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Matt 'Guitar' Murphy (1929 - 2018)

Jun 18, 2018

Matt 'Guitar' Murphy
Credit Allmusic

Matt (Guitar) Murphy, a renowned blues guitarist who played with The Blues Brothers and jammed with musical heavyweights Muddy Waters, Etta James and Chuck Berry, died Friday. He was 88.

Murphy's nephew Floyd Murphy Jr. confirmed his death in a Facebook post. It was unclear how he died.

A bluesman throughout his life, Murphy rose to fame when he joined The Blues Brothers, a band founded by comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in 1978 as part of a musical sketch on "Saturday Night Live."

Murphy went on to appear in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers" and its 1998 sequel "Blues Brothers 2000" as the husband of a cafe owner played by Aretha Franklin. The famed musician continued performing with The Blues Brothers until the early 2000s when he suffered from a stroke.

Aykroyd called Murphy "immensely talented" in his own Facebook post Saturday.

"The Blues Brothers would not have been what they were without Matt's playing power, stage magnetism and knowledge of music," Aykroyd wrote.

Murphy was born in Sunflower, Miss., in December 1929, and moved to Memphis as a toddler. As a teen, he became well-known in the Memphis blues scene with his brother Floyd. Eventually he moved to Chicago to work alongside musicians like blues singer Chester (Howlin' Wolf) Burnett and harmonica player James Cotton.

Probably best known for playing behind the Blues Brothers (and appearing prominently in their 1980 hit movie), Matt "Guitar" Murphy deserves enshrinement in the blues-guitar hall of fame anyway. His jazz-tinged, stunningly advanced riffing behind Memphis Slim elevated the towering pianist's 1950s output for United and Vee-Jay Records to new heights.

Guitar playing ran in the Murphy household (which moved from Mississippi to Memphis when Matt was a toddler). Matt and his brother Floyd both made a name for themselves on the early-'50s Memphis scene (that's Floyd on Little Junior Parker & the Blue Flames' 1953 Sun waxings of "Feelin' Good" and "Mystery Train").

Matt played with Howlin' Wolf as early as 1948 (harpist Little Junior Parker was also in the band at the time). Murphy added hot licks to early sides by Parker and Bobby Bland for Modern before latching on with Memphis Slim's House Rockers in 1952. Normally, the veteran pianist eschewed guitarists altogether, but Murphy's talent was so prodigious that he made an exception.

Murphy's consistently exciting guitar work graced Slim's United waxings from 1952-1954 and his 1958-1959 platters for Vee-Jay.

Another solid Memphis Slim LP for Strand in 1961 and dates with Chuck Berry, Otis Rush, Sonny Boy Williamson, Etta James, and the Vibrations at Chess preceded Murphy's memorable appearance on the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival tour of Europe (along with Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Victoria Spivey, and Willie Dixon). On that pioneering tour (promoted by Lippmann and Rau), Murphy commanded the spotlight with a thrilling "Matt's Guitar Boogie" that showcased his ultra-clean rapid-fire picking.

Harpist James Cotton was the beneficiary of Murphy's prowess during much of the 1970s. Murphy's crisp picking matched Cotton's high-energy blowing on the harpist's 1974 Buddah album 100% Cotton (the guitarist penned a non-stop "Boogie Thing" for the set). From there, it was on to aiding and abetting John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's antic mugging, both on stage and in the Blues Brothers flick (where he played Aretha Franklin's guitarist hubby, convinced to come out of retirement by the boys in black).

Murphy has toured as a bandleader in recent years, having recorded an album of his own in 1990, Way Down South, for Antone's (with brother Floyd on rhythm guitar).

(provided by NY Daily News and Allmusic)