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Traveling Storyteller 

James McMurtry talks about what makes a good song and why he loves driving on tour

"I was doing this long before the term 'Americana' was applied to any form of music," James McMurtry says of his music style. "I modeled my whole thing on Kris Kristofferson and Crazy Horse and The Band. My musical influences were more rock and roll."


pon listening to McMurtry, who headlines at the Domino Room on Thursday night, (buy tickets at Bendticket) it's easy to pick up hints of his influences. Between his vocal twang and easy listening folk-rock style, you might catch a hint of Bob Dylan. Like Dylan, McMurtry boasts a strong songwriting style that speaks to the masses. On his latest album, "Complicated Game," McMurtry focuses on relationships — something to which many listeners can relate.

"I hear a couple lines and a melody in my head and if it's cool enough to keep me up at night I'll finish the song," McMurtry says of his songwriting process. "I just keep following it until I get a verse/chorus structure. Usually, I'll hear the line and think, 'Who said that?' I try to imagine a character that might have said those lines. Then I can write the songs from the character's point of view. If I'm lucky, I can work backwards from the character and get the story."

While the best songs may keep him up at night, McMurtry still has to love performing them. The true test for whether it's a good song comes down to whether he can perform it without cringing. With 12 studio albums under his belt, starting with 1989's "Too Long in the Wasteland," it seems songwriting comes naturally to the Austin, Texas-based musician.


career in music also appeals to McMurtry because of the touring. While other musicians may complain about the long drives, McMurtry loves it—to a point. He doesn't often drive more than eight hours a day, preferring no more than five, which he credits to having a good booking agent who does good routing.

"I like getting out and getting around the country at different times of year," McMurtry says. "I do about half the drivin' and the rest of the time I'm looking out the window. I'm watching, I'm seeing what plants are blooming, what crops are growing in different parts of the country. I've seen that change. I saw the whole country go from soybeans to corn when ethanol went up. That's interesting to me and you don't really see that unless you're out driving around the country."

Listening to "Complicated Game," it's easy to imagine a cross country road trip with McMurtry as your storyteller. He's observant. He writes for the human condition and his songs perfectly score the scene of a movie in which the lead character drives through the night to get home to the one he or she loves. Classically Americana... whatever that means.

James McMurtry

Thurs., Aug 3


Domino Room

51 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend.

$16 — Buy them at

About The Author

Anne Pick

Music Writer | The Source Weekly
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