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American singer/songwriter James McMurtry wields his capoed cobbled-together butterscotch Fender Telecaster during a late-night performance with his backing band, The Heartless Bastards, in 2005 at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton, Texas.
March 18, 1962|
Fort Worth, Texas, United States
|Origin||Leesburg, Virginia, United States|
|Genres||Roots rock, folk rock, alternative country, Americana|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, guitarist and bandleader, self proclaimed “beer salesman”|
|Instruments||electric guitar, acoustic guitar (6-string and 12-string), baritone guitar, resonator guitar|
Sugar Hill Records
|Associated acts||Guy Clark, Nancy Griffith, David Grissom (former lead guitarist), Joe Ely, Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Mellencamp|
James McMurtry (born March 18, 1962 in Fort Worth, Texas) is an American rock and folk rock/americana singer, songwriter, guitarist, bandleader, and occasional actor (Daisy Miller, Lonesome Dove, and narrator of Ghost Town: 24 Hours in Terlingua). He performs with veteran bandmates Daren Hess, Cornbread, and Tim Holt.
His father, novelist Larry McMurtry, gave him his first guitar at age seven. His mother, an English professor, taught him how to play it: "My mother taught me three chords and the rest I just stole as I went along. I learned everything by ear or by watching people."
McMurtry spent the first seven years of his boyhood in Ft. Worth but was raised mostly in Leesburg, Virginia. He attended the Woodberry Forest School, Orange, Virginia. He began performing in his teens, writing bits and pieces. He started performing his own songs at a downtown beer garden while studying English and Spanish at the University of Arizona in Tucson. After traveling to Alaska and playing a few gigs, he returned to Texas and his father's "little bitty ranch house crammed with 10,000 books". After a time, he left for San Antonio, where he worked as a house painter, actor, bartender, and sometimes singer, performing at writer's nights and open mics.
In 1987 McMurtry's career entered an upswing. A friend in San Antonio suggested McMurtry enter the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk songwriter contest; he became one of six winners that year. Also around this time John Mellencamp was starring in a film based on a script by McMurtry's father, which gave McMurtry the opportunity to get a demo tape to Mellencamp. Mellencamp subsequently served as co-producer on McMurtry's 1989 debut album, Too Long in the Wasteland. McMurtry also appeared on the soundtrack of the film Falling from Grace, working with Mellencamp, John Prine, Joe Ely, and Dwight Yoakam in a "supergroup" called Buzzin' Cousins.
McMurtry released follow-up albums Candyland (1992) and Where'd You Hide the Body (1995). Walk Between the Raindrops followed in 1998 and 2002 brought St. Mary of the Woods. In April 2004, McMurtry released a tour album called Live In Aught-Three. "Choctaw Bingo," one of McMurtry's most popular songs, is featured on both St. Mary of the Woods and Live in Aught-Three.
In 2005, McMurtry released his first studio album in three years. Childish Things again received high critical praise, winning the song and album of the year at the 5th Annual Americana Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. The album was perhaps McMurtry at his most political, as his working-class anthem "We Can't Make It Here" included direct criticism of George W. Bush, the Iraq War, and Wal-Mart. The music critic Robert Christgau ranked "We Can't Make It Here" as the best song of the 2000s.
McMurtry released his follow-up album to Childish Things in April 2008. Just Us Kids continued with the previous album's political themes and included the song "Cheney's Toy", McMurtry's most direct criticism of George W. Bush so far. Like "We Can't Make It Here" from the previous album, "Cheney's Toy" was made available as a free Internet download.
Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins, released in late 2015 on Austin-based Eight 30 Records, includes McMurtry's take on the late busker's song "Big Things." Additionally, Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay, released in early 2016 (also on Eight 30 Records), features McMurtry's version of Finlay's "Comfort's Just a Rifle Shot Away."
McMurtry contributed his rendition of Adam Carroll's "Screen Door" to Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll (Eight 30 Records, 2016) as well as "Grandpa's Promise" to the satirical album Floater: A Tribute to the Tributes to Gary Floater (Eight 30 Records, 2018).
McMurtry currently resides in Austin, Texas. When in Austin, McMurtry and The Heartless Bastards play a midnight set at The Continental Club on Wednesday nights. He is usually preceded by another Austin roots rock legend, Jon Dee Graham. McMurtry's son, Curtis, is a singer-songwriter in his own right and has performed with his father.
|US||US Heat||US Indie||US Country||US Folk||US Rock|
|1989||Too Long in the Wasteland||125||Columbia|
|1995||Where'd You Hide the Body|
|1997||It Had to Happen||Sugar Hill|
|1998||Walk Between the Raindrops|
|2002||Saint Mary of the Woods|
|2004||Live in Aught-Three||Compadre|
|2007||Best of the Sugar Hill Years||Sugar Hill|
|2008||Just Us Kids||136||2||18||Lightning Rod|
|2009||Live in Europe||24|
|2015||Complicated Game||102||1||9||4||18||Complicated Game|
|1989||"Painting By Numbers"||33||Too Long in the Wasteland|
|1992||"Sweet Suzanne"||Buzzin' Cousins||68||Falling from Grace soundtrack|
|1992||"Sweet Suzanne" (Buzzin' Cousins)||Marty Callner|
- James McMurtry at AllMusic
- "One on One with James McMurtry". HoboTrashcan. 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
- Rosenbaum, Ron. "Choctaw Bingo : A modest proposal for a new national anthem". SLATE. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
- "Rolling Stone Ballot: The 00's Best Songs & Albums". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
- "James McMurtry Returns With 'How'm I Gonna Find You Now' From New LP (Exclusive)". The Wall St Journal. Retrieved 2014-11-07.
- "Various Artists: Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay". AllMusic.
- "Eight 30 Records". Eight 30 Records. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
- Official site
- One on One with James McMurtry
- Interview and Live Performance on Chicago TV show "Corporate Country Sucks"
- BBC News: Rocker Young wins Americana award
- Ron Rosenbaum, in Slate, on why McMurtry's "Choctaw Bingo" should be the new national anthem
| AMA Album of the Year (artist)
| AMA Song of the Year (Songwriter)