Club owner Clifford Antone said he asked every blues performer he met, including Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Sunnyland Slim, who was the best guitar player they ever heard. Every one of them said Matt Murphy! "He's maybe the greatest guitar player ever." (from Blues Review issue #23).
Born in Mississippi in 1929, Murphy moved to Memphis in the late 40's where he played with an early Howlin' Wolf band and was considered, even then, one of the best guitar players in town. Murphy went on to play with Memphis Slim during the 1950's; with the Chess studio stars as one of the best session players during the 1960's; and teamed up with James Cotton during the 1970's. It was in the late 70's that Aykroyd and Belushi saw him play with Cotton and thought he was sensational (they asked him on the spot to record an album with them). He joined the Blues Brothers, stared in the movie, and finally, after already playing blues for 30 years, got some well deserved recognition. Since then he has continued to tour with the Blues Brothers, re-united with Memphis Slim prior to Slim's death in the mid 1980's and has been touring with his own band. Murphy finally issued his own albums Way Down South a few years ago and his new 1996 release The Blues Don't Bother Me.
Murphy's show at the Blues Saloon in November was a clinic in blues guitar. He can play in any style -- he is that good -- jazz, blues, R&B influences are all fused into a unique style that is all his own. His renditions of traditional blues songs are different enough that he kept you listening to all the details of his playing until you went, ah ha, as the song recognition kicked in and you found yourself saying boy was that ever good!
Murphy was influenced by T. Bone Walker and jazz guitarist Tal Farlow. Those two major influences were fused with everything else he has come in contact with (he is a constant student of the guitar) and the result is awe inspiring.
Matt is one of the friendliest people you will ever meet. He arrived early. Visited with all the audience. During the break he just sat on the edge of the stage signing autographs, letting people take his picture and talking to everyone...very relaxed and at ease. His shows are as informal as is his dress...you'll almost always see him perform in his baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans...all part of his easy going persona. He has a great sense of humor as well. After the show had started a few more people arrived and walked over to find some seating on the other side of the full room -- looking at them Matt said, with a smile, "you're late." That just broke everyone up.
Murphy's band is manned with some seasoned and loyal musicians. Floyd Murphy Jr. (Matt's nephew) is on drums; Marc Radice on keyboards; Eric Udel on Bass (been with Murphy for 10 years); Baron Raymonde on sax (with Matt for 11 years); and vocalist David "Lefty" Foster (who also has been with Matt for 11 years). These are all strong players who are not afraid to step forward and really strut their stuff. Matt gives them plenty of time and space to show off their talents without hogging the show all to him self, which he could easily do. On the song Back At The Chicken Shack, each band member took extended turns with their solos then Matt just tore it up with his distinctive blues guitar playing...leaving everyone breathless!
The band started out with a really great souding R & B song then followed with Messin' With The Kid and Baby What You Want Me To Do -- a unique version of the Jimmy Reed classic done in a slow bluesy tempo. We were then treated to Kansas City, with another unique arrangement done fast with a rhythm and blues feel and some driving drums by Floyd. Dragon Wheel Blues followed which allowed Raymonde to really step out with his sax.
The second set opened with Green Onions. Boy you could just close your eyes and imagine Booker T and the MG's in the room. Then Murphy started his guitar solo and took the song into a whole new direction. He transformed it into somthing entirely new and amazing. Rock Me Baby followed and having lived in Chicago he joked "we call this Da Blues!"
After a crowd pleasing rendition of Sweet Home Chicago we got a special treat.
Local soul singer extraordinaire, Ann Nesby came on and sang Stormy Monday. She just blew the audience away with one of the most powerful voices I have heard in a long time. Murphy's guitar joined in serving as a sensational second voice to hers. This was one of those outstanding moments...one of those rare times in a live show that just stand out in your memory. Ann Nesby's new album I'm Here For You was produced and recorded locally by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
That was a hard song to follow buy Matt Murphy isn't called "Guitar" for nothing. Soul Man was next, from the STAX days and more recently the Blues Brothers days. Prior to one of his guitar solos Murphy said "play it Steve" and then launched into a series of trademark Steve Cropper licks from the original 1960's version of the song. Boy, I'm getting giddy just recalling how good this was. The band's version of I Feel Good, followed and would have made James Brown proud. Tobacco Road ended the evening with the audience singing right along and enjoying the great ride down this blues/soul/R&B memory lane! When Matt "Guitar" Murphy comes to town again -- don't miss your chance to see one of blues' living legends.
Keep The Blues Alive!