Chuck Murphy, piano pounder from Montgomery, Alabama (1951-1955)

CHUCK MURPHY

Born Charles Hurt Murphy, Jr., 7 March 1922, Montgomery, Alabama Died 18 August 2001, Charleston, South Carolina

Chuck Murphy was a piano pounder who made two interesting records that you could call proto-rock n roll. Born in March 1922, he always celebrated his birthday on March 8, but, when he looked at his birth certificate years later, he found that he was actually born on March 7. Born in Montgomery, he grew up in Decatur, Alabama. His mother played piano and Chuck and his brother Huel both took up the instrument. Chuck loved Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. His first gigs were in pop bands during the mid-1930s and by the 1940s he was making a living from music. Most of his work came from the lounges in and around Birmingham. Country music came into the picture in a minor way (he gigged with the Red Mountain Wranglers and was on their television show, and hung out with Hardrock Gunter), but pop music was his bread-and-butter. At one point, he was among the highest paid entertainers in Alabama.

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In February 1951, Murphy had his first record released, « They Raided the Joint »/ »Blue Ribbon Boogie » (Bama 301), accompanying himself on what sounded like an old barrelhouse piano.

The A-side was written by Louis Jordan and Dan Burley and recorded by Jordan in January 1945 as « They Raided the House« , though it was not released at the time. Bama Records was owned by Manley Pearson, who had released the original version of « Birmingham Bounce » by Hardrock Gunter. Decca had tried to buy the master, but after Pearson refused, Paul Cohen recorded his own version of « Birmingham Bounce » with Red Foley, which went to # 1 on the country charts, leaving Pearson with piles of unsold copies. Having learned from this experience, Pearson leased « They Raided the Joint » to Coral this time (a subsidiary of Decca!), after the disc showed good sales potential. Coral reissued Chuck’s single in April 1951 (Coral 64090). It sold well in the southern states, but was not a national hit. Chuck did further recordings for Coral with Pee Wee Erwin’s Dixieland Band. There was even a Dutch Coral pressing (61014) of Chuck’s song « 2-D Gal In A 3-D Town« .

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coral 64101 murphycoral 60584 chuck murpjy - Waitin' for my baby
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In 1951, Chuck had 4 times the honor of being reviewed by Billboard for his Coral records.

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In late 1953, Murphy signed with Columbia Records, where his first record was « Hocus Pocus« / »Hard Headed » (21258). However, it was his second Columbia single, « Rhythm Hall » (Columbia 21305), for which he will be remembered most of all. Recorded at the Tulane Hotel in Nashville on March 21,1954, « Rhythm Hall« was produced by Don Law, with Hardrock Gunter and Huel Murphy on guitar, Ernie Newton on bass and Farris Coursey on drums. Chuck’s family says that Chuck himself played piano on the session, and that would certainly make sense, but Hardrock Gunter alleges that Huel played the piano. Like « They Raided the Joint« , « Rhythm Hall » is an infectious piano romp in country boogie style.rhythm hall

Chuck made two more singles for Columbia and a few for other labels (MGM), but since the early 1950s he had felt the call to the ministry. In 1957, he entered what is now Samford University in Birmingham (then Howard College) and finished a four-year degree in three years, all the while working the nightclubs. In 1960, he went to Virginia Theological Seminary and graduated in 1963. From that point, until his death in 2001, he was a full-time minister in the American branch of the Anglican church. Along the way, he wrote several books.

Biography taken from BlackCatRockabilly (Netherlands – come visit the site!)

Pictures from various sources.

Chuck Murphy disco

late July 2010 fortnight

Hello folks! This is REALLY a hot summer over there in France, lot of heavy clouds but…no rain at all. Perfect time anyway to keep oneself well dry inside and stomp to that good ole’ Hillbilly beat. We begin with a very elusive artist from the Cumberland Valley/Cincinnati area. I’ve told before in this site about him, and did promise I should post everything I gathered for one year and a half. This could be later this year, so watch out for the fullest possible story on Mr. JIMMIE BALLARD. The first cut in this fortnite is Ballard’s own version of « Birthday Cake Boogie » (Kentucky 508)cake508ballard

of course, the same song was also recorded by, among others, BILLY HUGHES and SKEETS McDONALD, and stands out as a classic ‘risqué‘ or ‘double-entendre‘ song. Ballard was the front man then of BUFFALO JOHNSON‘s Herd (who was active in the D.C. area, and a full story on him is on the line.  And he keeps the vocal duties with the also ‘risqué‘ (Kentucky 520 ) « T’ain’t Big Enough« . Both songs are from 1953/1954, fine uptempo Boppers, altho’ just above average, except for lyrics.

taint big enoughBilly Briggs - norh pole boogie

Back to a Wildcat out of Texas, a very long career as steel guitar player as soon as 1936, then singer and front man of his band, the XYT Boys, BILLY BRIGGS. I will have some day a complete story on him. He was (maybe he’s still alive, I dunno) to have a sound on his own, and produced very strange ditties from his steel in 1951 for his greatest success (much covered) « Chew Tobacco Rag N° 2 » . Here I’ve chosen the amusing « North Pole Boogie » (Imperial 8131, late Forties), complete with icy wind effects (on steel), and Briggs’ own barytone voice imitating a sort of ‘polar bear’ .

Back to Cincinnati and BILL BROWNING. I’ve written about him elsewhere in the site with the story of the LUCKY label. Today I listen to his composition « Dark Hollow« , which was a hit in 1958 when picked up by JIMMIE SKINNER, before the very nice version on BLUE RIDGE by LUKE GORDON (watch out for his story later in 2010), then even by The Grateful Dead in 1973, among others. I particularly like the recent version made by FRED TRAVERS (90’s) which I’ve included in the podcasts; almost falsetto urgent vocal and great dobro.Bill Browning Island 7 - dark hollow

More from Cincinnati. BOBBY ROBERTS (I think there were at least 2, or 3 personas by the same name during he 50’s). Here he’s the great Hillbilly singer, who cut late 1955 4 sides for KING records. I cannot rememeber if I posted earlier his great « I’m Gonna Comb You Out Of My Hair » (what a title!). This time, I offer the second KING (4868, unverified – Ruppli’s book still stored) « I’m Pulling Stakes And Leaving You », same lyrics format. Great, great Hillbilly Bop. Later in 1956, Roberts (or one of his aliases) had « Big Sandy » or « Hop, Skip and Jump« , pure Rockabillies. I still wonder if it’s the same man; if so, he would have adapted very well and quickly (within some months) from pure Hillbilly vocal to almost Rock’n’Roll. By the way, he would not have been the first to do so: SKEETS McDONALD, GEORGE JONES, MARTY ROBBINS did very well the transition early in 1956.

Another elusive artist: guitar player/singer PETE PIKE. Recently deceased (2006) just after a CD ‘back to roots’ (Bluegrass) issued in 2005, he was active both in Virginia and D.C. areas from 1947 onwards, and associated several years with another interesting man, BUZZ BUSBY (Busbice). Pike had Hillbilly Bop records on FOUR STAR and CORAL in 1954-1955, among them I’ve chosen the superior ballad  « I’m Walking Alone« . Another future entry in www.bopping.org, research is well advanced.

Finally, on the Rocking Blues side, you’re in for a treat with L.A. ‘black Jerry Lee Lewis’ (as the Englishmen call him when he visits their shores), WILLIE EGAN and « What A Shame » from 1957 (Vita label). Pounding piano, wild vocal, strong saxes, heavy drums, the whole affair rocks like mad, althoug relaxed. Enjoy, folks. Comments welcome. ‘Till then, bye-bye.