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The Story Behind the Song: “Murder on Music Row”

The Story Behind the Song: “Murder on Music Row”
Photo: Alan Jackson/ Facebook
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Larry Cordle and Larry Schell, two struggling songwriters and longtime friends, found themselves at a crossroads in their careers. Despite having penned several songs individually, only one had truly made waves – Cordle’s “Highway 40 Blues,” famously recorded by Ricky Skaggs in 1983.

In 1999, Schell reached out to Cordle with an unconventional idea for a song. He proposed the title “Murder on Music Row” over the phone, sparking Cordle’s interest. Recognizing the clever play on words, Cordle enthusiastically agreed to collaborate.

Over the next few days, the duo came together to craft the song, completing it in just a few short hours. Although Cordle was primarily focused on recording a new bluegrass album at the time, he saw “Murder on Music Row” as a traditional country tune rather than a bluegrass number. Despite his reservations, Cordle decided to perform the song at prominent Nashville venues, where it received an overwhelmingly positive response.

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As the sessions for Cordle’s bluegrass album drew to a close, he decided to record “Murder on Music Row” as a demo to pitch to other artists. Cordle took a unique approach to distribution, wrapping the CD demo in police “crime scene” tape and delivering it to disc jockey Carl P. Mayfield at Nashville’s WKDF-FM.

Mayfield embraced the song wholeheartedly, making it the centerpiece of his program and playing it repeatedly on air. The song caught the attention of MCA Records’ Erv Woolsey, who promptly contacted George Strait with the proposition of recording it. With Alan Jackson also on board, Cordle eagerly agreed to put a hold on the song for their collaboration.

Despite expecting backlash from industry insiders, Cordle and Schell were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reception to “Murder on Music Row.” The song went on to win the Country Music Association’s “Song of the Year” award in 2001, even though it was never officially released as a single. Thanks to radio airplay from George Strait’s CD collection, the song reached #38 on Billboard’s country singles chart and remained there for five months. George and Alan also earned the CMA’s “Vocal Event of the Year” award for their rendition of the song.

>>READ ALSO: Meet Norma Strait, George Strait’s Spouse of Over 50 Years

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