New Book Offers a Glimpse of Mike Murphy’s Life and Music

Kathy Clayton

The Ashland Beacon


   Ask any musician in the tri-state area who played in bands at area clubs since the 1970s, and they will likely have a story about Mike Murphy and his influence on the local music scene.

   Murphy’s talent as a guitarist and songwriter are legendary around here, and most musicians, as well as fans, have memories about his songs and performances. He and his band Zachariah were well-known from the 1970s until his untimely death in a house fire in 1995.

   A former friend, fellow musician and bandmate Jim McKnight, of Flatwoods, has penned a brief book about his memories of Murphy and his legacy. Titled ‘Rock Star of the Country Music Highway,’ the book was released Nov. 15 and is available through Amazon.

   “I think he had a premonition that he was going to die at an early age,” McKnight said. “During conversations, I promised I’d get his story out there if anything ever happened to him.” He said that Murphy told him he didn’t want to be remembered as “growing old and irrelevant. It was sort of a nightmare to him.”

   Best known locally for his songs ‘Appalachian Lady’ and ‘Old Cheap Wine,’ Murphy also was recognized for writing a song made famous by another eastern Kentucky legend, Billy Ray Cyrus. ‘Never Thought I’d Fall in Love with You,’ was included on Cyrus’ debut album, ‘Some Gave All,’ which sold 13 million copies.

   McKnight recalled how he met Murphy. “David Mussetter and I were friends, and I was hired as a carryout boy at the store (Mussetter’s grocery store in Russell). Mike was just out of the [National] Guard and was the back door manager. Corky (Holbrook, another well-known local musician) worked in produce and they had a band called Circus. Mike started giving me guitar lessons. He tried to teach me ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’” he laughed. “That didn’t go far.”

   He said the band played as Circus and The Mike Murphy Band early on, then formed Zachariah around 1975.

   “Mike was a genius at discerning a melody from a vocal, or a metered lyric sheet,” McKnight said. “I’d got him listening to Springsteen around the time we were writing ‘Never Thought that I Would Fall in Love with You,’ and I told him to make it sound more like Springsteen.” Murphy and McKnight co-wrote the tune.

   McKnight said he started writing the book about five or six years ago. “I’ve tried to put it in chronological order. It starts with Mike and his wife, Cathy, when they were at Fairview High School.” The 40-page book also includes pictures. It is published through 9 Lives Records LLC, owned by Gary Kesling.

   “Jim approached me about publishing his book, and I was interested because I had been a member of Zachariah at one time and even played drums on his bestselling song, ‘Never Thought that I Would Fall in Love with You,’“ Kesling said. “I typed and retyped the book, checking it for grammar and spelling issues. Then I formatted I for Amazon.”

   McKnight is donating all proceeds from the book to Murphy’s family, two daughters and a son.

   “Mike seemed to have a destructive impulse to his personality,” McKnight said. “Whenever things were going really good, he’d do something destructive to blow it up. And he wasn’t very comfortable playing in front of a large audience of people he didn’t know. He liked the reassurance of seeing familiar faces around the stage.”

   “Mike was an awesome talent,” Kesling noted. “I knew him since junior high school. I didn’t attend Fairview, but all of my bandmates were from there, and Mike Fitzpatrick, my guitar player, actually dated Cathy in junior high. When I played with Mike, he was having substance abuse problems, but still seemed always to shine when it came to music. As far as his success, I think he was his own worst enemy.”

   “There is a new video from Jim, called ‘Rusty’ that got 1,000 plays the first day,” Kesling said. “It is a Mike Murphy or Zachariah song put to a new video about AK shutting down. It was written many years ago, but it fits right into what is happening right now.”

   ‘Rusty’ is available on YouTube, and the book can be purchased through Amazon.