Who was/is Memphis Slim & His House Rocke ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Memphis Slim & His House Rockers

Memphis Slim’s House Rockers never featured a guitarist until Matt Murphy came along in 1952. Slim claimed he was so good that he had no choice but to hire him.

Born December 27, 1929 in Sunflower, Mississippi, Murphy hailed from a guitar-picking family: his younger brother Floyd played with Little Junior Parker’s Blue Flames, and two more siblings also knew their way around a fretboard. Matt was friends with future bluesman Jimmy Johnson in Mississippi; when Murphy left his axe with Jimmy, his little brother, future soul star Syl Johnson tried it out for size. "I’d be goin’ in that closet, and got that Matt Murphy’s guitar, and learned how to play," says Syl. "We used to call him ‘Punkin’,’ or M.T. Murphy."

Matt was the most accomplished technician in Murphy household. Self-taught initially, the fleet-fingered innovator first recorded in Memphis with Bobby Bland and Little Junior Parker for Modern. He recorded extensively with Slim through 1954 for United before entering the Army. Jody Williams quit Howlin’ Wolf to replace Murphy. "We played over at Silvio’s Cocktail Lounge that Sunday," says Jody. "I quit that Sunday night, and that Wednesday I opened up with Memphis Slim at the New Era Lounge in Nashville." Jody went into the service at about the time Murphy got out, and Matt was a House Rocker again when the pianist signed with Vee-Jay in 1958.

An uncommonly catchy melodic hook sits at the heart of Steppin’ Out, culled as a single from the same August 18, 1959 Memphis Slim album session that spawned Messin’ Around (on Disc Two). With saxists Alex Atkins, John Calvin, and Ernest Cotton, electric bassist Sam Chatman, and drummer Billie Stepney swinging like mad, Murphy grabs two imaginative solo choruses that once again show just how ahead of the pack he was conceptually. Eric Clapton was certainly listening; he torched the tune on his first album with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers in 1966.

Although he accompanied Slim overseas for the ’63 American Folk Blues Festival, Murphy didn’t commit fully to the pianist. He worked as a Chess studio guitarist, sharing lead duties on Chuck Berry’s delectable Down The Road Apiece and the Vibrations’ The Watusi. He played with Sam Chatman in the Sparks (basically the House Rockers without Slim) around Chicago during the ‘60s, then joined harpist James Cotton for a long stint. Murphy became a familiar face when he acted and played in the 1980 smash film ‘The Blues Brothers.’ He suffered a serious stroke in 2003 that seriously impaired his guitar skills, but waged an inspiring comeback that included a reunion with Cotton at the 2010 Chicago Blues Festival.


Bill Dahl
Chicago, Illinois


Electric Blues 1939-2005. - The Definitive Collection!


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