Blues Bytes


December 2005

an associate

Matt "Guitar" Murphy
Way Down South

Matt Guitar Murphy

A lot of blues fans may only be familiar with Matt “Guitar” Murphy from his longtime stint as guitarist for the Blues Brothers and his appearances in the two Blues Brothers movies. Long before donning the sunglasses, Murphy contributed some phenomenal jazz-laced guitar to recordings by Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker, Bobby Bland, Sonny Boy Williamson (the Rice Miller version), Otis Rush, Etta James, and Chuck Berry.  Murphy also appeared at the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival tour of Europe, and can be seen wowing audiences with his “Murphy’s Boogie” on Volume 2 of the recent DVD series. 

However, Murphy is best remembered by most fans for his work in the ’50s and early ’60s with Memphis Slim, most notably Slim’s VeeJay recordings (Slim rarely used guitarists in his band before he heard Murphy’s playing, which was years ahead of its time back then) and for his tenure with James Cotton’s band in the ’70s.

Murphy branched out in the ’80s and ’90s, eventually fronting his own band and doing some recording for Clifford Antone for his Antone's label.  After initial appearances on Antone's albums reuniting with Slim and Cotton, Murphy recorded his first session as a leader for the Austin, Texas label in 1990.  Way Down South is everything you would expect from a Matt “Guitar” Murphy recording --- plenty of smooth, tasteful guitar in a style that takes in not only the blues, but jazz, funk, and R&B.

Murphy is first and foremost a guitarist, but he does sing on a few tracks on Way Down South, displaying a solid workmanlike vocal style.  However, his guitar work is still the reason to hear the disc, as he really goes to town on instrumental tracks like “Big Six,” “Matt’s Guitar Boogie #2,” “Buck’s Boogie,” and many others. Murphy’s clean, crisp, lightning-fast playing is a wonder to behold.

Also appearing on Way Down South is Murphy’s brother, Floyd, himself a guitarist of note, having appeared on several Junior Parker tracks, including “Mystery Train,” in the ’50s. The brothers play together on four of the tracks, including “Big City Takedown” and “Thump Tyme.”

The band consists of several Antones favorites, including Derek O’Brien (rhythm guitar), Tony Coleman (drums), Mel Brown (piano), Russell Jackson (bass), Kaz Kazanoff (sax), and Angela Strehli on backing vocals.

Murphy went on to record two more albums as a frontman for the Roesch label and continued to appear with the Blues Brothers and with his own band as well. Sadly, Murphy suffered a debilitating stroke a couple of years ago which left him unable to play.  Fortunately, we do have plenty of recordings that capture his distinctive sound, and Way Down South is an excellent place to start to hear this irreplaceable guitarist do his thing. 

--- Graham Clarke


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