With a Little Help From Pal Kenny Chesney, David Lee Murphy Defies the Odds to Get Back on Top
The "Dust on the Bottle" singer has earned his first No. 1 in 23 years with "Everything's Gonna Be Alright"
Back in 1995, David Lee Murphy reached No. 1 on the country chart singing a lyrical metaphor about how “a little dust on the bottle” meant the wine inside was that much sweeter.
But don’t tell Murphy that he’s living out those lyrics today as he celebrates the sweetness of his second chart-topper 23 years after his first.
“I don’t have any dust on me,” the 59-year-old singer-songwriter tells PEOPLE with a laugh. “I’m running too fast to get dust.”
Even as he savors the success of his infectious, feel-good single, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” Murphy also knows its improbability. His last top 10 single was in 2004, also the year of his last album.
Still, you could argue this No. 1, featured on his recently released No Zip Code album, was meant to be. After all, as a songwriter, Murphy has always stayed current, writing hits for artists who own entire subdivisions on the country chart: Blake Shelton (“The More I Drink”), Jason Aldean (“Big Green Tractor”), and Kenny Chesney (“Living in Fast Forward,” “Pirate Flag,” “Bar at the End of the World”).
And then there’s the incalculable Chesney factor, immediately obvious from the fact that Murphy shares vocals with the multi-platinum-selling artist on the hit single. But behind the scenes, the man Murphy calls “a best friend” played an even bigger role: Chesney was the one who talked him into recording something besides his own song demos.
“I told him I wanted to make a record with him,” Chesney, 50, tells PEOPLE. “I’d been listening to his demos, a lot of his demos, because — obviously — I’ve cut a lot of his songs over the years. I just kept thinking, ‘It’s a shame people can’t hear this kind of music, hear what I’m hearing.’”
Murphy’s voice, says Chesney, drew him in as much as the songs. “I think all those years of singing demos and not touring with crappy sound systems kept his voice strong without his ears getting burned out,” the “Get Along” singer says. “So when he stands up to a mic, he really brings it as strong as he ever did.”
When Chesney first suggested the idea of an album, Murphy admits his first thought was how much work it would be. “Do I really want to do that?” he recalls asking himself.
But Chesney dangled too big of a carrot: He, along with award-winning producer Buddy Cannon, wanted to co-produce the album.
“It was like the perfect dream,” says Murphy, who wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album. “There were no expectations. … There was no pressure. There was no stress … We went in there to make a record that we thought we were going to have fun making and we were going to be proud of. And so that was the only pressure, just to make the best record we could make.”
Gleeful at the reception of the new music — “we are dancing little jigs all the time” — Murphy has returned to his former life as a road warrior to promote the single and the album. High points include his guest appearances with Chesney at his arena and stadium concerts. Hearing 60,000 people singing “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” Murphy says, “is, like, unbelievable … you know, goosebumps.”
Next up is a new single, “I Won’t Be Sorry,” set for release on July 30. The lyrics are a declaration of living without regrets and then going out “with both ends burning.”
“You could carve that on my tombstone,” Murphy says of the song’s title, and certainly this new chapter in his career is bearing that out.
Murphy says he’s not sure this success is any sweeter than his moment with “Dust on the Bottle,” now considered a country classic. What he does know is that age hasn’t seemed to matter this time around.
“I think what matters is the song,” he says. “Age has no bearing on it. It’s whether you get better or whether you go back, whether you go forward or whether you go backward.”
Chesney has his own explanation for Murphy’s resurgence: “What he does is so unique and so authentic, it stands out when you hear it on the radio. He’s not chasing who he was, nor is he chasing what’s going on. He’s being David Lee Murphy, and he’s so good it stands out.”