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She Loves Singing and Law Enforcement

Kimberly Garmon Murray, a DeLeon, Texas native and currently a jailer at the Erath County Jail, recently released a CD of music with a traditional touch (Once Upon a Time in a Honky Tonk) and readily admits that law enforcement and singing have been her two big passions for years.

Luckily, Murray has never had to choose between the two.

Growing up in what could best be described as an unusual environment, Murray says she not only survived -- she thrived. As the only daughter (she has four brothers) of Liz and the late Sheriff Shilo Garmon, it wasn’t unusual for young Kimberly to sit at the dinner table with prisoners – and even have them accompany her as she ran errands.

“Daddy was the Comanche County sheriff from 1978 to 1992,” Murray said, “and we actually lived in an apartment at the jail from the time I was four, until I was eight. And sometimes the prisoners would come downstairs and sit at our table and eat with us. There wasn’t a Commission on Jail Standards at the time, so it was a different world. In fact, I used to walk to the store to get bread and stuff with the trusty. Mama would give me the money, and she’d send one of them to keep an eye on me.”

It was also around this time that Kimberly became enchanted with singing -- especially performing before an audience.

“My mom was a Sunday school teacher and a piano player at Faith Chapel in DeLeon,” Murray said. “I did specials, and the very first song I ever sang was “I Saw the Light” – I was four years old.” Murray said her mother was also a huge fan of country music back then, and the house was always filled with the sounds of traditional country music. The combination of gospel music and country basically created a soundtrack for her life.

That early exposure to the world of law enforcement would also shape her future.

“I was certified as a jailer before I ever graduated high school in 1991,” Murray said. “In fact, I took the test before I turned 18, so I couldn’t get my certificate then, but on the day I turned 18 it was mailed to me and I was a certified jailer. So the day I graduated I was wondering when and where I could go to work in a jail.”

In 1992 Murray began work as a reserve jailer at the Comanche County Jail.

“And then in 1993, I went to work in Limestone County, and I worked there for about a year,” she said. Murray then began working at the Erath County Jail in 1994 and has been there ever since.

Although she’d always enjoyed singing, Murray said that when a friend asked her in 2003 to sing the National Anthem at a rodeo, “It was like everything just ballooned after that -- it just exploded.”

“I really wanted to perform at that point,” she said.

Even though she was excited about performing, Murray wasn’t sure exactly where she could perform the kind of music she loves.

“I was very discouraged about the type of music that was being played on the radio,” Murray said, “because I like the older stuff. I don’t like the Nashville music of today. I don’t get anything from it – and I don’t want to sing it. It’s like I wanted to do the old stuff, but there wasn’t any place for me to sing Connie Smith or Loretta Lynn songs, or George Jones and Ray Price, and that’s what I love.”

Murray said her close friend “Haus” turned her to the right path.

“I was talking to him about singing one day,” Murray said, “and he said ‘you enjoy it so much, you should do something with it. You need to listen to this friend of mine.’ Then he popped in this CD, and it was Jake Hooker (a very popular and successful musician), and Jake just blew me away. We went to see him perform and he invited me up onstage and I figured out there was a way for me to do the old stuff. It’s what Jake Hooker does – the good stuff.”

Kimberly said that knowing that there was an audience for Jake Hooker’s music gave her hope.

“I was following Jake around everywhere and singing with him a lot,” Murray said, “and after a show one night he had his guitar out and we were all passing it around and singing and Haus said, ‘Kim wants to do a CD, what do you suggest?’ and Jake said, ‘I need to introduce you to Justin, Justin Trevino’ (a producer). So he gave us Justin’s phone number and we called him and told him I wanted to do a CD and Justin said, ‘If Jake gave you my number, then that’s enough for me, come on down and we’ll do it.’ So we went down and met him and just instantly fell in love with him.”

That initial meeting led to a three-song demo CD, and eventually to the full-length CD. And just as Jake Hooker recommended her to Justin Trevino, Trevino told Kimberly that she needed to do the opry in Llano and told her to contact the owner, Tracy Pitcox.

“He told me, ‘you’ve got to do Llano, if you do just one opry in the state, make sure that’s the one you do,’” Murray said.

Once again, a personal recommendation opened doors. “Tracy said, ‘If Justin told you to contact me, you don’t need to audition – you can be on the show next week,’ and I was so excited,” Murray said.

That appearance led to many others and Murray was thrilled to find herself occasionally playing on the same ticket with some of traditional country music’s biggest names.

“I’ve met Gene Watson, John Conlee, Bill Anderson, Johnny Rodriquez, Moe Bandy and Johnny Bush,” Murray said.

Murray got assistance from some big name musicians on the “Once Upon a Time in a Honky Tonk” album, including Jake Hooker, on bass; Jim Loessberg, drums; Justin Trevino, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and harmony vocals; Reggie Rueffer, fiddle; Dicky Overbey, steel guitar, Ronnie Huckabee, piano; and Amber Digby, harmony vocals. She admits to being star-struck and in awe of them, and can easily name other singers that some of these same musicians have played for -- including Connie Smith, Farron Young, Charlie Pride and George Strait.

“The biggest distribution I have is overseas,” Murray said. “Tracy Pitcox, the one who has the Llano Opry, is also the president of the record label I’m on -- Heart of Texas Records -- and he has a distributor over there. And I’m played on radio stations over there. I get e-mails and messages on my MySpace page all the time from people overseas who say they’ve really enjoyed my music.”

Stateside, Kimberly (who kept the name Murray from a brief marriage in the mid-1990s) seizes every available opportunity to promote the CD.

“I play some dance halls and clubs,” Murray said, “and I do a lot of the opry houses. I’ve got a date next month in Louisiana, to appear on the Louisiana Hayride, and I’ll be on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree in Nashville later this year.”

Murray said she will also appear at as many festivals, rodeos, and dances as she possibly can.

“This is my first full CD,” Murray said. “There are five original songs, two of them I wrote by myself and three of them I co-wrote with my producer.”

Murray, who calls herself a huge Loretta Lynn fan, also recorded one of Lynn’s songs “The Home You’re Tearing Down” as well as two Connie Smith songs, and a Wanda Jackson song, “The Box it Came In.”

“The cool thing about that is that Bill Anderson wrote both of the Smith songs,” Murray said. “And when I did the show with him at the Llano Opry, I told him I just recorded two of his songs, he asked me which ones, and then he thanked me for recording them. And I was thinking -- ‘Oh my gosh, Bill Anderson doesn’t need to be thanking me, I need to be thanking him.’”

Murray said she also recorded a Rhonda Vincent gospel song for the album, “When Angels Sing.”

“I did that to make sure I stay true to my raising,” she said.

Having achieved the rank of sergeant, Murray is currently the highest ranking officer on the night shift at the Erath County Jail. And although she said she enjoys her work, and finds it challenging, she occasionally finds herself developing a negative attitude. Music is often the therapy she needs to bring her back around.

When asked if she thinks she will ever have to choose between music and law enforcement, she gives it a great deal of thought before she answers.

“I would like to see the music career get to the point where I work at the Sheriff’s Office just because I want to -- where the music is supporting me,” Murray said. “I can retire from law enforcement when I’m 42, and at that age you can start a new career. Jake Hooker has been a very big influence in my life, as well as Justin Trevino, in that that’s pretty much what they do -- the music. I love my job at the jail, and I love the people I work with -- they’re like my family. I don’t think I could leave them, because it would feel like walking out on my family. But I’d like to be there because I want to be -- not because I have to be.”

For more information on Kimberly Murray, visit her website at www.kimberlyshonkytonk.com.

—— by Laura Kestner