A modern-day beatnik, a vaudeville barker, a “New York noir” rocker, a blues growler, a barroom balladeer, a saloon philosopher, a subway cabaret monster, and an untraditional traditionalist? L J Murphy has been described as all of these. He’s also been described as one of the most original and poetic songwriters to come out of New York City in a very long time.
Murphy’s live shows, whether solo or accompanied by his band, tend to be raucous affairs that highlight the wide array of genres that his songwriting encompasses, from blues and ballads to funk to country to soul to rockabilly to folk and back again.
Murphy’s back stiffens at any attempt to categorize his music, try asking him if he’s a traditionalist. “A traditionalist? Why the hell would anyone call me a traditionalist? My work is totally based in the here and now, the subject matter is now! Just because my music owes more of a debt to Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Dr. John than to The Who or Led Zeppelin or any of the other TRADITIONAL heroes of today’s guitar-oriented bands doesn’t make me a traditionalist.”
He continues, It’s all about working the emotional center, you’ve got to dig around in the gravel pit and not be afraid of getting your hands dirty. Look, you must have seen old time rock and roll film clips. How much audacity did Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard or James Brown have? It was in every note and every gesture! Rock and Roll has lost its audacity. Most of the new bands I hear are well-intentioned but reverential and boring. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between. It’s no wonder the audience has shrunk.”
Where does he see his place in today’s musical landscape? “Songwriting is a responsibility that shouldn’t be trivialized. Music is a very powerful medium and connects with people on a very deep level. I’m fully aware that a song that I think is a piece of trash might have saved someone’s life in the middle of their darkest night; likewise a song that I love could leave someone else completely indifferent. If someone comes to my show or listens to my record and comes away feeling differently, good or bad, as long as it hits a nerve, I’ve done my job