I think that it would be safe to say that John P. Murphy III has performed in nearly every American Legion Hall, Elks Club, and Moose Lodge from Mt. Shasta to Monterrey. A veteran of countless country bands and casual musical get togethers, Mr. Murphy's influence on the Northern California country music scene is enormous. As he is so fond of saying, "I've played all of the animal clubs over the years."
Murphy, a native Californian, was born and raised in Redwood City where he still resides. Turned on by The Beatles in his youth, John became enamored in the blues, bluegrass, and, country music while still in his teens. Murphy played guitar in local rock combos when he initially got a taste of the pedal steel. "I first saw a pedal steel when I went to see the New Riders of the Purple Sage open for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West in 1970. Jerry Garcia was a remarkable pedal steel player and once I heard him I decided that was for me," Murphy recalled recently.
John P. Murphy III first cut his teeth on the pedal steel as a member of the Chainsaw Band at the legendary and long defunct Townhouse, in Emeryville, CA, The West 40 Club in Hayward, CA, and at DeMarco's 23 Club in Brisbane, CA. It was at these roadhouses that Murphy learned the stock and trade of a casual country music musician.
Murphy would go on to become a founding member of Dead Air; one of the first Bay Area Grateful Dead influenced bands. Dead Air also included guitarist Phil Coulson, bassist Craig Juan, and drummer Gary Ross. Coulson and Ross would split to form Jerry's Kids, while Juan and Murphy would go on to form The Grape Escape which was the first and only Moby Grape tribute band. The Grape Escape would eventually catch the ears of the actual Moby Grape members Jerry Miller and Bob Mosley who would often perform with them much to the delight of local music fans.
Not to be pigeonholed in the country rock genre, Murphy and Craig Juan would go on to provide backing support for the late blues artist J.C. Burris. Burris was a remarkable folk-blues artist who sang and played harmonica and bones in a powerful and emotional manner. Burris wrote well-crafted songs and created delightful wooden dancing dolls, the most famous of which, Mr. Jack, would be included as part of his show. Burris was the nephew of the late Sonny Terry, who once said of his nephew: "If you didn't see him, you'd think it was me."
I first met John through Craig Juan who recommended him to me when I was seeking a pedal steel player. (Juan himself would be the bassist in several incarnations of J.C. Flyer). After speaking with him over the phone, he sounded like someone who besides being a good musician was also an extremely intelligent and witty fellow who also played the accordion. I was happy to discover that my first impression was indeed correct. I would soon read with delight his Murphyisms that the late San Francisco columnist Herb Caen would publish on a regular basis. After our initial rehearsal at Eric Van Dorn's house in San Mateo, John would become J.C. Flyer's pedal steel and lead guitarist. The band would rehearse in Murphy's band shed behind his home, which still provides many fond memories. Besides pedal steel and guitar, Murphy has played harmonica and Dobro in J.C. Flyer, as well as adding an occasional vocal. His renditions of Tennessee Ernie Ford's "16 Tons," Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings," and Johnny Rivers "Secret Agent Man", kept 'em dancing and smiling on many a night. Besides being a great friend Murphy has been a wonderful teacher over the years. Even though he brought that accordion down to that first rehearsal - back some 14 years ago- he still hasn't broke it out yet!
Most weekends Murphy can be found performing 5 sets a night at any one of his animal clubs. Most recently I caught Murphy, along with Craig Juan in the PhatBack Band at a local hot rod show. His encyclopedic knowledge of songs is remarkable, as well as his timeless humor.
John P. Murphy's contributions to "Movin' On" cannot be understated. His pedal steel arrangements ring all over this recording. Murphy reprises his growling pedal steel solo in "Drive All Night" as an example.