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 sweaty 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 nonstop "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 toured as a bandleader in subsequent years, having recorded an album of his own in 1990, Way Down South, for Antone's (with brother Floyd on rhythm guitar). Two additional Murphy albums followed on the Roesch Records label, The Blues Don't Bother Me in 1996 and Lucky Charm in 2000. In live performances, his repertoire encompassed blues, funk, jazz, R&B, and even a few of those Blues Brothers chestnuts (he usually carried someone in the entourage to sing 'em, Belushi style). Murphy suffered a pair of strokes in the early 2000s and retired from music, but underwent physical therapy and performed at the Chicago Blues Festival with James Cotton in 2010. Matt Guitar Murphy died in Miami in June 2018 at the age of 88. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi
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