Mexico. So I put both of them into this song.
of: You worked with Ross Hogarth early in your career and again on the 2002 production. Saint Mary of the Forest.what did he bring horse and hound as a producer?
JM: This is my first time working with him as a producer. He recorded and mixed my first two records.
He has really great ears and good ideas. He probably got the best vocal sound out of me. A constant attention to detail is brought to you by him. Every little thing counts. You may not think so, but it really is.
Rather, it is possible. There are records that we threw away that turned out to be great. It’s the exception rather than the rule. Viva Tarlingua come to mind. It’s a classic Jerry Jeff Walker record.They all got drunk and went out to Luckenback [Texas], played and recorded the program. It was a great record.
of: How has COVID-19 affected your perspective of touring in real places and in front of real people?
JM: My back didn’t hurt after a while, so I thought I wouldn’t miss it. But then I went on tour and did some tours, and it’s nice to do something that you’re somewhat good at. It feels good, so I have to keep going.
of: Fill in the blanks. I wish I was a half _________ singer-songwriter.
JM: Kris Kristofferson. He’s the first one that comes to mind, so I’m not going to think too much about it.
Blake Maddux Freelance journalist and regular arts fuse, Somerville Timesand the beverly citizen. he also dig boston, artery, Lynn Happens, providence journal, Onions AV Cluband the Columbus dispatch. Born in Ohio, he moved to Boston in 2002 and now lives in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife and his five-year-old twins, Elliott Samuel and Xander Jackson.