Local Obituaries

Blues Brothers 'Soul Man' Matt 'Guitar' Murphy remembered by Miami music legend

Few who saw "The Blues Brothers" movie in 1980 and the musical comedy classic's countless airings on television since could hardly forget Matt "Guitar" Murphy's contribution.

The famed blues guitarist, who died Friday at 88 in his adopted home of Miami, played the soul food chef and husband to waitress Aretha Franklin. The couple spar over his desire to reunite with his ne'er-do-well pals, Jake and Elwood Blues, who are on "a mission from God" to put their Blues Brothers band back together again to raise money for a Catholic orphanage in Chicago.

The set piece scene featured Franklin's iconic performance of "Think." But for all her volcanic energy, Murphy's declaration that he was "the man" resonated with audiences as he joined Blues Brothers actors Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi on the road.

The death of Murphy resonated, too, in Miami, not least of which by Miami-born R&B icon Sam Moore and his wife, Joyce.

As one half of Sam & Dave, it was Moore's 1967 hit with the duo, "Soul Man," that really put Matt "Guitar" Murphy's name on the pop culture radar thanks to a Top 20 hit cover rendition by the Blues Brothers in late 1978.

After years of session work, Murphy joined the Blues Brothers band, which was based on a Belushi-Aykroyd sketch on "Saturday Night Live." There, Murphy played alongside noted session musicians Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, Steve Jordan on drums, Steve Cropper on guitar and Paul Shaffer on keyboards.

The Blues Brothers' album "Briefcase Full of Blues," released at the height of the disco era on Atlantic Records, was a surprise No. 1 Billboard hit upon its release in November 1978, with its live, revisionist blues material. Murphy was an essential element of the album's two Top 40 singles, "Soul Man" and "Rubber Biscuit."

In 1980, the Blues Brothers covered the work of another Miami musician (turned minister) when they recorded Wayne Cochran's "Going Back to Miami."

Sam Moore, as one-half of Sam & Dave, had a 1967 smash with "Soul Man." In 1978, the Blues Brothers, which included guitarist Matt "Guitar" Murphy, had a hit remake. Moore called Murphy "true history" of music. Chris Pizzello AP

On Saturday, Sam and Joyce Moore spoke of their friend. Sam Moore said of Murphy: "Matt was true history. He was one of the nicest guys who could really play his axe and it was always a pleasure to be in his company."

Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" was originally issued on the Atlantic-distributed Stax Records, so, in effect, Murphy helped bring the tune back home to the label. Murphy merited a shout-out by name by Belushi and Aykroyd in the lead-in to the band's 1978 cover of Donnie Walsh's "Shot Gun Blues" on the "Briefcase Full of Blues" LP.

Joyce Moore recalled the time Murphy played behind Sam Moore at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert in 1988 at New York's Madison Square Garden and when Murphy did the Blues Brothers band tour through Italy in the late '80s and other times with Moore.

"Matt was just a sweetheart. He was never anything but pleasant. Always had a smile and a great heart," Joyce Moore said. "[We've] been looking at some of the posts and some of the footage that goes back to Muddy [Waters] and Howling Wolf and Willie Dixon and realize that he really was part of the culture and history."

Murphy was born Dec. 29, 1929, in Sunflower, Mississippi. He moved to Memphis with his family as a toddler, Deadline Hollywood reported. Alongside his brother Floyd Murphy, he became a fixture on the Memphis blues scene when they were teenagers.

Murphy played as a sideman with legendary blues artists like Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim. He also played with Ike Turner, Etta James and Sonny Boy Williamson. In the 1970s, before scoring the gig with the Blues Brothers, Murphy was earning notices as sideman to harpist James Cotton.

When his nephew, drummer Floyd Murphy Jr. confirmed Murphy's death with a Facebook post on Friday, he shared memories of his father and Murphy, calling the two "the most important people on the planet to me" alongside a photo of the siblings.

"I can hear them in our living room discussing music while dad played one blues record after another and then they would smile and argue about who was the best guitar player between B.B. King or Albert Collins," Floyd Jr. wrote.

"Then they would plug in [their] guitars and me, being a little boy, would sit on the floor glued to [their] fingers in disbelief. "I was what you call a very lucky and blessed child to have these two icons as a father and uncle. I learned so much from these two brothers and now they are back together again," said Floyd Jr.

Murphy suffered a stroke in 2002 that forced him into semi-retirement, Rolling Stone reported.

A move to Miami at the time, however, revitalized Murphy, who played on the local scene at various venues.

In November 2011, Murphy wed Kathy Hemrick at their South Miami home and turned their reception into a public event at the former Satchmo Blues Bar in Fort Lauderdale, American Blues Scene reported. They celebrated the release of his album, "Last Call."

Michael McKean, who starred in "This Is Spinal Tap," director Rob Reiner's 1984 movie spoof of metal bands, called Murphy "one of those play-all-night guys that rock 'n' roll is made of."

Guitarist Graham Wood Drout, founder of the Miami blues group Iko Iko that served as house band at the former Tobacco Road for 30 years, called Murphy a personal inspiration in a Facebook post on Friday.

"He called Miami home for the last ten years or so and was beloved by our blues community," Drout wrote.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.
Related stories from Miami Herald