Although he’s always had a knack for getting his songs recorded by others, David Lee Murphy is happy to have written another hit for himself. With “Loco” continuing to climb the country singles chart, the Illinois native is back on the radio.
The truth is, however, that Murphy hasn’t really been off the radio. In addition to his 1995 chart-topping single “Dust on the Bottle,” Murphy continues to receive airplay for other hits, most notably “Party Crowd.” And if you’ve heard Trick Pony’s “On a Mission” or Aaron Tippin’s “People Like Us,” you’ve heard Murphy’s work as a songwriter. In recent years, Hank Williams Jr., Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry and Chris LeDoux have also recorded Murphy’s songs.
When it’s suggested Murphy must be receiving plenty of songwriter royalty checks, he laughs, “Well, I haven’t gotten them yet. I know they’re supposed to be coming. They tell me I’m going to get a check one of these days.”
Murphy’s new Audium/Koch album, Tryin’ to Get There, is his first since 1997’s We Can’t All Be Angels on MCA Nashville.
“It’s hard hittin’,” Murphy says in describing the new album. “It’s got a few hard hittin’, rockin’ songs, and it definitely nods to the traditional as well. I would always be one of the biggest supporters of traditional country music because I grew up on it, but I am also probably going to be one of the first guys to turn the amp up to 11 and crank it. … Guys like Waylon, you know, started out in rock ‘n’ roll, and they didn’t have any shyness about turning it up and playing it loud.”
Prior to his death in 2002, Waylon Jennings and Murphy wrote four songs together, including the title track to Tryin’ to Get There. The two first met during the mid ’90s, but Murphy was still in awe when they began co-writing songs a few years later.
“Being a Waylon nut, sitting down there across from a legend and one of your all-time heroes, I thought, man, this is really going to be tough,” Murphy says. “But Waylon was so cool and made me feel so welcome and comfortable, I just felt like he was somebody I had known my entire life. You hear people say they don’t want to meet their heroes. When I met Waylon, it was better than I thought it would be. He just went up in my book.”
Referring to the title track, Murphy says, “It’s just a song that’s about how we’re all going to make a few mistakes here and there. There’s some hills you gotta go up, and there’s some curves you gotta take. That’s not the words to the song, but it’s basically that we’re all looking for the same thing, and we’re all just trying to get there the best we can.”
Having toured in 2003 with John Berry and Lee Roy Parnell, Murphy is already having a good time performing his new material on the road this year. “My band has a good time, too,” he says. “They can’t wait to go back out on the road. If the bus is supposed to leave at midnight, we’re there at 11 o’clock — waiting to go. We’ve got a really good bunch of people. We go out there and just play as hard as we can play and have as much fun playing for a little bitty fair as we do if we’re playing in an arena.”
Even without the new songs, Murphy attracts a devoted audience he began cultivating a decade ago. Unlike many other acts, Murphy somehow managed to make some records that appear to be holding up well after repeated listens.
“It’s like a radio guy said, ‘It might have appeared that you’ve been out of the scene, but we’ve still been playing the heck out of your records.’ And ‘Dust on the Bottle’ is still getting somewhere around 600 spins a week [nationally]. If you look on the charts, 600 spins will get you a No. 30-something record. So we’ve had the equivalent of about a No. 30 record since 1995.”