Every year my wife and I host a Christmas Eve party where family and friends come over to reflect and discuss the usual pros and cons of life and wrap up yet another year. While tidying up the house and thinking about what music to put together for the party, I came across a box of goodies and found an old copy of The Blues Brothers album Briefcase Full of Blues. The album was released 29 years ago this month and at the time I played it constantly. I was entertained by the band, its energy and general upbeat humorous style.
I was thinking about Matt “Guitar” Murphy lately. He is celebrating what I believe to be his 80th birthday this holiday season. Depending on your source of information there seems to be confusion as to whether his birthday is Dec.29th, 1927 or Dec. 27th, 1929. I don’t want to add extra years to Matt, but I didn’t want to take a chance on missing out on the opportunity to wish him a Happy Birthday, especially if he is turning 80 as I suspect.
Last time I heard, Matt suffered a stroke several years back, and there doesn’t seem to be much news of him as of late. I searched high and low to find information on his current status and found very little. I realized that perhaps I would have to put something together and see if I could stir up any feedback. I decided I would make a point to raise some awareness and generate some discussion on this cool bluesman, and of course to celebrate and acknowledge a fantastic musician and major influence to so many.
Twenty nine years ago I was guilty of the typecasting that made Murphy such a staple with The Blues Brothers. You can’t blame people; the band and the movie was excessively popular and became a phenomenon.
When listening to blues albums of the fifties and sixties, many may be unacquainted that they were listening to Murphy when they played songs by Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Victoria Spivey, Etta James and Sonny Boy Williamson. Even though being a Blues Brother is pretty cool, blues enthusiasts are well aware that there is more to Matt than that …
Ok … Its Christmas time and I have to prepare for my party. It’s been over 20 years since I have played Briefcase Full of Blues and I have decided that I was going to give it a listen and play it at the get-together this season… I have a turntable that converts albums to digital. I love the original sound of the vinyl as it helps me ponder when I write these posts. … So once again my MP3 player would get its workout and my wife would wonder where I was while I
DUSTED AND DRIFTED …
As I have mentioned in many previous posts, I lived in a family with an incredible music spirit. While growing up and to this present day, it seems I’ve always been around musicians. I enjoy hanging out with musically inclined individuals because I love their energy and creative spirit. I always knew I wanted to be involved with music and my interest of electronics mixed with my love of song would lead me to
NEW YORK CITY in 1979
An appointment was made through a contact my dad had in Chicago for me to meet this recording engineer at The Waldorf Astoria. There was an engineer’s convention there at the time and I was to meet this specific individual to discuss current opportunities in the industry.
When I met this gentleman at The Waldorf, he strained as he tried to recall who I might be. He told me if I wanted to be an engineer I would have to start at the very bottom and prove myself with a toilet bowl brush first before anything else. Well I thought sarcastically … This was a long way to come for such wise advice. … It wouldn’t be glamorous, but if this was what I needed to do, I was going to be the best damn BS’er (bowl scrubber) in New York. If that’s what it took I would do it…
In reality I think this meeting was suppose to be a way for my dad to scare me out of considering moving to New York; a reverse psychology that failed. I fell in love with the city and moved in briefly with my friend, a drummer who I knew from home and lived in Brooklyn in an area called Park Slope.
I was 19 at the time and it was my first shot at moving out of town. I was determined to go after a dream working in a recording studio and be part of the music scene that I assumed I loved so much. When I think back to those times, I know one thing for sure, I made my parents nervous. I don’t think they expected me to stay.
Similar to my previous job, I got a gig at Sam Goody across from Radio City Music Hall and found myself an apartment in Long Island City in Queens. I will never forget it because I lived about seven feet from the number 7 train to Flushing. The train went by in both directions every 5 minutes. If I left the curtain open in the bathroom, people would wave as I bathed. It was a real scene and I remember the apartment shaking as I would go to sleep hearing the trains pass by throughout the night.
Across the road there was a restaurant called Court Square Diner. Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz of the Talking Heads lived down the road and certainly away from the clanking and vibrations of the subway. It was a real mixed bag especially at night in those days, but I was crazy and it was my excessive naiveté that made me fortunate enough to survive. I don’t think that in today’s day and age; I could or would have taken the same steps.
I made a list of recording studios to visit and everyday before and after work, I would set out on my journey. With my dreadful resume in hand, I went on this trek nonstop, and like the profound destined cartoon world I lived in back then, something interesting happened one day …
I STARED AT THE ADDRESS OF THE STUDIO
It was several floors up and you needed to take the elevator. As the elevator rose you could hear the yelling getting clearer. The doors opened right into the reception area of the studio where I witnessed a heated argument:
PERSON 1: Who the hell do you think you are? I could get anybody to replace you. You’re not that great!
PERSON 2: You don’t have a clue what I do. You just try to find somebody to replace me.
I stepped off the elevator and I stood there with my dumb ass grin and my stupid resume. They sort of looked at me with mixed emotions and then one of them said
PERSON 1: (looking at me annoyed) Can I help you?
TBB: (nervously handing my resume) I was wondering if you had a job … I mean … the opportunity for work. I’m eventually looking to be…
PERSON 1: Are you looking for work as an engineer? Is that why you’re here?
I was caught off guard by this whole stressful encounter and said the only thing that could come to my mind.
PERSON 1: You’re hired … (looking at the other guy) See …
That didn’t take long at all. Now get the hell out of here.
PERSON 2: (taking my elevator down) You’re an idiot!!!
My entrance into the recording industry in New York City began right there. I went right into the studio and showed my inexperience right away. Eventually when this guy, who was the studio manager, realized how little experience I had, everybody, me included, knew I wasn’t going to replace anybody yet. I was shown where the coffee machine was and my mixing career began.
People must have thought I was alright, because I was always invited along to join the musicians who would go the clubs after the session was over. It didn’t matter that I got their meals, cleaned their crap and mixed their coffee, the musicians who paid for studio time requested my presence and who was I to argue. It would be a part of my life where I was fortunate and extremely lucky enough to get closer than I ever could have imagined to so many people I had admired. For some reason my musical opinion mattered and over time and with patience it would eventually lead to my desired goal. (I will discuss more about this time in future posts.)
ONE NIGHT AT TRAMPS A PAST BLUES CLUB
The boys got me drunk and I was hanging out at the bar and there was Matt “Guitar” Murphy. I started thinking about Briefcase Full of Blues and knew they were finishing off The Blues Brother Movie. I decided to say hello. I will never forget how warm and friendly he was. I will not go into detail, as I was young and it was a lifetime ago, but I remember making a bit of a friendly ass of myself. No one was offended. I guess I needed to hear the sound of my own voice and express my excitement level as only a year prior I listened to that album probably ten thousand times. Matt responded with a warm chuckle and was very friendly. We talked briefly and then we both moved on.
MATT “GUITAR” MURPHY
started to get recognition working with Howling Wolf back in 1948 when he was in his early twenties. He also played with a number of other artists such Bobby Bland, Chuck Berry, Otis Rush, Sonny Boy Williamson and Etta James and toured with Muddy Waters, Big Joe Williams, and Willie Dixon just to name a few.
Murphy moved from Mississippi to Memphis at a young age. His musicianship ran in the family as he and his brother Floyd, also a guitar player, made names for themselves in the 1950’s Memphis music scene. Later during that time, Matt took over the spotlight with his awesome “Matt’s Guitar Boogie” that showcased his clean speedy fire picking style.
In the 1950’s with Memphis Slim, he brought the pianist to new heights with his impressive guitar riffs. He continued to work with Slim for the next 20 years.
In the 1970’s he played with the legendary James Cotton matching his craft along side Cotton’s high energy harp playing. It was with Cotton that he was approached by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd to be involved in The Blues Brothers. In the years following he fronted many of his own bands playing everything from blues, jazz and funk. He made an album in 1990 with his brother Floyd entitled Way Down South and also did Blues Don’t Bother Me in 1996, The Blues Brothers 2000 and Lucky Charm in 2000.
AND NOW IT’S TIME TO GET BACK TO THE PRESENT
Its Christmas time and there is work to be done … I just wanted to make sure I put this article out before Matt’s birthday. I created this piece as a tribute to blues legend Matt “Guitar” Murphy, and I hope that through this article we discover that you are in good health and will let us know how you are doing. I feel fortunate that I had an opportunity to meet you briefly and thank you for all the great music. Regardless if this is your 80th birthday or not, it is your birthday this holiday season, and I wanted to wish you all the best.
I welcome all your comments and any information you want to contribute to this post…
Here is a video of Matt playing “Matt’s Guitar Boogie” with Memphis Slim. Check out the eyebrow as he boogies like no other. Matt you epitomize the word cool!
Merry Christmas & Happy Birthday,
The Blues Blogger