"Wildfire" Murphey rides the Wisconsin trails
"She comes down from Yellow Mountain, on a dark flat land she rides, on a pony she named Wildfire." Did you know the singer and writer of the 1975 country-tinged pop hit "Wildfire," Michael Martin Murphey, lives in Wisconsin?
Unlike many artists whose careers are often boiled down to a single work by a listening public with a short attention span, Murphey -- who lives on a ranch in northern Wisconsin -- says "Wildfire" has been more a blessing than a curse for his varied, decades-long career.
"It had a vast influence on my life. I think a person is very very lucky to have a signature song and have it be one he wrote himself," says Murphey via telephone, taking a break from delivering calves and foals. "I think you're fortunate because you can say, 'I'm the guy who wrote "Wildfire"' and immediately people know the song. A song sticks in the brain a lot more easily that a name does."
As signature songs go, Murphey says that "Wildfire," which was written after a dream he had, is golden.
"I don't mind (it) being the main one," he says. "I feel blessed that I still like to sing it. It's very mysterious, very dream-like. It wasn't something I sat down and calculated out, so it's not real specific. Every time I sing it, the song has changed meaning for me and the audience. If it had been more specific, it would've maybe been hard to do it; it may have seemed a little more outdated."
The rugged, close to the land Murphey hardly seems like the type to worry about being dated. He's worked as a rancher for years and for the past five or so, he's done a lot of that work in Wisconsin.
"It was really my wife Karen," he says, explaining how he came to the Badger State. "She's been living in this area for many years and (has) always been in the horse business and had a lot of contacts up here. I just felt like there's no need for her to give up her horse business to move out West. You don't have to live out West to be a cowboy. It's a national and worldwide phenomenon. There's a lot of western lifestyle activity up here. I really fell in love with the land up here. It's as productive as I've ever seen."
Being a Texas boy, news that he's in Wisconsin often brings the usual questions about how he deals with the weather. But, again, rain and snow doesn't seem to faze Murphey -- who also keeps an apartment in Texas -- except in the ways it affects his herds.
"It's actually warmer here than my cabin where my ranch headquarters was in New Mexico, at 10,400 ft. Up there, there's more snow, more cold weather, a shorter growing season plus the threat of drought and wildfires and all that. You just can't beat the land (here) and the weather is great. We get a lot of rain and a lot of snow."
Murphey -- who is preparing a fifth disc of cowboy songs for May release -- says meeting Roy Rogers helped give him some new perspectives on life and his career.
"When I did my first cowboy songs album in 1989, I went and visited Roy Rogers while I was making it and I said, 'I want to be a cowboy singer and I want you to give me your advice,'" Murphey recalls. "He said, 'you're lucky because I consider 'Wildfire' to be a western song. ... Here's my advice: get yourself a horse that you can ride in parades and in your shows and sing on horseback at these performances. That's something I couldn't do because they didn't have wireless microphones. Get yourself a good-looking horse because when you get old and ugly the kids will still like the horse. Trigger was as big a star as I was.'"
Murphy got that horse and has been using one ever since.
"He also said, 'Don't do anything that would send a kid down the wrong trail. That made me think an entertainer really does have an effect and the morals you live by have a big effect on people. Roy made me think about that more than anyone ever had made me think about it."
Part of keeping people on the right trail was, for Murphey, serving as spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Year of the Trails.
I served as a spokesman for a year and was real active and I continue to speak out for good trails and sensitivity to the importance of good trails," he said proudly. "The trail system is just phenomenal here. I didn't realize and a lot of people don't realize that Wisconsin has more state managed trials than any state in the union. Between 22,000 and 25,000 miles of state managed trails."
Murphey's Web site is michaelmartinmurphey.com.
Editor's note: Murphey's Riverside show on St. Patrick's Day has been canceled.
I always LOVED Mr. Murphys song Wildfire, it's nice to know he graces our state with his talent of song writing and horses.
OO said: Thanks for the update - any word on reschedule or is it dead in the water?
Bobby Tanzilo said: Sorry, O.O., turns out the show really has now been officially canceled. Let the revised story return...
OO said: Thanks for the addition,I appreciate the clarification. Hope they don't cancel,though - I'm looking forward to seeing him in concert again.
Omniscient Observer said: Good article on Michael M - but, funny, no mention of the fact that he's performing this Friday evening at the Riverside (which, I asume, is what occasioned feature). Anyway, hope that y'all are planning on going as he puts on a terrific show.
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