James McMurtry

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James McMurtry
McMurtry performing in 2005
McMurtry performing in 2005
Background information
Born (1962-03-18) March 18, 1962 (age 62)
Fort Worth, Texas, United States
OriginLeesburg, Virginia, United States
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals
Years active1988–present

James McMurtry (born March 18, 1962, in Fort Worth, Texas)[1] 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 his first seven years in Ft. Worth[2] 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 writers' nights and open-mic events.

In 1987, 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 send a demo tape to Mellencamp. Mellencamp subsequently served as co-producer on McMurtry's debut album, Too Long in the Wasteland (1989). 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). 1997 saw the release of "It Had to Happen" which included a cover of "Wild Man from Borneo" originally done by Kinky Friedman and "Sixty Acres"; a rollicking tune about a dead grandma and the events afterwards.

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.

McMurtry's ninth album, Complicated Game was released on February 24, 2015 on an L.A. record label also named Complicated Game.[5] The album achieved critical acclaim, scoring 87 on Metacritic. Lead single "How’m I Gonna Find You Now" and other tracks such as album opener "Copper Canteen" have become staples in the McMurtry canon.[citation needed][6]

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."[7]

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).[8] Also in 2018 McMurtry performed at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival.[9]

During restrictions on touring and live music imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, McMurtry started streaming several live acoustic performances a week on Facebook and YouTube. After using this platform to premiere new songs including "If It Don't Bleed", a new album, The Horses and the Hounds, was announced on June 9, 2021 and released on August 20. Lead track "Canola Fields" was released to streaming services at the time of the announcement and would go on to get an Americana Music Award nomination. The album, produced by longtime collaborator Russ Hogarth and recorded at Jackson Browne's Santa Monica Groove Masters studio, was reviewed positively, scoring an 81 on Metacritic.[10][11] Pitchfork reviewer Stephen Deusner said of the record: "McMurtry sounds more engaged here, more focused, and more generous to his hard-luck characters."[12]

McMurtry lives in Lockhart, Texas, 30 miles south of Austin, Texas where, until recently, he and The Heartless Bastards regularly played a midnight set at The Continental Club on Wednesday nights after Jon Dee Graham, another Austin roots rock musician.[13][14]

McMurtry's son, Curtis, is also a singer-songwriter and has performed with his father, as well as filling in for his father's Tuesday night solo residency at The Continental Club when James is on tour.



Year Album Chart Positions Label
US US Heat US Indie US Country US Folk US Rock
1989 Too Long in the Wasteland 125 Columbia
1992 Candyland
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
2005 Childish Things 28 40 47
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
2021 The Horses and the Hounds 3 35 29 8 41 New West Records


Year Single Peak positions Album
Main. Rock
1989 "Painting By Numbers" 33 Too Long in the Wasteland

Guest singles[edit]

Year Single Artist Peak positions Album
US Country
1992 "Sweet Suzanne" Buzzin' Cousins 68 Falling from Grace soundtrack

Music videos[edit]

Year Video Director
1989 "Painting By Numbers"
1992 "Sweet Suzanne" (Buzzin' Cousins) Marty Callner
1995 "Levelland" Linda Feferman [15]
"Lost in the Backyard" Pip Johnson [16]
"Right Here Now"
"Down Across the Delaware"
"Rachel's Song"
"Fuller Brush Man"
2014 "How'm I Gonna Find You Now" Matthew Wilkinson
2015 "Forgotten Coast" Thierry Vivier


  1. ^ James McMurtry at AllMusic
  2. ^ "One on One with James McMurtry". HoboTrashcan. 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Ron (13 March 2009). "Choctaw Bingo : A modest proposal for a new national anthem". SLATE. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  4. ^ "Rolling Stone Ballot: The 00's Best Songs & Albums". Robert Christgau. Archived from the original on 2010-01-02. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  5. ^ Danton, Eric R. (4 November 2014). "James McMurtry Returns With 'How'm I Gonna Find You Now' From New LP (Exclusive)". Wall Street Journal. The Wall St Journal. Retrieved 2014-11-07.
  6. ^ "James McMurtry tour statistics". Setlist.fm.
  7. ^ "Various Artists: Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay". AllMusic.
  8. ^ "Eight 30 Records". Eight 30 Records. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  9. ^ "41st Vancouver Folk Music Festival still true to tradition, still young at heart" Archived 2019-07-13 at the Wayback Machine. July 14, 2018 , Vancouver Weekly, Paul Hecht and Elmira Kuznetsova
  10. ^ "James McMurtry Is Hung Up on the Details". Rolling Stone.
  11. ^ "The Horses and the Hounds by James McMurtry". Metacritic.
  12. ^ "The Horses and the Hounds". Pitchfork.
  13. ^ "James McMurtry Remains The Harbinger Of American Truth". Glide Magazine. 11 July 2019.
  14. ^ "James McMurtry releases new live EP to benefit Continental Club". Austin American-Statesman.
  15. ^ Atwood, Brett (1995-07-29). "Learning About 'Real Life' Directing: Students Take Plunge On McMurtry Clips". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13. Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  16. ^ Atwood, Brett (1995-07-29). "Learning About 'Real Life' Directing: Students Take Plunge On McMurtry Clips". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13. Retrieved 2021-12-13.

External links[edit]


Preceded by AMA Album of the Year (artist)
Succeeded by
Preceded by AMA Song of the Year (Songwriter)
Succeeded by