James McMurtry Biography

18 March 1962, Fort Worth, Texas, USA. Raised in Leesburg, Virginia, McMurtry’s father is award-winning novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry. Encouraged by his mother, an English teacher, James began playing guitar at the age of seven and soon began showing musical ability and a liking for country and rock. He began writing songs during his teens, occasionally performing them in Tucson, while attending the University of Arizona where he studied English and Spanish. He tried various jobs in different parts of the country, always writing songs and in 1987 was a winner in a contest for writers of folk songs. On the soundtrack of Falling From Grace (1992), McMurtry sang with the Buzzin’ Cousins (John Mellencamp, John Prine, Joe Ely and Dwight Yoakam). The film was scripted by his father and was directed by and starred Mellencamp and the latter produced McMurtry’s acclaimed debut album, 1989’s Too Long In The Wasteland. The collection demonstrated McMurtry’s novelistic eye for detail, although his limited singing voice often hampered the delivery of the material.

After two further collections for Columbia Records, McMurtry moved over to the Sugar Hill Records label for his 1997 release It Had To Happen, his best since his debut. The album included a sole cover version (Kinky Friedman’s ‘Wild Man From Borneo’) alongside the original material. After two further collections for Sugar Hill he began recording for the Compadre label, making his debut with the live collection Live In Aught-Three. The album was co-credited to McMurtry’s backing group the Heartless Bastards, bass player Ronnie Johnson and drummer Darren Hess.

McMurtry’s song, ‘Water Walking Jesus’, written in collaboration with Stephen Bruton and novelist Annie Proulx, was sung by Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain (2005), the film for which Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2006, McMurtry was nominated for Americana awards for his album Childish Things, as Artist Of The Year, and for his song ‘We Can’t Make It Here’. This song carried a strong political message and despite its length, some seven minutes, received a lot of airplay. McMurtry also narrated The Dreaded Beard (2005), a film comedy written, produced, directed and photographed by Carolyn Macartney.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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