Singer/songwriter David Lee Murphy has made a big resurgence as an artist with his duet hit with Kenny Chesney, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” which this week reached #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. Murphy had a good run as an artist in the 1990s with signature songs like “Dust on the Bottle and “Party Crowd,” but in time he turned his attention mainly to songwriting. He’s penned hits for Chesney (“’Til It’s Gone,” “Living in Fast Forward,” “Live a Little”), Jason Aldean (“Big Green Tractor,” “The Only Way I Know How”), Thompson Square (“Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not,” which received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song), Jake Owen (“Anywhere With You”), and Blake Shelton (“The More I Drink”).
Originally, Murphy had wanted Chesney to record their current hit (as a solo song), but Chesney instead encouraged him to record his own album. Murphy was persuaded, and Chesney and famed Nashville record producer Buddy Cannon helped him produce Murphy’s latest album, No Zip Code.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with David Lee Murphy. He talks about his return as an artist, hooking up with Kenny Chesney, and how a movie moment inspired a Grammy-nominated tune.
BC: Congratulations on your new hit. Can you take me back to when you and your co-writers (Jimmy Yeary and Chris Stevens) wrote “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”?
David Lee Murphy: It was about a year-and-a-half ago. It felt great when we were writing the song. We had the idea…everything’s gonna be alright, and I think the whole thing took off on its own. I had that title in my phone. Chris had built this track that we were listening to that we based the song out of. The whole inspiration came from that.
BC: You’ve written in the past with Kenny Chesney, and he co-produced your new album. How did he end up recording the song with you?
Murphy: Honestly, the whole project was Kenny’s doing. He suggested that I make the album, and thank God! When we cut “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” I had actually played that song for Kenny before we decided to put it on my record. When we were writing the song, it started sounding like it had a Kenny vibe to it. He didn’t end up doing it on that album, but he was going to save it for his next record. Then we talked about it, and he said we could put this one on my record. With him singing on it, it took it to the next level.
BC: You were a hit artist in the ‘90s, but I heard that you were hesitant to return as an artist after several years as a successful songwriter. Why?
Murphy: People have asked me before, ‘If you have hit songs like “Big Green Tractor,” why didn’t you put them out as an artist?’ There’s more to it than that. There’s a lot involved with being an artist. Having been happy as a writer and being successful with it, a lot of people were going, “Why would you want to get back in there and be an artist?”
Here’s the lyric video of David Lee Murphy & Kenny Chesney’s hit,
“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
There’s so many things involved. I love making records, I love writing songs and I love singing songs. I love being on the road performing. There’s so much to do when you put a record out and take that song to radio. You’ve got to be totally committed to do that, and you’ve got to be committed with the people that you’re working with to do it. With Kenny, that was the perfect situation for me to make another record. We said we’re going to go into the studio and pick out 10 or 11 songs, and take our time and record them, and we’re going to have fun. At that point, you can say this is the perfect situation to come back and do another record.
We were working with Reviver Records, which is an independent level—perfect for what I wanted to do. All of those things together made it a perfect opportunity for me to do this.
BC: Are you interested in continuing on as an artist considering how strongly this single has performed?
Murphy: Oh, yeah, man! We’re having a ball doing this. Kenny has gone out on a limb to make this record. I wouldn’t have committed to do one song after all the time, effort, and creative energy that’s been put out to make this record. We want to get out there and have fun. There’s a lot of really good songs on this album. People have been opening their arms to me as an artist. We’re having a blast.
BC: How does the songwriting process work for you, and how has it changed from the days when you came to Nashville playing the bar scene?
Murphy: It hasn’t really changed that much, honestly. I still sit down with an acoustic guitar and a cup of coffee and try to come up with a song idea. Nowadays, somebody might program some drums or some tracks with it like Chris Stevens did on “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” But nine times out of 10, I’m sitting down with that acoustic guitar when I’m trying to write a song. I still write like I did in in the ‘90s. I try to write a hook and put a picture to music, put a story in a song that people can relate to with a hook that you can sing. Hopefully, it’s something that makes people want to forget about whatever happened in their day if it wasn’t good, or make you want to go out and party or have a good time, or when you’re riding down the road just something to listen to while you’re cruising. I just try to write songs that I think people are going to like and try to write songs that I like.
BC: Tell me about how you wrote Jason Aldean’s hit, “Big Green Tractor.”
Murphy: I was at my farm one night on my tractor bush-hogging, mowing down a field. Sticker bushes were three or four feet high, and I had the headlights on on the tractor, and I mowed this field down, and that chorus popped into my head. (He sings) “Take a full ride on a big green tractor.” The next day or so I was writing with Jim Collins, and I knew he had written “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” I said, “Do you feel like writing another tractor song?” So we wrote “Green Big Tractor.” I do that song in my live shows.
Here’s a video of David Lee Murphy performing his hit “Dust
on the Bottle” with Kenny Chesney.
BC: What’s the story behind Thompson Square’s hit “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?”
Murphy: I wrote that one with Jim, too. I think I heard a girl in a movie say that…it was one of those romantic comedies. It was one of those funny, sexy kind of things in a movie. I remember writing that [phrase] down in my phone and just came up with that groove thing. We felt like the day we wrote it, that it feels like a special song. I think that was the most played song of the year in 2010.
BC: One of the other hits that you wrote for Kenny Chesney was “Living in Fast Forward.” How did that come about?
Murphy: I wrote that song with (hit songwriter) Rivers Rutherford. We were at Universal writing, and we had been working on another song all day long. Rivers had a meeting with Buddy Cannon later that afternoon, and we were getting ready to pack it up. He was going to play his songs to Buddy for Kenny. I said, “Man, check out this idea—we might want to write this next time.” I played a little bit of the chorus of what would become “Living in Fast Forward.” Rivers said he loved it, and he started writing the verses almost immediately. We basically had a verse and a chorus. Then he went to his meeting with Buddy, and he played Buddy the verse and the chorus, and Buddy goes, “I want to put that on hold right now for Kenny.”
We finished the song the next day, and that was one of the most pleasantly surprising records that I’ve heard in a long time. I remember that I was playing the Grand Ole Opry, and one of the promotion people from Kenny’s record label, asks if I had heard the Kenny cut yet. He said, “Come out in the parking lot, and I’ll play it for you.’ And it just floored me when I heard “Living in Fast Forward.” Since then when I write with people, they sometimes go, “I’d love to write a song like “Living in Fast Forward.” It’s been a good one.
BC: Congratulations on your latest success.
Murphy: We’re having a ball, man. I’ve been going out with Kenny on some of these radio dates. I’ve been playing “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Dust on the Bottle” and “Party Crowd.” His audience has been so cool, just giving back so much energy that I can’t explain it. It’s so much fun. Kenny works harder than anybody I’ve ever seen out there onstage, making sure everybody’s having a good time. I get to go out there with those people having a good time. It’s just a blast.
Bill Conger is a freelance writer for various publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, ParentLife, Homecoming, and Singing News and is currently writing a biography on The Osborne Brothers with Bobby Osborne. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+