James McMurtry

James McMurtry (born March 18, 1962, in Fort Worth, Texas)[1] is an American rock and folk rock/americana singer, songwriter, guitarist, bandleader, and occasional actor (Daisy Miller, Lonesome Dove, and narrator of Ghost Town: 24 Hours in Terlingua). He performs with veteran bandmates Daren Hess, Cornbread and Tim Holt.

James McMurtry
American singer/songwriter James McMurtry wields his capoed cobbled-together butterscotch Fender Telecaster during a late-night performance with his backing band, The Heartless Bastards, in 2005 at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton, Texas.
American singer/songwriter James McMurtry wields his capoed cobbled-together butterscotch Fender Telecaster during a late-night performance with his backing band, The Heartless Bastards, in 2005 at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton, Texas.
Background information
Born (1962-03-18) March 18, 1962 (age 59)
Fort Worth, Texas, United States
OriginLeesburg, Virginia, United States
GenresRoots rock, folk rock, alternative country, Americana
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, guitarist and bandleader, self-proclaimed "beer salesman"
Instrumentselectric guitar, acoustic guitar (6-string and 12-string), baritone guitar, resonator guitar
Years active1988–present
LabelsColumbia Records
Sugar Hill Records
Associated actsGuy Clark, Nancy Griffith, David Grissom (former lead guitarist), Joe Ely, Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Mellencamp

His father, novelist Larry McMurtry, gave him his first guitar at age seven. His mother, an English professor, taught him how to play it: "My mother taught me three chords and the rest I just stole as I went along. I learned everything by ear or by watching people."


McMurtry spent his first seven years in Ft. Worth[2] but was raised mostly in Leesburg, Virginia. He attended the Woodberry Forest School, Orange, Virginia. He began performing in his teens, writing bits and pieces. He started performing his own songs at a downtown beer garden while studying English and Spanish at the University of Arizona in Tucson. After traveling to Alaska and playing a few gigs, he returned to Texas and his father's "little bitty ranch house crammed with 10,000 books". After a time, he left for San Antonio, where he worked as a house painter, actor, bartender, and sometimes singer, performing at writers' nights and open-mic events.

In 1987, a friend in San Antonio suggested McMurtry enter the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk songwriter contest; he became one of six winners that year. Also around this time John Mellencamp was starring in a film based on a script by McMurtry's father, which gave McMurtry the opportunity to send a demo tape to Mellencamp. Mellencamp subsequently served as co-producer on McMurtry's debut album, Too Long in the Wasteland (1989). McMurtry also appeared on the soundtrack of the film Falling from Grace, working with Mellencamp, John Prine, Joe Ely and Dwight Yoakam in a "supergroup" called Buzzin' Cousins.

McMurtry released follow-up albums Candyland (1992) and Where'd You Hide the Body (1995). Walk Between the Raindrops followed in 1998 and 2002 brought St. Mary of the Woods. In April 2004, McMurtry released a tour album called Live In Aught-Three. "Choctaw Bingo", one of McMurtry's most popular songs, is featured on both St. Mary of the Woods and Live in Aught-Three.[3]

In 2005, McMurtry released his first studio album in three years. Childish Things again received high critical praise, winning the song and album of the year at the 5th Annual Americana Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. The album was perhaps McMurtry at his most political, as his working-class anthem "We Can't Make It Here" included direct criticism of George W. Bush, the Iraq War, and Wal-Mart. The music critic Robert Christgau ranked "We Can't Make It Here" as the best song of the 2000s.[4]

McMurtry released his follow-up album to Childish Things in April 2008. Just Us Kids continued with the previous album's political themes and included the song "Cheney's Toy", McMurtry's most direct criticism of George W. Bush so far. Like "We Can't Make It Here" from the previous album, "Cheney's Toy" was made available as a free Internet download.

In November 2014, McMurtry announced that his new album Complicated Game will be available on February 24, 2015, on an L.A. record label, also named Complicated Game.[5]

Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins, released in late 2015 on Austin-based Eight 30 Records, includes McMurtry's take on the late busker's song "Big Things". Additionally, Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay, released in early 2016 (also on Eight 30 Records), features McMurtry's version of Finlay's "Comfort's Just a Rifle Shot Away."[6]

McMurtry contributed his rendition of Adam Carroll's "Screen Door" to Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll (Eight 30 Records, 2016) as well as "Grandpa's Promise" to the satirical album Floater: A Tribute to the Tributes to Gary Floater (Eight 30 Records, 2018).[7] Also in 2018 McMurtry performed at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival.[8]

McMurtry currently lives in Austin, Texas, where he and The Heartless Bastards often play a midnight set at The Continental Club on Wednesday nights after Jon Dee Graham, another Austin roots rock musician.

McMurtry's son, Curtis, is also a singer-songwriter and has performed with his father.



Year Album Chart Positions Label
US US Heat US Indie US Country US Folk US Rock
1989 Too Long in the Wasteland 125 Columbia
1992 Candyland
1995 Where'd You Hide the Body
1997 It Had to Happen Sugar Hill
1998 Walk Between the Raindrops
2002 Saint Mary of the Woods
2004 Live in Aught-Three Compadre
2005 Childish Things 28 40 47
2007 Best of the Sugar Hill Years Sugar Hill
2008 Just Us Kids 136 2 18 Lightning Rod
2009 Live in Europe 24
2015 Complicated Game 102 1 9 4 18 Complicated Game


Year Single Peak positions Album
Main. Rock
1989 "Painting By Numbers" 33 Too Long in the Wasteland

Guest singlesEdit

Year Single Artist Peak positions Album
US Country
1992 "Sweet Suzanne" Buzzin' Cousins 68 Falling from Grace soundtrack

Music videosEdit

Year Video Director
1989 "Painting By Numbers"
1992 "Sweet Suzanne" (Buzzin' Cousins) Marty Callner
1995 "Levelland"
"Lost in the Backyard"
"Right Here Now"
"Down Across the Delaware"
"Rachel's Song"
"Fuller Brush Man"
2014 "How'm I Gonna Find You Now" "Matthew Wilkinson"
2015 "Forgotten Coast" "Thierry Vivier"


  1. ^ James McMurtry at AllMusic
  2. ^ "One on One with James McMurtry". HoboTrashcan. 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Ron. "Choctaw Bingo : A modest proposal for a new national anthem". SLATE. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  4. ^ "Rolling Stone Ballot: The 00's Best Songs & Albums". Robert Christgau. Archived from the original on 2010-01-02. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  5. ^ "James McMurtry Returns With 'How'm I Gonna Find You Now' From New LP (Exclusive)". The Wall St Journal. Retrieved 2014-11-07.
  6. ^ "Various Artists: Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay". AllMusic.
  7. ^ "Eight 30 Records". Eight 30 Records. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  8. ^ "41st Vancouver Folk Music Festival still true to tradition, still young at heart". July 14, 2018 , Vancouver Weekly, Paul Hecht and Elmira Kuznetsova

External linksEdit


Preceded by
Buddy Miller
AMA Album of the Year (artist)
Succeeded by
Patty Griffin
Preceded by
Mark Heard
AMA Song of the Year (Songwriter)
Succeeded by
Darrell Scott