Joaquin Murphy

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Earl "Joaquin" Murphey was a child prodigy of the lap-steel guitar who, as a teenager, was discovered and promptly enlisted by Spade Cooley's band. Although his sophisticated measuring out of chords and…
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Earl "Joaquin" Murphey was a child prodigy of the lap-steel guitar who, as a teenager, was discovered and promptly enlisted by Spade Cooley's band. Although his sophisticated measuring out of chords and labyrinthine single-string runs might perhaps be standard operating procedure for the modern pedal steel guitarist, at the time of Murphey's professional debut it was pretty hot stuff, especially for the much more basic lap steel. For a country boy to play lap steel with the influences of swing jazzmen such as Benny Goodman or Django Reinhardt could have smacked of the city slicker in drag, but then again, this was the Western swing era, and cowboys were allowed to bebop. While cooling with Cooley, Murphey contributed outstanding solos on features such as "Three Way Boogie" and the oil-splattered "Oklahoma Stomp." On the Country Routes live recording entitled Live at the Santa Monica Pier and Riverside Rancho, Murphy positively cooks on versions of tunes such as "Miss Molly," "Cattle Call," and the provocative "Gals Don't Mean a Thing."

In the cowboy vocal group Andy Parker and the Plainsmen, Murphey's featured solos included a cover of the Fats Waller classic "Honeysuckle Rose," and a "Sweet Georgia Brown" that is usually stashed away somewhere in every pedal steel player's treasure chest. Murphey also did some recording on pedal steel guitar, but his reputation was formed from the mid-'40s onward, before he ever approached the pedal instrument. His loyalty to the little lap steel was fierce, and there were reports that he was still playing it in the late '50s while a member of the Buddy Ray band, at a time when just about every other player had switched up to the newfangled pedal steel. He contributed unique personality to solo spots on recordings by T. Texas Tyler, Roy Rogers, Smokey Rogers, and Tex Williams, playing on the latter artist's version of the Western swing warhorse "Steel Guitar Rag." Pedal steel giants such as Buddy Emmons, Speedy West, and Vance Terry have singled Murphey out as an important influence in their own jazz and swing enhancements.

Murphey was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1980, but recorded only one album after the '50s. This was the production eventually released under the title of Murph, a labor of love for producer Mike Johnstone of the Class Act label. This disc features 15 tracks recorded between 1996 and 1999, using a custom-built, single-neck, nine-string guitar with six pedals -- and if that isn't enough, there is also a recorded interview with Murphey. Instead of pursuing a more active recording career, he spent a large hunk of his career in Southern California working with dance bands. He died in the late '90s from complications caused by cancer.