25 Years & Still Dustin’: David Lee Murphy’s Raw Talent Transcends Time

by Marty Smith
25-years-still-dustin-david-lee-murphy-raw-talent-transcends-time

Dust On The Bottle was lighting in a bottle. More than a quarter-century after Dust topped the Billboard Hot Country chart, David Lee Murphy’s signature work is everything it lyrically projects – rare staying power that only improves with time.

Speaking of improving, Murphy dropped some news on me this week.

I called him to chat about a piece I wanted to write, about why Dust On The Bottle still matters all these years later. During that conversation, he informed me he’s knocking the dust off of Dust. He recently revisited the same studio in which he originally recorded the hit – to recut an updated, beefier version. 

Oh, my.

“These days, man, when you cut songs in the studio they just sound bigger,” Murphy told me. “And when we cut Dust On The Bottle, bang! We felt the same magic all over again. It just fell out. The guys playing it, Brent Mason, he’s like, ‘Man, that is DUST. ON. THE. BOTTLE! It was so much fun to go back in and re-record it with those guys.”

That’s not all they cut, though. Murphy told Outsider he also cut an updated version of another of his 90s monsters, Party Crowd, as well as hits he wrote for other artists including Big Green Tractor (Jason Aldean), Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not? (Thompson Square) and Anywhere With You (Jake Owen). 

Chatting with DLM is a unique experience. There’s never pretense. Never agendas. He’s engaged in your life and your pursuits. And he has the rare gift of humbly accepting appreciation from admirers towards his life’s work. He’s the epitome of cool. It reminds me a lot of having a conversation with seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty. It’s the same vibe. They’re the coolest cat in the room without an ounce of effort.

So when he told me he recut Dust, I cannot describe my reaction other than it was in the fangirl realm. I had to know: is he planning to release these songs as an album?

“I’m not sure what I want to do with it yet,” he laughed. “Maybe I’ll just put them on the streaming services for something new and bigger to listen to.”

Fantastic. I took the liberty to assure him everyone at Outsider agrees with this decision. We’ll be waiting on edge to crank the volume and sing along.

These days, DLM is among the most successful writers in the country music format. But in 1994, he was a new artist sitting at his kitchen table in the two-story tin roof house he called home, half an hour west of Nashville, in a town of 3,000 or so, called Ashland City.

He was already riding a high from the previous day when he’d recorded three songs for his debut album, entitled Out With A Bang. The emotional high was justified. Two of those three songs were the album’s title track and Party Crowd, which would ultimately become the most-played song in 1995.

Monsters, man.

As he sat there the next morning sipping coffee, he grabbed his guitar. It was always leaned up against the wall, there beside the kitchen table in the dining room. That’s when Dust came to life.

“We had literally just started working on my first album,” he told me. “Back in those days, you would go in, and you had three sessions, and you tried to get one song per session, cut one song in three hours. That’s basically what we’d do. All those songs went down really fast, though, so we had time to goof around.”

“And I was sky high from the day before, drinking coffee and sitting there, and I just picked up my guitar and starting playing that opening guitar riff. You know it — dah nah, dah nah, dah nah! That one!”

We all know, brother. 

Hearing DLM giggle during that sentence was telling to me. “That one” is a copyright.

“That song has impacted my life in huge ways I can’t even express,” Murphy said. “That’s one, it doesn’t matter where I go – I go up to Northern Canada somewhere and play in a bar, and everybody’s partying with me.”

“I go to Australia, a rodeo, or an extreme motocross Monster Truck show somewhere, it doesn’t matter. Man, that’s gotten to be one of those songs- those identifiable songs- we all pray for in our careers as singers and songwriters. It’s been great.”

Once he started that guitar lick, he started singing out loud a title he’d had in his head for some time, harkening back to his youth in Illinois. This leads us to what I consider the most amazing part of the song and the story — Creole Williams was a real person.

“It was about an old guy that I knew who actually made homemade wine named Creole Williams,” Murphy laughed. “Creole was a character, man. That dude. He was best friends with a cousin of mine. It was my mom’s sister’s son. He was quite a bit older than me, and his name was Rojo. And Creole Williams. 

“They were two total pieces of work. And that’s who Creole Williams was in the song. He popped into my head as soon as I started writing that song. And it just fell out.”

Thank God for Creole and Rojo.

“That’s back when we had the old phone cords that would stretch like 25 feet,” Murphy continued. “And my phone was on my wall in my kitchen, so I stretched all the way over to my table, and I played the song I’d just written to Tony Brown, who was my producer at the time. I said, ‘Man, check this out. I know we got all the songs for this record, but I just wrote this song this morning. He said, ‘Man, we gotta cut it.”

That was a Tuesday morning. They recorded it the next day. He didn’t even have the bridge finished when he entered the studio.

“You can still hear my fingers squeakin’ on the strings on that one,” he said. “I don’t think they do that anymore, either.”

It’s that stripped down lack of production, he told me, that helped enable its longevity.

“When we recorded it, it was so raw,” he explained. “It’s just raw. No tricks. Not a whole lot of production. I remember one reviewer one time said it was hugely underproduced. At the time, in country, there was a lot of strings and a lot of background vocals.”

“And (Dust) was just as raw as could be. It’s a simple song. It’s got a power chord guitar progression, and I think a lot of people related to it, the whole story.”

Oftentimes when he’s out on the road to write with an artist who is on tour, the artist will ask DLM to join him on stage for the song. He’s performed it with Luke Bryan, Justin Moore and Kenny Chesney, to name a few.

“To have been able to meet, and become friends with DLM is beyond special to me,” Justin Moore told Outsider. “Then, you throw on top of it that we’ve written tons of songs together, that makes it even more special. But having the chance to perform Dust together? Multiple times? That’s the cherry on top.”

Moore continued, “From the moment the song kicks in, there’s an energy that flows through any venue you play it in, that just simply wasn’t there before. It’s a spiritual type of experience. And we’re talking decades after it came out. Pretty special stuff.”

Murphy spent an entire summer on tour with Kenny Chesney. Every night they collaborated on Party Crowd, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, and, of course, Dust On The Bottle. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of Murphy’s life. The energy. The appreciation. 

“I remember the first night of the tour, we did Dust On the Bottle and everybody went nuts,” David Lee Murphy said. “It was really loud. And Kenny’s looking over at me like, ‘Can you believe this shit?’ He was laughing his ass off!”

Chesney wasn’t laughing because it was funny. He was laughing because it was awe-inspiring that a song can have that kind of longevity.

“I get goosebumps just thinking about that moment,” Murphy continued. “It was huge for me. And Kenny was so proud for me. I’ve sang it with a bunch of guys. And it’s the same every time – everybody holds up their beer and sings their hearts out right along with us. That touches me more than anything. That gets me.”

David Lee Murphy told me that in 2020, Dust was streamed more than 20 million times – on Spotify alone.

“I think I knew it was special right when I started writing it,” he said. “You write so many songs – and I’ve written a bunch of ‘em, some that were good and some not so good. And that one, it’s honest. It’s basic. I wish I knew why it was iconic, because I’d write it again tomorrow. 

“If I knew how to do it, I’d do it again. I’d do it every day. Sometimes that lightning bolt comes down and hits you. I don’t know how it happens, but that’s one of those songs where it did.”

Outsider.com