Powerhouse singer Shaun Murphy talks about the 60s, Eric Clapton, Pete Seger, Little Feat and the 1st Ann Arbor Blues Fest

"Being in the music business has afforded me a tremendous outlet, for energy, writing, touching peoples’ hearts and hopefully leaving lives in a better place. The Blues is such an all-encompassing soul search, which I’m so glad t be a part of."

Shaun Murphy: Flame Still Burns

Shaun Murphy is an American Blues and R&B singer songwriter, best known for her powerhouse singing style. Her recording career started in 1971 with Motown Records. Murphy shared the stage with many Detroit-based bands, in venues such as Detroit's Grande Ballroom, as well as the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969. She was soon noticed by an employee of Motown in a touring theater production along with Texas native Meat Loaf. The two were signed by Rare Earth Records, a division of Motown Records, as Stoney and Meatloaf in 1971. The pairing was short-lived, and became defunct. Only Murphy was retained under contract after the breakup of the duo. After a period of inactivity with the new division of Motown in Los Angeles, she left Motown and contacted Detroit music producer Punch Andrews for possible opportunities. Murphy then relocated back to Detroit in 1973 to work with Bob Seger. She has continued to with Seger on studio session work since 1973, in addition to all of his tours since 1978.

Shaun Murphy / Photo by Walter Phillips

She returned again to live in Los Angeles in 1985 while working with Eric Clapton on his Behind the Sun album. Murphy was then offered a position by Clapton as a member of his band for the tour. The Behind The Sun tour was featured at the first Live Aid concert in 1985. Murphy's career in vocals has been both as band lead singer and session singer. She has sung, toured, and recorded with such acts as the Moody Blues, Bob Seger, Herbie Hancock, Phil Collins, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Maria Muldaur, Bruce Hornsby, Michael Bolton, J.J. Cale, Coco Montoya, Alice Cooper, Chuck Brown, Little Feat, and rock musicals, Hair and Sgt. Pepper's. In September 2009 The Shaun Murphy Band released the album Livin' The Blues. A second album, The Trouble With Lovin', followed in 2010. Late in 2011, Murphy released a DVD and live album both titled Shaun Murphy Live at Callahan's. She released the albums: "Ask for the Moon" (2012), "Cry Of Love" (2013), "Loretta” (2015), 3 O’Clock Blues (2015), It Won’t Stop Raining (2016), Mighty Gates (2017), Reason to Try (2019). Shaun’s tenth album “Flame Still Burns” (Vision Wall Records 2020), wraps her powerhouse voice around fourteen songs that carry listeners from blues to rock music, a collection of some of her favorite Blues songs, some cool soulful tunes that hold a special place in her heart. The band on this album, are: Tom DelRossi; Drums, John Marcus; Bass, Kenne Cramer; Guitar, Tommy Stillwell; guitar, Eric Robert; B3, Kevin McKendree; Piano.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos © by Walter Phillips, Marty Rickard and Gary Eckhart / All rights reserved

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

They really mirror times and feelings of each individual story. Something we all can connect with to shape our lives. Blues and Rock are a measure of the heights and depths of both societies mores and the picture they portray. You can scroll through the annals of music history and get a snapshot of how it felt to exist and perhaps what was done to explain love and tragedy that was felt at any given time. I pick songs that resonate with my heart, each song is a chapter of where I have been.

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Soul music and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

Being in the music business has afforded me a tremendous outlet, for energy, writing, touching peoples’ hearts and hopefully leaving lives in a better place. The Blues is such an all-encompassing soul search, which I’m so glad t be a part of. I try to have each song I do be a set piece, not just working through the changes to get to the end….each tune is a story, sometimes telling a moment in time, or a lifetime, and you need to serve it accordingly.

How do you describe your sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I like that they vary it up with a number of styles and genres. I even heard them do a version of ‘On Your Way Down’ by Little Feat, which I was the only female lead singer in the history of the band, for 15 years. They’re very eclectic in their choices, and I do some of the same kinds of ‘mixing it up’ in my shows, going from ‘dead’ Blues to Blues Rock, and Soul! You can tell by the way my CD’s are shaped that I feel there’s so much power in all musicality.

"I think everything comes in cycles, who knows what it’s going to be like in 5 years, let alone 10? I like many of the changes going on, I do worry about some of the up and coming talents, as sometimes talent seems to get lost in the ‘money machine’, and in the trends." (Shaun Murphy / Photo by Marty Rickard)

How do you describe Flame Still Burns sound and songbook? What do you love most about the new album's covers?

Each song holds a special meaning, something in each song that resonates in my life and memories.

The sound comes from the cohesive group we have built over time. I love my band and my manager; TC Davis and I have insisted on having them on my CD’s. They bring such fire, and of course, that pushes me to bring equal measure in my singing. I approach each song I do as a set piece, a ‘mini-play’ as it were, that I can stretch out on stage for my audience to connect to. There’s always a meaning for each person in the crowd.

Are there any memories from "Flame Still Burns" studio sessions which you’d like to share?

Doing this CD was so special just by getting together and doing what we love, especially in these crazy times. My boys are so good at what they do, they’re able to do the entire CD in one or two takes….I am always amazed at the focus and dexterity they have. We do an ample amount of pre-production with albums, that makes it an enjoyable ride for us all. All the boys are so proud of what they do, that they don’t let anything ‘slip by’, we make it a concentrated effort to be on top of it all.

Where does your creative drive come from? How do you want your music and songs to affect people?

From the age of 8, I was outside, swinging on my swing-set, singing at the very top of my voice! Been that way ever since, hopefully, each song I do has relevance in my fans life. I take each song and dissect every word, every song I do has a deep meaning for me, and I feel that there’s something that I can reach out to my audience, we are all in ‘this’ together! Soul Shake, for instance, takes me back years ago when I first did it live, and becoming friends with Bonnie Bramlett over the years, brought me to an even more personal level with the song.                         (Photo: Shaun Murphy & Eric Clapton)

"I have had the extreme pleasure of working with some amazing musicians over the years. But, I think the most fulfilling have been my times with Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, and Little Feat…there’s so many more, but these are pivotal in my course and I’ve learned so, so much. Of course, my time with Eric Clapton was more awe-inspiring than I can say. Hearing him play was an exercise in solid emotion."

What were the reasons that made the 60s to be the center of Soul/Roots/Blues researches and experiments?

There was such a movement of the times in the 60’s for everyone. We were open to all things imaginable; Blues, Soul, Rock, Acid Rock, freedom marches, war, peace, change, and discovery….the world seemed so alive, and nothing seemed impossible, so, in essence, music felt the biggest brunt of expansion, and we all went with it.

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

But I still consider them a bit of all three! It can be a genre, but what kicks it wide open are things like; Traditional Blues, Contemporary Blues, Acoustic Blues, Blues Rock and so on. You do have to have the right feel when you approach this with the artistic bent and have a mind-set to serve the song from top to bottom. I think you get into a state of mind by just the way you handle each and every tune; with the care it deserves. These songs are always written with a deep personal meaning, and I try to take that into consideration as I record and play each and every one. So, the lines sure have blurred over the years, the genre has broadened, enveloping more and more artists, I must admit, I do love all the melding… So, I guess it’s really becoming more of a ‘state of mind’.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I have had the extreme pleasure of working with some amazing musicians over the years. But, I think the most fulfilling have been my times with Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, and Little Feat…there’s so many more, but these are pivotal in my course and I’ve learned so, so much. Of course, my time with Eric Clapton was more awe-inspiring than I can say. Hearing him play was an exercise in solid emotion. (You can NEVER have too much emotion in your work!) When we played at Live Aid in Philadelphia, that hot July day in 1985, the crowd actually had us take a step backwards, the feeling coming from the audience was palpable. Bob Seger, friend, mentor, and all around incredible talent, showed me, first and foremost, to never give up…to assess your talent with a fine tooth comb, and hone your skills daily. Eric was the same way, before we started the first tour, we rehearsed for 6 weeks, recording every rehearsal, and critiquing absolutely everything. I do that to this day with my band as well. Also, jump starting my writing, when I joined Little Feat, I was proud of the songs I co-wrote with them, and still get requests to do them in many of my shows to this day.

"There was such a movement of the times in the 60’s for everyone. We were open to all things imaginable; Blues, Soul, Rock, Acid Rock, freedom marches, war, peace, change, and discovery….the world seemed so alive, and nothing seemed impossible, so, in essence, music felt the biggest brunt of expansion, and we all went with it." (Photo: Shaun Murphy & Bob Seger)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

They are all precious memories to me, like I stated, Live Aid, Playing at the Presidential inauguration, recording with Eric in Montserrat with Phil Collins producing. Playing at the ‘Jammys’ and sitting in with Charlie Musselwhite, and Hubert Sumlin. Recording many times with Bob Seger, as well as most of his tours since 1973. Being involved with a number of their videos and television appearances. The latest thrill was the opening act for Bob Seger at our Las Vegas show last year! I have to say when I toured with Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh really stands out in my memory….just so many great times, it’s hard to digest them down to a paragraph.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I think everything comes in cycles, who knows what it’s going to be like in 5 years, let alone 10? I like many of the changes going on, I do worry about some of the up and coming talents, as sometimes talent seems to get lost in the ‘money machine’, and in the trends. True and lasting talent does seem to find it’s way, but sometimes, it takes an inordinate amount of time.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That talent wins, and talent wins absolutely. Sometimes talent has taken a back seat to advertising campaigns, over-produced, under qualified artists, and it’s sad that there are many amazing artists that go unnoticed, and are never reaching their full potential to their audiences, nor being heard by the general public. Sometimes they get only a certain number of artists being pushed down their throats, mostly by record companies, and big money machines.                                (Shaun Murphy / Photo by Marty Rickard)

"I believe that all music is idiosyncratically meshed with race, politics, and have attributes for social cultural ebb and flow all through the ages. All you have to do is listen to the progression of lyrics and the tone of the music to see that music encompasses everything that’s relevant in every period of time."

What would you say characterizes Nashville blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

It’s so wonderful to see and hear all the musicians, that have been out on their individual tours, whatever genre, come into the Blues jams and exercise all that fabulous talent. I can only speak for the Nashville Blues scene, which is a very tight knit community, everyone knows everyone, and if someone new comes into the fold, they’re welcomed with open arms. Before, and hopefully, soon, there are/were a number of Blues jams that have gained notoriety over the years and have been the scene of many of the ‘off-tour’ musicians in town, so you just never know who’ll you’ll be seeing.

What touched (emotionally) you shared the stage with Detroit-based bands, in Detroit's Grande Ballroom?

It was a wide-eyed, open time in my early musical development. Everything I was hearing/feeling, steered my path to the present. I have many friends to this day, that has performed at the Grande, it was an icon in the community for decades. I was privileged to see, or perform with acts, like, The Who, Cream, The MC5, Janis Joplin & Big Brother, Canned Heat, Vanilla Fudge… I could go on and on….

That time in my life, I was basically, ‘getting started’ and my band, The Wilson Mower Pursuit played there quite a bit. We were all ‘super-charged’ with what was happening there, many, eye-opening things were happening at that place. It definitely forged a degree of focus as to what I wanted to do.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Keep your eyes and ears open! You’d be surprised what each experience can do to add to your knowledge base and to your personal musical ends… I have an open view of many genres. To this day, I meld them together, as I feel connected to the meanings of words and vocal styles. I agree that not all songs cannot be Blues, but, it’s the way they make you feel inside, and the delivery, that can bring them together.

"They really mirror times and feelings of each individual story. Something we all can connect with to shape our lives. Blues and Rock are a measure of the heights and depths of both societies mores and the picture they portray." (Shaun Murphy & The Feminine Touch (The Loreleis), Michigan c.'67 - '68)

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the first Ann Arbor Blues Fest?

So Many things. My eyes and heart was open and couldn’t fathom the amount of talent that weekend B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton, (one of my personal favorites) to name a few...I played that festival and never, will I ever forget it.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

The world has opened to all performers, women will always have a place. Sometimes, I hear some ‘sour grapes’ from female artists, about how the testosterone is keeping them down, but I say, check yourself….do you really have what it takes? Are you serving up real talent, or just playing at it? You’ve got to hit it, and hit it hard, otherwise, just step away….

What is the impact of Blues and Soul music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I believe that all music is idiosyncratically meshed with race, politics, and have attributes for social cultural ebb and flow all through the ages. All you have to do is listen to the progression of lyrics and the tone of the music to see that music encompasses everything that’s relevant in every period of time.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I wouldn’t change my time for the world. There’s so much opportunity for everyone. Still, we have a few things to ‘iron’ out, we certainly aren’t perfect, and even though we have a ways to go, we’ve also come a long way!!

Shaun Murphy - Official website

Shaun Murphy / Photo by Gary Eckhart / All rights reserved

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