In many ways, Michael Martin Murphey has the career that Michael Nesmith of the Monkees -- with whom Murphey performed early in both of their careers -- might've had if he'd never been picked for the NBC series. A guitarist/songwriter, Murphey led the country-rock group the Lewis & Clarke Expedition in the mid-to-late '60s and had some pop success, and even got one song, "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?," recorded by the Monkees (with Nesmith singing lead, natch). His songs were cut by the likes of Flatt & Scruggs, Kenny Rogers, Roger Miller, and Bobbie Gentry, and he eventually began recording for A&M Records, and later for Epic Records, where he enjoyed a huge pop hit in the 1970s with "Wildfire." For a time he was known as the Cosmic Cowboy after one of his early songs. Murphey moved to Liberty Records in the early '80s and later jumped to Warner Bros., where his interest in cowboy and Native American subjects led to the foundation of the Warner Western imprint, a subsidiary label devoted to cowboy music and poetry.
Murphey was born in Dallas, TX, and quickly took to playing the ukulele. He had a special love for cowboy stories and songs and also read avidly as a boy -- especially the work of Mark Twain and William Faulkner -- and was writing poetry before he was in his teens. He began performing as an amateur while in junior high school and within a few years was playing the clubs around Dallas in the early '60s, combining country, folk, and rock music. Somehow, despite the inherently conservative nature of all of those audiences, Murphey made it work, and he formed a band with a decent following in the area around Dallas. He studied poetry and writing at the University of California, and soon after arriving in the Golden State he was signed up as a songwriter with Sparrow Music. By 1964, he was a popular figure in the folk clubs around Los Angeles and had formed up with three like-minded musicians, Nesmith, John London, and John Raines, under the name the Trinity River Boys, who recorded one never-to-be-released album before disbanding.