Michael Martin Murphey's signature hit — the equestrian-themed ballad "Wildfire" — may date back to the 1970s. But not much about the man has changed since. His new album, "Red River Drifter," taps into his signature Western-folk genre in wilderness odes such as "Peaceful Country," "Mountain Storm" and "Under a Rolling Sky." His CD-cover photograph underscores the imagery — he's sporting a cowboy shirt, neckerchief, Stetson and leather duster, and an inside picture features him on horseback. It's not just for show. Murphey is the real salt-of-the-earth deal who sings about what he knows.
You own lots of property. But you actually own your own fishing lake? Well, I'm a rancher. And over the years, I've tended to put my money into land and invest in cattle and horses. And that's not only my preferable lifestyle, but it's also become a business for me. So I have the Rocking 3M Ranching Co., and we have ranches in Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas and now New Mexico.
What does being a rancher entail for you, personally? What I personally have to do is take direction from my wife. Seriously! She's the trail boss, and there's no way I could manage all these ranches without my wife and four daughters, who are 24/7 cowgirls. So I check in from the road to find out what the sales are and how the breeding programs are going. And we also have working cowhorses — horses that do cutting, roping and reining — and my daughters are all horse trainers. California is actually a really strong state in working cowhorse events, and some pretty big ones happen in San Francisco.
Is there a favorite horse that you can't wait to see or ride when you return from touring? Yes. The one in the CD photograph. I call her Miz Wildfire, but in the Palomino and Quarterhorse Association, her registered name is King Dreams of Jean. That's her bloodline, and she's related back to the original foundation of the quarterhorse in 1946.
As a rancher, have you been seeing the effects of global warming early? Well, the biggest problem is probably the most overlooked. The American prairie — which was once all grassland — at one time put out 10 times as much oxygen as the Amazon rain forest. But the transition of grassland into crop farming? The whole ethanol thing is one of the biggest government debacles ever — we never should have supported using corn for anything but food.
How many head of cattle do you own? Well, that's actually an improper question in the ranching industry. You don't ever talk about your acres or your numbers — it's considered to be impolite.Michael Martin Murphey
Where: Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $36.50 to $38.50
Contact: (510) 644-2020, www.thefreight.org