Friday, January 13, 2006

Elliot Murphy


Elliott Murphy sidles into a Starbucks on Manhattan's Upper East Side, looking every inch the expatriate rocker: black designer jeans, black boots and a silk do-rag on his head. It's possible to see that the veteran folk rocker, born and bred on Long Island and a regular in the Seventies at New York's Max's Kansas City, has spent the last sixteen years in Paris, the site of his creative rebirth.

Now 56, Murphy has gone through some strange ups and downs over the course of his career. He's been "the New Dylan" (his 1973 debut was compared to Blonde on Blonde); had artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Phil Collins and members of the Velvet Underground guest on his albums; been dumped by Columbia Records; and, finally, been rediscovered by the French. Murphy began touring Europe in the late Eighties, shortly thereafter reinventing himself as a full-time Parisian.

..."One night, earlier this year, I was lying in bed with my wife," Murphy says of Francoise, with whom he has a teenage son, Gaspard. "I said, 'I've been playing for, like, forty years. Maybe I should retire.' Francoise turned to me and said, 'Rock-&-rollers don't retire. Either they die young, like your man Brian Jones, or they turn into bluesmen.'"

It was an epiphany for Murphy, and he took the gamble.

Murphy grew up loving the blues, and he cites his admiration for the dedication and work ethic of genre artists like B.B. King, who has been known to play some 250 shows a year. Murphy decided to cover King's classic "The Thrill Is Gone" on the album, and made his rendition of Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" the first single. Waters, of course, also looms large, with tunes including "I'm Ready" and "Mannish Boy." The songs allow Murphy to exhibit a voice now lowered and grown even more confident with the years.

More than in his earlier days, when after releasing his debut, 1973's Aquashow, the singer-songwriter thought he might have to quit the business, that there was no way of evolving as an artist after his early critical acclaim. But he was bolstered by the creative support of men like Lou Reed. "Oh, Lou was great to me back in the Seventies," Murphy says of the former Velvet Underground frontman, initially slated to produce his follow-up, 1975's Lost Generation. "After my first album came out on Polydor, he helped me break my contract and get with RCA."
Lou Reed does seem like he would be a good guy to help you break a contract. I don't know much about Murphy, but he sounds like someone I should get to know.

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