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James McMurtry Papers

Identifier: SWWC-153

Scope and Contents

The archives of Texas singer-songwriter James McMurtry include a career-spanning (from 1984 up to and including his 2021 album, The Horses and the Hounds) collection of personal papers and original song lyrics, press clippings, photographs, master audio recordings, and video cassettes. The collection is divided into nine series, with Series I-VIII comprising all of the papers, notepads and photographs (and some small personal items) and Series IX all of the audio and video recordings.

McMurtry’s song lyrics are all included in the first three series. Series I, “Lyrics for Released Albums,” is divided chronologically into sub-series by album, one for each of his studio albums (and one live album) released between 1989 and 2021: Too Long in the Wasteland, Candyland, Where’d You Hide the Body, It Had to Happen, Walk Between the Raindrops, Saint Mary of the Woods, Live in Aught-Three, Childish Things, Just Us Kids, Complicated Game, and The Horses and the Hounds. Within each album sub-series, the lyrics — mostly hand-written on loose notepad pages, often with several different drafts per song — are divided into separate folders for each song, arranged alphabetically.

Series II, “Lyrics for Singles, Unrecorded Songs, and Unidentified Songs,” contains 94 folders of lyrics for released as singles or that have yet to be recorded or released. Songs are separated into their own folders, and labeled either by song title (if known) or by a key phrase or line that either “opens” the song or appear to be thematically significant. Series III contains folders of legal-sized notepads, each containing lyrics and/or notes for multiple songs. Song titles (or first lines/key phrases) are listed on each folder. Series IV, “Notes, undated,” includes an assortment of miscellaneous personal notes, doodles, and directions that were found on loose pages among McMurtry’s song lyrics. Also included is a notepad labeled “Vocal Exercise” and a journal containing pages of prose, short fiction, and song lyrics. Series V “Business Records,” is arranged into separate folders containing copyright forms for songs, correspondence with record labels regarding CD production and royalties, and concert performance contracts, plus miscellaneous other business paperwork, business cards, and receipts. Series VI, “Photographs,” contains folders of both black and white prints (“live” shots and publicity photos), plus original color negatives and slides from different photo shoots, personal snapshots, album packaging proofs, a CD longbow for Candyland and an autographed CD cover from the Flatlanders’ album Now Again. Series VII, “Flyers, 1998, undated,” contains concert flyers from various gigs and appearances, and Series VIII, “Press Clippings & Publicity,” contains an assortment of articles and reviews from throughout James McMurtry’s career, including some copies of The Austin Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, and Texas Monthly. Series VIII, “Non-Music Notes & Assorted,” contains a shooting schedule and call sheets for Lonesome Dove, a calendar from Archer City, TX illustrated by cartoonist Ace Reid, and an anti-George W. Bush political button.

Finally, all of the audio and video recordings are collected in Series IX, “Recordings.” There are nine boxes in the series, most containing audio master recordings on tape reels. They are divided by album, including It Had to Happen, Walk Between the Raindrops, Childish Things, Live in Aught-Three. There also DAT tapes for Saint Mary of the Woods, CD “safety mixes” for Live in Aught-Three and Childish Things, an audio tape reel from 1987 labeled “Homeless Project: James McMurtry’s first paid recording project.” Box 19 in the series contains two computer hard drives (each containing live concert recordings, presumably used for Live in Aught-Three, and Box 20 contains 19 video cassette tapes of music videos, TV appearances, etc.


  • 1984 - 2021


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws.

Biographical Note

James McMurtry is an award-winning singer-songwriter born March 18, 1962 in Fort Worth, Texas. As of 2022, he has recorded nine studio albums (beginning with 1989’s Too Long in the Wasteland) and two live albums. He is the son of author and screenwriter Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) and English professor Jo Scott McMurtry, and the father of singer-songwriter Curtis McMurtry. He resides in Lockhart, Texas.

McMurtry grew up in Fort Worth (up to age 7) and Leesburg, Virginia, and studied English and Spanish at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It was in Tucson that he first began performing his original songs in public. After college and a brief stint living in Alaska, he moved back to his native Texas, first to live with his father in Archer City but then to San Antonio, where he worked as a house painter, bartender, and occasional actor but also started pursuing local gig opportunities more regularly. In 1987, he entered the Kerrville New Folk songwriting competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival and was picked as a finalist, and soon after a demo of his songs caught the attention of performing artist John Mellencamp, who was beginning work on his directorial and acting debut with Falling From Grace, written by Larry McMurtry and released in early 1992. Mellencamp ended up co-producing James McMurtry’s debut album, Too Long in the Waste Land, released on Columbia Records in 1989, and McMurtry also appeared on the soundtrack to Falling From Grace (and briefly in the film) as a member of a band called the Buzzin’ Cousins with Mellencamp, John Prine, Dwight Yoakam, and fellow Texan Joe Ely.

McMurtry’s debut was well-received critically, as were his next two albums, also on Columbia: 1992’s Candyland (also produced by Mellencamp) and 1995’s Where’d You Hide the Body. But the warm reviews never translated to mainstream success, and from his fourth album on McMurtry would work with smaller independent labels, building a strong national and international cult following as a highly literate songwriter (and often ferociously outspoken politically, too, especially in response to the War in Iraq and the George W. Bush administration). He released three albums on the North Carolina-based Sugar Hill (1997’s Where’d You Hide the Body, 1998’s Walk Between the Raindrops, both produced by Lloyd Maines, and 2002’s Saint Mary of the Woods, which McMurtry produced himself). Saint Mary of the Woods marked the debut of “Choctaw Bingo,” one of McMurtry’s best-known songs, later covered by Texas outlaw-country legend Ray Wylie Hubbard.

“Choctaw Bingo” also appeared on 2004’s Live in Aught-Three, a live album showcasing McMurtry’s veteran road band, the Heartless Bastards. Both Live in Aught-Three and 2005’s Childish Things (featuring “We Can’t Make It Here,” a seething state-of-the-nation address that solidified McMurtry’s reputation as one of America’s most uncompromising modern protest singers) were released on Compadre Records. Childish Things won “Album of the Year” at the Americana Music Association’s 2006 Americana Music Honors & Awards, with “We Can’t Make It Here” winning “Song of the Year.” Noted music critic would later pick “We Can’t Make It Here” as his favorite song of the decade in a poll conducted by Rolling Stone.

After his two-album run on Compadre, McMurtry would change labels again, moving to Lightning Rod Records for 2008’s Just Us Kids and 2009’s Live in Europe, followed by 2015’s Complicated Game (on a Los Angeles-based independent label of the same name) and 2021’s The Horses and the Hounds (for New West). Included on The Horses and the Hounds was the song “Vaquero,” McMurtry’s tribute to family friend Bill Wittliff, who died on June 9, 2019. Wittliff wrote the screenplay for the miniseries adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove. (By the time of Larry McMurtry’s own passing, on March 25, 2021, The Horses and the Hound album was already completed.)

Bio by Richard Skanse


15 Linear Feet

20 boxes

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

  • The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.


The archives of Texas singer-songwriter James McMurtry include a career- spanning (from 1984 up to and including his 2021 album, The Horses and the Hounds) collection of personal papers and original song lyrics, press clippings, photographs, master audio recordings, and video cassettes. The collection is divided into nine series, with Series I-VIII comprising all of the papers, notepads and photographs (and some small personal items) and Series IX all of the audio and video recordings.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchases, 2019, 2020, 2021

Guide to the James McMurtry Papers
Richard Skanse
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2022: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Katie Salzmann.

Repository Details

Part of the The Wittliff Collections Repository

601 University Drive
San Marcos Texas 78666 USA