b. Earl James Murphey, 30 December 1923, Hollywood, California, USA, d. 25 October 1999, California, USA. In his teens Murphey began playing lap steel guitar, bringing to the instrument an high measure of virtuosity. In 1943 he came to the attention of Spade Cooley, then leading one of the country’s top western swing bands. With Cooley, he recorded ‘Three Way Boogie’ and ‘Oklahoma Stomp’. He also played with Tex Williams (recording ‘Texas Playboy Rag’), Andy Parker And The Plainsmen (recording astonishing versions of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’), Roy Rogers, the Sons Of The Pioneers, and other country and western bands of the day. Although strongly, and rightly, associated with country music, Murphey applied jazz licks to his performances, which set him apart from others. It was through live shows and records that Murphey came to the attention of audiences and other musicians. His dazzling playing opened up possibilities for the instrument that few were able to capitalize upon although some, such as Tommy Morrell and Speedy West (and, later, Buddy Emmons), tried hard enough. Murphey, who adopted the name Joaquin, occasionally played pedal steel guitar but it was on the lap instrument that he built his formidable reputation.
From his dazzling solos, it is tempting to surmise that when in his teens Murphey had heard Charlie Christian on record; in some of his solo features, he employs single-note runs that echo that pioneering improviser. Rarely straying outside Southern California, Murphey’s long-lasting reputation rests largely upon his recordings with Cooley. By the mid-50s, Murphey’s career had slowed and he made only a few recordings thereafter. In 1980, he was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. Some of his best work can be heard on compilations of 78s and airshots by Cooley and Williams; sadly, the Parker material appears to be unavailable. Transcriptions by John McGann of 18 Murphey solos have been published as Classic Western Swing Steel Guitar Solos.