Growing Up Downtown - June 2016
Epilogue: Life As I Have Known It
Pat Murphy's book-in-progress is no longer a book in progress. In this final installment, he takes the long view back over his own life and some of the people he has known and loved.
I don’t remember much of the experience. My folks did navigate through, and about six months later brought me back home to Bay St. Louis. They always gave me what I needed, and with my two sisters Mary Ellen and Carleen, my grandparents, and our extended family, they instilled in me that I could do and be anything that I set my mind to be. From little league baseball to the mighty Saint Stanislaus Rock A Chaw band, no one ever attempted to hold me back. I never knew anything but encouragement from those who loved and cared for me.
I was always accepted by my childhood friends and was included in anything that they were involved in. From Billy Shumski and Ronnie Genin, to Donald Gavagnie, Ree Elliott, Mike McGinity and Michael Plunkett, these guys were always there for me and were true friends. Four of these six guys are no longer with us, and I really miss having them in my life. The other two, Donald Gavagnie and Ree Elliott, continue to be my lifelong friends. Friendships seem to have always come easily for me, and I’m blessed with an abundance of good friends who are extremely important to me.
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I want to talk about the gift of music, which has shaped my life from childhood and through my adulthood. Along with a couple of other things like creative writing and a love of history, it has made me what I am today.
My Dad always sang to us while he put us to sleep at night — usually old Jimmy Rodgers, Webb Pierce or Hank Williams songs. I guess this is where my love of the real-deal, old country music comes from.
I vividly remember discovering and listening to music on the radio. I was about 6 years old and still living in an apartment next to my grandparents’ at 800 South Beach. I remember lying on the floor of the front screen porch and hearing the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie” on the radio.
The music hit me like a lightning bolt! I was instantly smitten with it and still love Don and Phil Everly’s sibling harmony. I was a far bigger fan of The Everly Brothers than of Elvis Presley. One of the greatest nights of my life was meeting and getting to hang out backstage with the Everly Brothers at a concert in around 1998. I have also reached further back and discovered the Louvin Brothers, who influenced the Everlys early on.
My mom loved 1940s jump blues like Louis Jordan, Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris and the like, and I guess this is where I got my love of jump blues. By the time I got into junior high, I owned one of those little transistor AM radios with the earplug. I used to lay in the dark at night while I was supposed to be sleeping and listen to 50,000-watt clear channel WLAC in Nashville, Tennessee.
Randy’s Record Shop in Gallatin, Tennessee sponsored the broadcast and sold by mail order the records played each night on the show. The DJs were “Hoss Man” Allen and “Big John R”, legendary figures in the history of rhythm & blues. This radio show and the great New Orleans music of that time would give me my intense love of gritty, Southern soul music.
When I was in 6th grade, my dad’s youngest brother Mike bought me a Conn cornet, and I joined the St. Stanislaus band. I would participate in the band program until I graduated from high school. I later switched to baritone in the marching band and valve trombone in the jazz stage band.
The band director during my junior and senior years at St. Stanislaus was Clem Toca. There were times that Clem would bring some of us to recording dates at Cosimo Matassa’s legendary New Orleans recording studio. We didn’t get paid but it was a priceless experience! Clem was the guy who hipped me to the fact that I could make money playing music. Clem and I remained good friends until his death last year.
My first live rock-n-roll music exposure was seeing Henry J. & The Starfires with my friend Squeaky Hille playing drums. Jay Heitzmann led this band, and my future bandmate Mike Willumitis was also a member. I heard them playing for a dance at the Bay St. Louis Youth Center one night and I was hooked on live music from that point on.
Squeaky and a couple of the horn players were in the Stanislaus band with me and taught me some basics of piano (1-4-5 progressions and circle 6ths). After seeing them live, I would go see live music any time that I was able. My Dad even took my sister Mary Ellen and me to shows at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. I saw the original Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jan & Dean all at WNOE Shower of Stars Shows.
When I was around 17, my parents allowed my sister and me to journey by bus to New Orleans. We stayed overnight with my mother’s cousin and went to City Park Stadium to see Eric Burdon with the original Animals (wow!!). The opening act was my future musical mentor Duke Bardwell’s band the Greek Fountains, and I’ll never forget it!
From Jimi Hendrix at City Park Stadium, lots of shows at New Orleans’ Warehouse and numerous pop festivals, there are not many acts from that era that I didn’t see live. Regrettably, I was grounded on the night of the Beatles concert in New Orleans, and I also never had the chance to see the Doors.
During the summer between my sophomore and junior year, my running buddies Ree Elliott, Billy Shumski, and Ronnie Genin decided to form their own rock-n-roll band. I’ve already mentioned that my friends would always include me, and this was no different. I think they played one gig before I talked my way into the band. I still tell people that no one ever told me I couldn’t be a one-armed piano player. My handicap was just never an issue.
I played my first paying gig for a private party on New Year’s Eve night 1965 in the back room of Trapani’s Knock Knock on Beach Boulevard. We made $10 each. When the people who hired us wanted the band to play an extra hour, we all had to call home and get permission to stay out an hour later! The band was the Saxons (shortly to become the Lost Souls) with Billy Shumski on drums, Ronnie Genin on bass, Ree Elliott on guitar and me on organ. The music was mostly British invasion stuff, surf instrumentals, and classic r&b.
Ree Elliott dropped out of the band by the beginning of our senior year and we started hanging around with Mike Willumitis, who was several years older than us and lived with his aunt Elsie (Sporl) on South Beach close to Washington Street. Mike had played bass with Henry J. & the Starfires, and by this time he had switched to guitar and also sang.
Mike joined the band, and the Lost Souls became The Subway Prophets. A year or so later we changed the name again to Tomorrow’s Dawn, and now we had a Chevrolet van that had the band name emblazoned on the side! We were happening! My Grandpa George used to call our van “the Dawn car.”
Around this time is when we started venturing out playing gigs in New Orleans and south Louisiana (yeah baby! The Hullabaloo Club in Morgan City!). Eventually we relocated to and were based out of Baton Rouge because we were working with a booking agency/management firm there.
About 1971 I started a band with my cousin Chuck Murphy and Mike Keel named Gris Gris. David Adams was also involved. At the time there was another local band named Corruption, which included Danny Perniciaro, Mike Horne, and Tommy Moran. David Adams left to play bass with Corruption and shortly afterward Mike Keel and I also found ourselves playing with Corruption.
Within a year, the name Corruption had been changed to Catahoula. We began writing and performing some of our own music, which was a big step. Catahoula traveled extensively and played all over the Southeast and as far north as Louisville, Kentucky.
While this lifestyle seemed adventurous and glamorous to us for a while, playing on the road, riding sometimes 600 miles overnight, and living in motels started wearing thin with me. My wife Candy walked into my life one night while we were playing a dance. We were in love and didn’t like being apart.
Due to some personality differences that seemed to develop virtually overnight, Catahoula played its last band job on New Year’s Eve 1974. My mother’s cancer was progressing rapidly by this time and she died in February 1975. Candy and I were married in September of 1975. Not long after our marriage I found myself playing in the band Southernaire with some friends from Picayune.
By 1978 I was still playing with a couple of the guys from Picayune but we were having trouble finding and keeping bass players. The following Christmas, Candy Murphy got a Fender jazz bass as a Christmas gift and within a few months she was playing bass with us in a group called the County Line Band. Candy’s cousin Gina Haas Larsen sang in this group, and we also included a young and gifted harmonica player named Michael Rosato. Michael would surface again as a member of one of my later bands, the Jumpin’ Jukes of Mississippi.
Over the next decade the County Line Band would eventually morph into the Pat Murphy Band, which I would lead for more than 25 years. This is the musical group that most people associate with Pat Murphy.
Over the years I have been blessed to play with some wonderful, very talented musicians like guitarists Bob Welch, Tommy Moran, Johnny Hozey, Emile Guess, John Bezou, and my hero, Duke Bardwell.
The sax players that have passed through my bands have all been top-of-the-line heavy hitters. Joe Arnold was originally from Memphis. He served as a staff musician at Stax Records in Memphis from 1964-‘67, playing on most all of Otis Redding’s great records. He also played on the legendary Stax/Volt Tour of Europe in 1966 as one of the Markeys. Joe also played on many of the great records recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. After Joe left my band he went on to perform with Bobby “Blue” Bland.
Jerry Jumonville was one of those New Orleans expats who migrated to the West Coast in the late 1960s, playing with Doctor John, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Bette Midler, Rickie Lee Jones, and many others. Jerry was also a great arranger. Ironically, one of Jerry’s early idols as a New Orleans teenager was Charles Fairley, whom I’ll speak of shortly.
Robbie Rivers was from Meridian, Mississippi and was one of the best bebop sax players that I ever heard. Hearing Robbie onstage, I’d think I was listening to Charlie “Bird” Parker!!
Charles “Boss Tenor” Fairley is from Moss Point, Mississippi. Charlie spent a lot of time in New Orleans in the 1950s, including a stint as Guitar Slim’s bandleader during a residency at New Orleans’ famed Dew Drop Inn. Charles would go on to play the stages of the world from New York’s Apollo to the Olympia in Paris as a member of Otis Redding’s touring band. Charles worked on and off with my band for many years and I never tired of his Guitar Slim and Otis Redding road tales.
New Orleans’ Tom Fitzpatrick, who plays with Walter “Wolfman” Washington, continues to be a delight to work with whenever I’m able to book him to play a gig. Tom can play anything from beautiful melodic jazz to solid New Orleans R&B. All of these guys have been a true joy to work with, and having had them play in my bands is a source of great pride for me.
Next I am going to talk about some other musicians and friends who have influenced my life and music over the years.
I had heard of Jimmy Prima long before I ever met and started working with him. James Anthony Prima is the son of Leon Prima, who ran the famed 500 Club on Bourbon Street. Jimmy’s Dad was Louie Prima’s brother.
Jimmy grew up immersed in that New Orleans Bourbon Street environment, and he plays that syncopated New Orleans- and Louie Prima-swing style better than anyone I’ve ever known. He got his first set of drums from Louie Prima’s longtime drummer, Jimmy Vincent.
As a youngster, Jimmy grew up playing all those hip cadences and street beats in the famed New Orleans drum and bugle corps.
No question about it, Jimmy is absolutely the best swing shuffle drummer that I’ve ever played with. He also happens to be the funniest individual that I’ve ever encountered. Jimbo could keep you in stitches, and he is definitely the guy who opened my eyes to the difference that a great drummer can make in a band.
Deacon John Moore
I first met Deacon John Moore in about 1965, when as a high school kid I would go to see his band the Ivories play for dances. Over time he saw me enough that we got to know each other. I remember being this young hippie with no money standing on the sidewalk outside his gig at the Speakeasy in Baton Rouge. He recognized me and brought us into the club with the band.
I booked him for a job here and there, and we became friends. Occasionally I would even stop by his house in New Orleans to visit, and I have sold him musical equipment. Probably more than anyone else Deacon has influenced my love for New Orleans rock-n-roll. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a bandleader and businessman, and I really value his friendship.
Isaak “Guitar Bo” Darensbourg
When I was around 5 years old and we were still living at my grandparents’ house on South Beach, we lived two houses over from Ms. Susie Weston. There was a kid who took care of her yard named Isaak Darensbourg, but everybody just called him Bo. Bo was 13 or 14 years old and I was his shadow.
When Bo was over there working, I’d run over and hang out with him the whole day. I would sit with him in the yard while he ate his lunch and generally pester the hell out of him asking questions. I remember that even back then Bo was a guitar player and I was mightily impressed. Into my teen years Bo became known as Guitar Bo and played with the Claudettes. After Bo and his wife Dee got together they became Guitar Bo and Miss Dee. Through all these sixty-plus years of living in Bay St. Louis, Bo and I have remained good friends. Bo is very special to me.
In the fall of 1969, right after Hurricane Camille, I went to the Long Beach teen center to hear my friend George Reed’s band perform. George had this 16-year-old bass player from Long Beach named Eric Watkins. Even at 16, Eric’s abilities with the four-string thing were mighty impressive.
Eric and I hit it off and became friends immediately, and we played together a lot over the next several years. Eric left the coast and played around Florida, Jackson, Mississippi and Shreveport, Louisiana before moving back with his wife, Liz. He began playing at the Broadwater with Leon Kelner’s Orchestra and then joined Jerry Fisher’s house band at the Dock of the Bay.
We remained close and eventually he joined my band when we started working at Casino Magic. Eric continued to play with me until shortly before his death in 2013.
Eric was one of those friends whose death has been hard to get past. Aside from being a very close friend, I’ve never played with a bassist whose playing I enjoyed more. Eric was one of those guys that when he walked into a jam session, you immediately knew that the music was going to get better.
I talked in an earlier chapter about the dances and my experience going to a huge CYO dance in Baton Rouge and how I have been a fan of the Baton Rouge music scene ever since. Along with John Fred & the Playboys, the biggest band to come out of the Baton Rouge music scene in the 1960s was the Greek Fountains. Duke Bardwell was one of the singers in this band and was already legendary on the Louisiana music scene, having sang in the Dixie Crystals.
Duke has been one of my musical heroes since I was in high school. He has always been involved with great bands and eventually went on to perform with Gritz, Elvis Presley, Jose Feliciano, and Kenny Loggins, and he recorded with Emmylou Harris. Through the years Duke has become one of my closest friends. I tell people that I bulldozed my way into his life, but we have been tight for almost 40 years and he continues to be the friend and musician whose opinion matters the most to me. Duke has been another of those great blessings in my life.
The Business Side of the Music
Many times people ask how I’ve managed to snag some of the players that have played in my bands through the years. What it amounts to is that if you have the gigs and treat people with fairness, respect, and honesty, the great players aren’t hard to find. Usually they are delighted that you are giving them a quality gig. You just have to have the confidence to ask them (thank you Harry Ravain).
I have always been blessed to be in the position that I could surround myself with better players than myself. One thing that I have come to feel very strongly about through the years is that there isn’t room for egos or arrogance in the music business. Some of the greatest players that I’ve ever known have been truly humble people.
There is a huge difference between confidence and ego. I especially don’t like to be around people who have average musical abilities, but who strut around acting like they are rock stars. If you have the goods, confidence is fine. But ego is dangerous in the music business!
As I’m writing this, I have just celebrated my 67th birthday and I find myself reflecting about life a lot. I remember vividly my Grandfather Stevenson saying that one of the drags about getting older is that you start losing all of your friends. Grandparents, uncles, aunts and parents and their deaths are all part of the natural process of life, though I have to say that there didn’t seem to be anything natural about losing my mother to cancer when I was 24.
I have lost so many close friends, especially in the last 20 years. Two of my oldest and closest childhood friends died within two weeks of each other in 2000! My St. Augustine Seminary running mate, lifelong friend and first band drummer, Billy Shumski, burned to death in a house fire in early January and about 10 days later another lifelong friend, Mike McGinity, lost his battle with cancer.
This double whammy was very rough for me but with the help of other friends and family, I got through it and moved forward. In situations like these, the memories that are left behind are priceless! They are something that no one can take away from you. I still crack up laughing out loud at some of the wonderful memories that I have of family and friends.
Here’s to the many friends who have gone on! Harry Ravain (who taught me to not be afraid to ask), Louis Frederick Young, Jr., John “Beaver” Languirand, George “Buddy” Languirand, David Adams, Mike McGinity, Jimmy “Vern” Wagner, Mike Plunkett, Robbie “R.L. the Sax King” Rivers, Billy Shumski, Ronnie Genin, Alvin “Tiger” Genin, Emile “Borrowed Time” Guess, Danny Noonan, Eric Watkins, and Clem Toca. You guys all had a part in making me who I am and I miss you being in my life.
Here’s to my loving family members who have traveled on. Big Pat and Momma Carol Murphy, Grandpa George and Grandma Odile Stevenson, Poppa Charlie and Grandma Mary Murphy, Uncle Charles, Uncle Mike, Aunt Lucille, Aunt Nan, Aunt Doris, Aunt Margaret, Aunt Alice and Uncle Albert, May May and Uncle Merlin, Aunt Annie, Uncle Felix and Aunt Marie, Snunie, Aunt Jane, Peter Hagan, Aunt Doris and Uncle A.J., Uncle Wilkie and Aunt Helen. Thanks for your love and guidance through the years.
I’d like to acknowledge Ms. Mary Winnard, Ms. Emily DeMontluzin, and Mr. Charlie “Junior” Breath for helping with the start of my collection of photos. Thanks to Anthony “Trap” Trapani for sharing his memories with me. A huge thank you goes out to Mr. Edward “Buster” Heitzmann, whose memories and guidance he shared until his passing at 103 years of age.
Thanks to my friends Albert Piazza, Gregory “Pamps” Kergoisen, Pete Benvenutti, Joe Kern, and Elsie Benigno for helping me with info along the way. I also have to thank Charles Gray, Eddie Coleman, and the Hancock County Historical Society for their help and encouragement over the years. In addition, my friend Georgie Necaise Morton and her “You Know You’re From The Bay If” Facebook group have been a huge source of help with this project.
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