Matt "Guitar"Murphy, Master of Blues Guitar, Is Dead at 88
bluesman who played with Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, Chuck Berry and
Memphis Slim but was best known as a member of the Blues Brothers band,
died on Friday in Miami.
The cause was a heart attack, his wife, Kathy Hemrick, said.
Matt (Guitar) Murphy, a master bluesman who
Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, Chuck Berry
Memphis Slim but was best known as a
member of the Blues Brothers band.
Mr. Murphy began his career in Memphis
before moving in the 1950s to Chicago, which
was then at the epicenter of a new kind of
hard-driving, heavily electrified blues. His
harmonically sophisticated, jazz-inflected
guitar playing established him as a mainstay
of the Chicago scene, and a true original.
Reviewing a 1982 performance in which Mr.
Murphy played mostly other musicians’ songs,
Rafael Alvarez of The Baltimore Sun wrote,
“The blunt affection for the wide, wide
range of musical styles Murphy offers will
make you forget the original discs.”
Mr. Murphy’s talent came to the attention of
John Belushi and the keyboardist
Paul Shaffer in 1978 as they searched to
recruit musicians for the band that
Mr. Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, both stars
of “Saturday Night Live” at the time,
planned to take on tour as the Blues
They had asked
Doc Pomus for
help. “He was
known as a guru
Shaffer said in
Mr. Shaffer and
Mr. Belushi had
paid a visit to
Mr. Pomus at
music club in
“We explained our project and he said, ‘You
need Matt Murphy,’ ” Mr. Shaffer said. “I
didn’t know his history and asked Doc, ‘Is
he legit? Is he one of the real Chicago
guys?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ and based on that we
(Mr. Murphy told a different story: that he
was spotted by Mr. Belushi and Mr. Aykroyd
while playing at another Manhattan club.)
The band — whose other members included Mr.
Shaffer, Lou Marini on tenor saxophone,
Steve Jordan on drums and Steve Cropper on
guitar — recorded an album, “Briefcase Full
of Blues,” at the Universal Amphitheater in
Los Angeles in 1978. They subsequently
appeared on “S.N.L.,” went on tour and made
The hit 1980 film “The Blues Brothers,”
directed by John Landis, told the
fictionalized story of Jake and Elwood
Blues’s quest to get their band back
together. In the film, Mr. Murphy’s
character — also named Matt Murphy — owns a
soul food restaurant with his wife, played
by Aretha Franklin. At one point she
angrily warns him not to leave for the
road by singing her 1968 hit “Think.” But
Mr. Murphy removes his apron, picks up his
guitar and tells the brothers, “Let’s
Mr. Murphy continued to perform with the
band and appeared in “Blues Brothers 2000,”
Mr. Landis’s 1998 sequel.
Matthew Tyler Murphy was born on Dec. 28,
1929, in Sunflower, Miss., to Daniel and
Lizzie Murphy. His mother died when he was a
youngster, and he and his siblings moved to
Memphis, where his father was a porter at
the famed Peabody Hotel.
Mr. Murphy nurtured his love of guitar
playing by listening to records by T-Bone
Walker, Blind Boy Fuller and others. But his
musical influences also included the jazz
saxophonists Stan Getz and John Coltrane.
In Memphis, he played with Howlin’ Wolf, the
blues pianist and singer Memphis Slim and
the bandleader Tuff Green. Memphis “was one
of these hot spots where cats could come
from everywhere else and get the surprise of
their life because there were so many good
musicians there,” Mr. Murphy told Mr.
Nonetheless, he soon left for the even more
fertile musical turf of Chicago. He became a
staff guitarist at Chess Records with the
help of the bassist Willie Dixon, which led
to many years of session work. Mr. Murphy
recorded with Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and
Sonny Boy Williamson.
In 1963, he electrified European audiences
with his performance of “Matt’s Guitar
Boogie,” backed by Mr. Dixon, Memphis Slim
and the drummer Billy Stepney, on the
American Folk Blues Festival tour.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Murphy joined the
harmonica player James Cotton’s band. The
group’s 1974 album, “100% Cotton,” included
two songs written by Mr. Murphy.
Mr. Murphy formed his own band in the 1980s
and recorded three albums as a leader
between 1990 and 2000. One of his sidemen on
the 1990 album “Way Down South” was his
Floyd Sr., an accomplished guitarist in
his own right who played with Little Junior
Parker, Big Mama Thornton and Rufus Thomas.
Baron Raymonde, a saxophonist in Mr.
Murphy’s band, said that Mr. Murphy was
always looking to improve his playing. “He
would sleep with his guitar,” Mr. Raymonde
said in a telephone interview. “He’d
practice before he went to sleep and
sometimes wake me up at 4 a.m. and say,
‘Listen to this.’ ”
Mr. Murphy had a small stroke during a
performance around 2001 — he was treated by
paramedics but did not go to the hospital —
and a more severe one a year or so later. He
underwent extensive physical therapy and
retired, but he resumed performing at the
Chicago Blues Festival with Mr. Cotton (who
died last year).
In its review of that show, the
Chicago Blues Guide wrote, “Although
both men have suffered major health problems
in the past, both were back in virtuoso form
that night, storming though lively numbers
like ‘Rocket 88,’ danceable jump blues,
Chicago blues and some Wolf songs.”