By Joe Southern
Michael Martin Murphey is the real deal.
Part musician, part rancher and part agriculturist, he is 100 percent cowboy and very passionate about his music and his message. Most people know the 72-year-old singer-songwriter for his hit songs such as “Wildfire” and “What’s Forever For.” Relatively few people know him as a rancher and a staunch activist for grazing and preserving grasslands.
“When you take cattle off the grasslands it goes back to desert,” he said in a telephone interview with the Fort Bend Star last week.
Murphey said it doesn’t take a genius to look at a progression of satellite photos to see what’s happening to grasslands around the world, especially in the United States.
“Land is going back to desert all over the world due to terrible land management,” he said.
He said in order to help stop climate change we need to graze more cattle, sheep and other cloven hoof livestock.
“You need healthy grasslands and forests, you can’t do it with technology,” he said.
Murphey explained that cloven hoofed animals (ones with split hooves) are vital to keeping soil churned and maintaining the circle of life on the grasslands.
“It never occurred to me that the cattle would ever be under pressure,” he said. “In 1993 a movement started to get cattle off of public lands.”
The result, he said, is the loss of natural grasslands to desert terrain. As grasslands disappear, it takes away a major source of cleaning carbon (considered a greenhouse gas) out of the air and replenishing it with oxygen.
“Grass lives on carbon, not oxygen, it’s the main thing it has to have,” Murphey said.
He said removing grazing livestock from grasslands is detrimental to the environment and plays a significant role in climate change.
“We’ve vilified livestock and we shouldn’t do that,” he said.
He said he recently performed for the National Bison Conference, a gig he has wanted to perform for years.
“Bison are a great thing for our grasslands … It makes my heart leap when I see them out there,” he said.
Born and raised in Texas, Murphey is no stranger to ranching and the cowboy way of life. When he is not performing music he can often be found on one of his ranches or watching a rodeo, of which he is a big fan.
“I never rode rodeo; working cowboy stuff is all I did,” he said.
He has performed at many rodeos over the years. One of his favorites is Cheyenne Frontier Days. About four years ago he noticed there was no stage for traditional cowboy or western performers to sing from. He met with the officials and now the “Daddy of ’em All” provides a stage for singing cowboys like Murphey. He makes a strong distinction between cowboy and western music from what now passes as country music. He said cowboy/western music “comes from people from the west who live on the land.”
“My audiences are people that want to reconnect with nature,” he said.
That includes urbanites.
“Urban people have a deeper need for real country music than real country people do. They’re sitting in their cars daily with all that pollution we’ve been talking about,” he said.
He said he talks about grazing and grasslands at his concerts but it’s not his focus.
“I don’t stand up there and preach,” he said. “It’s more in the songs.”
Locally, Murphey will be in concert on Aug. 19 in Stafford at the Redneck Country Club. It will be his first appearance there.
“I’ve heard a lot about it,” he said. “I saw that Kris Kristofferson played there. He’s one of my heroes as a songwriter.”
He said that tells him that the Redneck Country Club is “the kind of place where the audience listens to the words of the songs,” which is important to any songwriter.