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What makes great Christian music? First, it has to be great music.
He has six gold albums. In addition to writing his own hit songs, his music has been performed by The Monkees, Kenny Rogers, and John Denver. He's performed on the stages of the world. But cowboy singer Michael Martin Murphey sang his first songs in church.
Age - Congregation - Stand - Podium - 'Zacchaeus
"I went to church from a young age and was blessed with a congregation that would let a three-year-old stand up on a podium and sing 'Zacchaeus was a wee little man,'" he said. "That three-year-old got applause and joy out of that. That experience left a man-sized bootprint on my brain that never left me: I was going to be a musician and an artist."
And so he did, and in the process, he pioneered a new form of music: Americana, a genre-fusing blend of folk, country, gospel, jazz, and blues that has in the past decade taken its rightful place in the American Songbook.
Murphey - Faith - Christ - Age - Sensibilities
Murphey first professed faith in Christ at age 6, and his musical sensibilities were formed by the old hymns of the Christian faith, and by the musical structures and harmonies of the songs he first sang in church as a child.
"If you don't understand my Christian faith, you don't really understand my music," he said.
Murphey - Sermons - Music
Even so, Murphey isn't out to put sermons to music.
Murphey's songs are not explicitly Gospel or Christian; he says they are attempts to tell the truth about the world, and to provide glimpses of grace and freedom.
Take his 1970s hit "Wildfire."
"'Wildfire' came to me in a dream," Murphey said. "So even I don't know for sure what it's about, but I have come to believe that it is about freedom. And I would add that in Revelation we learn that Jesus returns on a white horse....
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It had only one fault, it was useless.