Million-selling singer-songwriter David Lee Murphy had no plans to make a new record until a country superstar made them for him.
“I’ve been friends and written songs with Kenny (Chesney) for years,” Murphy reflects. “I sent him some songs for one of his albums a couple of years ago, and he called me up. He goes, ‘Man, you need to be making a record. I could produce it with Buddy Cannon, and I think people would love it.’ It’s hard to say no to Kenny Chesney when he comes up with an idea like that.”
Murphy, whose songs “Dust on the Bottle and “Party Crowd” continue to be staples at country radio, could have easily filled the album with hits he’s written for Chesney (“’Til It’s Gone,” “Living in Fast Forward,” “Live a Little”), Jason Aldean (“Big Green Tractor,” “The Only Way I Know How”), Thompson Square (GRAMMY-nominated “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not”), Jake Owen (“Anywhere With You”), or Blake Shelton (“The More I Drink”). But, Chesney had other ideas.
“Kenny was really influential in the songs that we picked,” says Murphy. “Over the course of the next year or so, we got together, talked about it and picked out songs. I wanted to record songs of mine that people haven’t heard before, that are new. We wanted to make the kind of album that you would listen to if you were camping or out on a lake, fishing. Or sitting anywhere, just having a good time.”
Titled No Zip Code, the new David Lee Murphy collection has already yielded a hit single and duet with Chesney, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” The collection also contains such good-time, party-hearty anthems as “Get Go,” “Haywire” and “That’s Alright.”
The rocking “Way Gone” is a female-empowerment barn burner. “Winnebago” invites a lover to a rural retreat. The hooky, retro sounding “Voice of Reason” is about a ne’er-do-well running off the rails time and again. The infectious, up-tempo “I Won’t Be Sorry” is about living life to the fullest and going out with a bang. In “Waylon and Willie,” a broken-hearted lover nurses nostalgia for good times that have departed. “As the Crow Flies” promises a loving reunion from a wandering soul. “No Zip Code” is a fantasy about a life lived far from the world’s problems.
These songs reconnect us with an artist who was a pioneer of the edgy, rocking style that now dominates modern country music. David Lee Murphy developed his musical style as a teenager in Southern Illinois. Although both parents were schoolteachers, he was an indifferent student. Instead of studying books, he studied the sounds of such “outlaw” country musicians as Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. He was also deeply influenced by southern rock bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers and Z.Z. Top.
He arrived in Nashville determined to fuse those influences into his own recording style. But when every label in town turned him down, he turned to writing songs for others and playing the honky-tonks of Middle Tennessee with his band.
“I was on the ‘ten-year songwriting program,’” he comments wryly. “Those were the starving artist years. When I first came to Nashville, I didn’t realize that they didn’t have 20-year-old country singers. You had to be 40. You had to have some scars and some wrinkles and a little bit of age. You had to have some smoke and diesel dust on you.
“So I concentrated on my songwriting. I wanted to get better as a writer, so I could record my own songs. In the meantime, I had a little band called The Blue Tick Hounds. We played all the little clubs and dives, just wherever we could get a gig. We were an edgy little four-piece band who played loud and hard. We didn’t fit right in the groove at that time, to where we were commercial enough to get a record deal.
“That was my first few years in town, playing the clubs and learning how to write songs. I gotta say, those were some great days.”
Gradually, a diverse range of artists from Reba McEntire to Dobie Gray began recording his tunes. GRAMMY-winning producer and MCA Nashville President Tony Brown heard Murphy’s recording of a song called “Just Once” and put it on the soundtrack of the 1994 rodeo movie 8 Seconds. This led to the recording of Murphy’s debut album, 1995’s Out With a Bang. It yielded the massive hits “Party Crowd” and “Dust on the Bottle” and became a Gold Record.
“I had a ball,” he recalls of his graduation to record stardom. “I had a great time. In the early ‘90s when I was starting to have hits, that was really fun to me. I mean, I loved it. That was the first time I experienced when people knew who I was. And it was a great time to be out playing music, because there was a lot of great music going on. Nashville was blowing up.”
The next phase of his career proved to be even more lucrative. Murphy became an in-demand songwriter for such post-millennial country stars as Chesney, Aldean and Shelton. He has earned more than a dozen songwriting awards. David Lee Murphy songs have been recorded by superstars Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Eric Church, Brad Paisley, Hank Williams Jr., Brooks & Dunn, Chris Young and many more.
“These last few years of just being a songwriter, I’ve had a crazy good time,” says Murphy. “I’ve been really fortunate. A lot of great artists have recorded my songs. I get up every day and get to do something I really love to do, which is write songs. I get to be with artists and the best songwriters anywhere. Plus, I get to record. I sing the demos of the songs, so I’m making little records and being in the studio.
“And at the same time, I get to go on the road in the summer and play fairs and festivals and be an artist, too. It is zero pressure, and it is really fun. It is just me and the band having a good time playing music. When you can play an hour-and-a-half show of songs that people know, it’s so much fun to see their reaction. Half of the songs can be my songs from the ‘90s and half of the songs can be these hits they know by other artists.”
With No Zip Code, David Lee Murphy is launching yet another phase of his already stellar career. Starting with its tune “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” he is beginning to add more of his own hit records to his concert set lists.
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