Charles Shaar Murray

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Charles Shaar Murray has been one of the most widely read British rock and pop critics since the '70s, when he was a mainstay on New Musical Express' pages. He may be best known as one of the first writers…
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Charles Shaar Murray has been one of the most widely read British rock and pop critics since the '70s, when he was a mainstay on New Musical Express' pages. He may be best known as one of the first writers to write enthusiastically about punk and new wave music, but in fact he's covered all kinds of rock and pop throughout his career. His writing is always invested with a lot of attitude, integrating cultural critiques and context as well as music. This is something that appeals to many readers, and also annoys many; in the U.S., he is sometimes seen as embodying some of the more irritating traits of British critics in particular. This approach also carried over to his best-known book, Crosstown Traffic, about Jimi Hendrix, although he's written some more conventional music biography and record guide volumes.

Murray was still in his teens when he began writing for underground papers and rock periodicals in 1970, including Oz, IT, and Creem. A couple of years later, he joined NME, rising to the position of Associate Editor, and covering everything from Marc Bolan, Labelle and Alex Harvey to the Sex Pistols, the Jam, Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen. He went freelance in 1981, and has written for high profile British publications such as Q, Time Out, the Guardian, the Observer, the Daily Telegraph, the Times Literary Supplement, The Face and New Statesman. More than 50 of his pieces, spanning the early '70s to the early '90s, are collected in the anthology Shots from the Hip. In 1981, Murray co-wrote a critical discography in the Illustrated Record series, David Bowie: The Illustrated Record, with NME colleague Roy Carr. Crosstown Traffic is not recommended to those looking for a straight Jimi Hendrix biography; it is more a critical examination of his life and career, also devoting a lot of ink to the social and cultural forces which helped shape him and his impact. Crosstown Traffic was adapted into a radio series for the BBC World Service, and Murray also created a comic book fantasy biography of Hendrix, Purple Days, in collaboration with American artist Floyd Hughes. Interestingly, Murray appears as a character, to all appearances reflecting his actual life, in the fantasy novel Glimpses, in the sections in which the protagonist is researching Jimi Hendrix's final days so as to communicate with the guitarist more effectively in dreams. Murray is also author of Blues on CD: The Essential Guide. His biography of John Lee Hooker, Boogie Man, was scheduled for release in early 1999.