An Interview with tenor guitar player/ songwriter Spider Murphy: The Blues bum of Rocky Mountain

"...living this musical lifestyle that I choose, I've learned to accept all of my limitations and why I don’t do it for the money or recognition."

Spider Murphy: Reflections of Blues Mandala

Spider Murphy is the world's first and foremost "Tenor Guitar Player". He is a first class artist whose musical genesis and ever spreading popularity is a well-kept secret. Former banjo picker for Leon Redbone. Playing Tenor guitar the way it was designed to be played! Accompanied by a variety of Teller County's top musicians, including: occasionally, Eric Johnson/ Rhythm Guitar when he's not fetching drinks and bribing local politicians. Spider also is a Berklee College of Music grad and has degrees in arranging and composition.

 
Murphy shows a decided sense of social consciousness by driving over a thousand miles a week playing for folks at retirement and veteran homes across the state of Colorado when he's not performing on stage. His banjo playing was very interesting as well; while showing that he could play the banjo in a bluegrass picking style, he just as easily used it for strumming and soft little riffs which you don't associate with this instrument.
The brain child of Spider Murphy and Buck Gibbons, was the band Rocky Mountain Rhythm Bums. Wide awake and drunk again, these guys are ready to take on the world! Hailing from 10,000 feet above sea level, the Rocky Mountain Rhythm Bums blend American roots music. Styles such as the Blues, Country, Americana, and Irish Drinking Tunes mix into the genre they created called Rocky Mountain Music.


Interview by Michael Limnios

 

When was your first desire to become involved in music & who were your first idols?
There never was a “first desire”. Dad & Mom were musicians. Mom would play the accordion when she was pregnant with me. I remember hearing that. Weird, huh?
My first idols were: My Dad Chet Atkins Chuck Berry

 

If you go back to the past, what things you would do better and what things would you avoid?
I remember meeting Donald Byrd in 1976 at Paul’s Mall in Boston. I wish I had listened to what he said to me back then and practice 6-8 hours everyday instead of 2 to 3 hours. I would avoid crazy love. You know the kind I mean.

 

Which is the most interesting period in your life?
Clearly the most interesting period of my life was the mid-eighties into the early nineties. I was living in the Hollywood Hills of California. I was working for Dalton Priddy, who owned and ran Project One Studio located in the Crossroads of The World. Graham Nash had his own recording studio in the Crossroads complex and another buddy Keith Morris from the band –The Circle Jerks, worked a CPA business out of that same Crossroads complex. I had drifted slightly away from performing at that time and was spending most of my time learning the art of recording. I was also doing a lot of editing & mastering for a lot of the recording studios on and around Sunset Blvd. and on out to Santa Monica. Los Angeles was at that time, and still is a real creative hotbed for a lot of incredible up and coming musicians as well as established ones. What made this a most interesting time for me, was  due to this strange and oh so powerful  (and at times uncontrollable) ability I possessed, to be able to walk into any of the multitude of music clubs anywhere in L.A., and somehow and in some way immediately  fall deeply in love with the female lead singers. As soon as they opened their mouths to sing, I’d be proposing marriage and buying them a house. 

Sigh…  I learned a lot about recording and microphone techniques while I was working in Los Angeles for Dalton. He was at one time living in England and was the principle sound engineer for the London Symphony as well as the BBC Orchestra. When I wasn’t getting divorced or spending all my time & dough on expensive marriage counselors   and/or therapists, I would be sitting in with Bobby Phillips and his band The Joysticks at one of the greatest blues clubs on the West Coast called The Pure Pleasure Emporium on Manchester Avenue down in South Central.  The Ghetto.   The jams were indescribable. They would start around 9 P.M. Friday night and go non-stop until the sun came up Monday morning.

There would always be between twenty to thirty musicians hanging out ready to get up on stage and do they do at any given time. You would never know who was going to show up or when… Tampa Red… or some of the guys from B.B. Kings’ Orchestra or Bobby Blue Blands’ rhythm section, when they were rolling through town.  

Working for Dalton Priddy gave me the opportunity & freedom to often borrow some of the most cutting edge recording gear from Project One and to record hours and hours of these jam sessions. I did this for a few years.
I was also composing and arranging an incredible amount of commercial and not-so commercial music scores, incidental and motivational projects for film, T.V. and radio. For a couple of years I was Music Director at perhaps the funkiest indoor/outdoor Bar /Theater located in the industrial downtown area of Los Angeles. It was called Al’ National Theatre.
There was a small Cessna airplane hung up on the front of the building over the entrance. I think this period of my life was very creative indeed. I wrote and composed some of my best stuff to date with some real creative people. I re-arranged and overhauled a lot of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill productions.
This theater troupe I was involved with would   have their weekly production meetings in the Maramount Hotel, in one of the many apartments there. I happened to be attending one of these production meetings when John Belushi did himself in just upstairs from us.  A lot of hard living and loving was crammed into the short time I lived in Hollywood.

 

What characterizes your philosophy about the music business?
Well it doesn’t exist in my world. Philosophically known as N.E.B - Non-Existential Bullshit I would say.

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues, soul, and rock are always with us. Why do you think that is?
Roots  Baby ! Like Hurricane Katrina. Like the flood of Noah.  Or the Fire of Lot. The chaff from the wheat. The men from the boys. Cut the weak from the herd. Blues, soul, and rock come back out of the soil once the dust clears from the ruckus.  Roots!

 

 

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?
I cannot answer this question because I was never aware that there was ever such a thing as the “business” of music. I still refuse to believe it exists! They are not even one in the same. Or have little to do with one another. I read a lot of Carl Jung. If there were such a thing as a ‘Music Business”, per say; it would be analogous with Jung’s’ description of that surreal dream that everyone has. That dream is completely different for everyone. He goes on to say, that by describing the dream over & over, that the symbol of the dream is revealed in time, to the psychoanalyst, and voila… all the patients’ mental problems become clearly defined. On the other hand, when I think back, to when I first picked up a guitar, it was to impress the chicks. Ha Ha! It still is... eat your heart out Sigmund…

 

What has music offered you & what have you learned about yourself from the experience?
It’s offered me life-long friendships with most excellent people & musicians.  Because of the music, I’ll never have to waste any of my time sitting and working in a cubicle. By living this musical lifestyle that I choose, I‘ve learned to accept all of my limitations and why I don’t do it for the money or recognition. I got to do the music because I have to.


 

What do you think is the main characteristic of your personality that has made you so popular in music business?
The key word in your question is “business”!  How an audience relates to me in the music business is based on the conscious and unconscious statements that I make about myself. It doesn’t matter if it’s onstage or on someone’s ‘ blog on their website. It’s all about the music, but the business part is always going to be there. The way I dress, my phone manner, how efficient I am, the way I phrase a letter I’ve written, the way I do my act from the stage all affects the impression I make on others. Being popular has really not that much to do with it at all. The way people “read” me on or off the stage is the crucial point of that characteristic of my personality that you referred to in your question. I can make people perceive me in the way I want to be perceived. It’s the art of manipulation. For me personally, It’s my one major frustration in Life… People won’t do what I want them to do. The subtlety of making these impressions demands excellent stage prescience and self-awareness. I’ve got to have knowledge of the impression I create and the impression that I want to create. It sounds so simple. Yeah, right ! So it’s not just solid stage prescience, but it carries over to your performance on the instrument as well. Onstage as well as off, the impression that I made is what always allows me to be less than perfect. In every one of my performances, if I can try to take advantage of all the little opportunities to create an overall, ongoing impression of competence, effectiveness, maturity and chops, and fair-minded toughness- the kind of musician that people want to listen to- they will overlook the occasional transgression when it happens. It’s going to happen eventually. It could happen at any time. On stage or off. I’ve tried to develop this technique over the years and try to have some fun with it ! You may call it a main characteristic of my personality, but the most effective music stars on stage around the world today, realize that sometimes a simple act or gesture that if never made, would probably never be missed. That’s precisely why it will be noticed when it is made, and remembered especially by my own fanatics.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
About five years ago Skip Easterling who was a protégé of Eddie Lang asked me to do a duo with him at the Ponderosa Stomp at the House of Blues in New Orleans. I drove to skips’ home in Mississippi and he drove me round the pond and down to New Orleans. We talked about some of the tracks he was producing for me and some of my original songs. We took a shuttle from the hotel somewhere down on Decatur to HOB.  Skip and I shared that shuttle ride with none other than Scotty Moore and his wife. Scotty was “THE” idol of mine cuz he was Elvis Presleys’  Go To guy! The backbone of Presley’s rhythm section. Scotty was performing at the Ponderosa Stomp as well.… and the worst… when I was nine years old My Dad thought I could pick well enough to perform at one of the great family picnics. My Mom had about 14 brothers & sisters… my dad had 11 sisters & two brothers. Way too many cousins. I was ripping it up on some heavily reverbed “Rumble” and my cousin Danny grabbed my guitar from my hands and announced to the whole frickin’ family that I sucked and unless I could sing while I played, that I double-sucked. I ain’t been right since… or it could of been that time at band camp!
 

Why do you think that Spider Murphy continues to generate such a devoted following?
All my fanatics are highly disciplined folks. They all seem to relate to me because they are all searching real hard for something. I’m only guessing here, but;  I think as long as I’m courting my Dear Mistress Musique 24/7 and searching real hard at it, everybody’ll  have some music to march to… or dance to… or whatever…
 

From who have you learned the most secrets about the music?
From people who don’t take all this shit too serious, and I’m not at liberty to give you their names… so sorry.
 

Difficult question, but which artists have you worked with & which of those do you consider best friends?
Difficult answer, my Daddy told me when I was very young. The roadblocks that I was going to encounter  as I was hopping along through life, was NOT going to be determined by how difficult the music may be, but simply the personal problems of all the musicians that I am involved with on any particular music project.  That’s what will put you down. Wise man my Daddy.
I’ve lost too many close friends who I played the blues real hard with.  Let me tell you that I’m tired of hearing the hellhounds and the real sad, sad stories.  Needless to say that all my friends’ are hands on care givers for other people but none are musicians.  If you didn’t notice, there are not too many sad songs about somebody’s’ musician friend.       
There never will.
 

Of all the people you’ve worked with, who do you admire the most?
My 1st grade guitar buddy Peanut Chmiel and my 1st grade best bass friend were both close neighborhood pals.  We all rocked from 6th grade right thru college. Then they suddenly died. I admire them the most for being able to stay in my mind like a photograph for decades now. Like the Jimmy Dean thing. Hey there’s’ a song there.

 

Make a quick review of your work?
What I have recorded is what I consider my finished work. Once it’s recorded it’s done. In some  cases overdone. I find that when my head is in record mode, any sort of disagreement in my life seems big and monstrous.  Then those emotions and feelings creep into the lyrics of whatever it is you’re strumming out.  A song is like a newborn. Once it comes out, it has a life of its own.  Every time a song is born it joins other songs, eventually I take care of the trouble in my life and the subject matter & context changes and I can hear it mutate. Again eventually I can hear the different periods in my life.  Each one of those periods is emotionally and stylistically different from each other.

 

 

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet and work with?
I wish I could meet Woody Guthrie just to travel with and sing some of those pissed off power to the people songs. Another would be Duke Ellington. I fantasized for a long time while on a train from Chicago to Los Angeles I’m sitting there in this custom club car and I’m transcribing parts from the Duke’s music score as fast as he can hand me them. It’s so that his men got their new charts by the time the train pulls into Union Station in L.A. So they can make the gig at The Safari Club down in South Central. Also Hunter S. Thompson.  Although I ‘m not in any sense a writer, I think if I had the chance to be the Official Musician to The Court of The High King of Gonzo, then I would have tagged along like Lomax Sr. dragging that 200 pound wire recorder through the steamy and humid South. For some strange reason while reading any of Thompson’s writings, I’m able to write better songs for myself. Sometimes Bukowski’s real sad ranting gets my songwriting juices going. Stephan Foster.

 

What is your “secret” MUSIC DREAM? Are your dreams fulfilled?
That when I die, I will meet up with my idol Saint John Lennon. Offered me, was a chance to apologize to him for hating his wife Yoko Ono so much before I embarrassingly had an opportunity to get to know her more personally. My dream is fulfilled that my mother keeps correspondence with the real Yoko Ono. Where they met and why they correspond as a son- I am guilty beyond sin for not knowing. They also send each other Xmas cards. It may sound stupid to you, but it’s real important to me. You see, she feels that by being friends with Yoko, who was Johns’ wife, and John was a musical idol of mine.  Whatever it is that makes her think that she and I are connected on a deeper level somehow and are closer, escapes me to this day. I look at the whole mess as a WIN-WIN situation for everyone. I get to make my Mom happy and it’s somehow musical related if you stretch it a bit. Love ya Mom.


Spider Murphy's website

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