Tuesday, January 30

Interview #14 : Elliott Murphy

The 14th interviewee in my series is not a Bostonian, as it is Elliott Murphy. He has crossed Jonathan's tracks many times and started to sing during the seventies. He recently released a new CD, his best since ... his four first albums (Remember Aquashow, Lost generation, Nightlights, Just a story from America...). This new CD, "Come home again", on the French Last Call label is available on line just go to http://www.elliottmurphy.com as well as in the good record shops.

I am quite proud to have Elliott here on the JojoBlog answering my questions because he reminds me a lot of Jonathan. Before starting the interview I told Elliott a comment Jonathan made about him.

My friend Patrick had asked Jonathan if he was not finding Elliott's situation unfair. Towards the end of the 70's, two musicians were highly praised by the rock press as being the future heralds of rock as Dylan had been and still was then. One was Bruce Springsteen and the other was Elliott Murphy. Apparently Bruce got the recognition and Elliott was awarded with a cult artist status. Jonathan answered that it was quite normal as Bruce had to struggle for life and had no choice as Elliott had a backup position as an accountant and that made the difference.

Now let's hear Ellliott answering on that and to the other questions I asked him.

That is so funny! Jonathan's reply is completely a myth of his own creation because I was never an accountant or anything else and I always depended completely on my music to survive. I wonder where he got that from?

- What was your first contact with Jonathan's music ?

When I returned from Europe in 1972 I was hanging out in a club called Max's Kansas City in New York and I met a famous rock publicist named Danny Fields who had worked with the Doors and MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges. He was very helpful in the beginning of my career and he told me that the hot new group that everyone was talking about was from Boston called The Modern Lovers and the lead singer was Jonathan Richmond. They had no records out so it was impossible to listen to them without seeing them live.

- Did you ever see the original Modern Lovers on stage, and if so how was it ?

Luckily, the next New Years Eve they played at the Mercer Arts Center in New York with The New York Dolls and I went to the show and saw them. I thought they were great although Ernie Brooks told me they thought they were terrible that night. I think I met them all after the show. I saw them again in New York a year later at a small theater I forget the name of. Again, I loved the lyrics and though Jonathan to be completely original. I got to be good friends with Ernie Brooks and we spoke often by telephone.

- When the Modern Lovers disbanded, Ernie Brooks and Jerry Harrison became your musicians with the addition of another Bostonian, Andy Paley. Can you tell us how it happened ? Why using musicians from Boston when you were pure NYC product ?

I was certainly a New York guy but there was a better rock scene happening in Boston and my first album AQUASHOW did quite well there. A lot of my contact with the Modern Lovers was also due to Paul Nelson, the famous rock critic, who discovered me in 1972 and also talked about them. I think he gave me some cassettes of their live shows. When they broke up I asked Ernie to play with me and he suggested Jerry and Andy. We recorded most of my album NIGHT LIGHTS together in New York at Electric Lady Studios and toured in the mid-west opening for ShaNaNa which was a 50's comedy band. A completely ridiculous bill but that's show business! Soon afterwards Jerry and Andy left my band but Ernie stayed with me on and off until the present time.

Elliott, Jerry Harrison, Andy Paley and Ernie Brooks.

- Was there at that moment a Modern Lovers influence on your music ?

Well, I wouldn't say it influenced my music (although maybe Roadrunner and Born to Run were the inspirations for my song DRIVE ALL NIGHT) but the unique style of Jonathan's lyrics gave me confidence to write very personal songs.

- You have been inspired by NYC in the way Jonathan was influenced by Boston and both of you are spiritual sons of Lou Reed, would you comment on that ?

Danny Fields introduced me to Lou Reed at a Mitch Rider show in 1972. Lou was wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and was very nice and told me he was living out on Long Island like me. A year later I wrote the liner notes for VELVET UNDERGROUND LIVE 1969 thanks to Paul Nelson who was A&R at Mercury Records. Lou was the most literate rock 'n roll songwriter who ever hit the New York Scene. A lot of folk singers were highly literate as well but Lou was strictly Rock 'n Roll. Jonathan and I both wrote about suburbia in our early days but Lou never did so I don't know where that came from. I tried to romanticize my life in New York through my songs although I never really felt so comfortable there. Maybe Jonathan felt the same way about Boston because he moved pretty far away to California. And I moved to Paris which I love.

- What do you think of Jonathan tribute song "Velvet Underground" ?

I might have heard it but I don't remember it. Anyway, I love all kinds of tribute songs and I wrote quite a few to icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Anastasia, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I should write one about Jonathan! And I love his song Pablo Picasso.

- What is your favourite Jonathan song ?

Definitely Roadrunner! Its a classic.

- Did you realize there are lots of similarities between Jonathan and you, like in the beginning of your careers you were inspired by muses, Geraldine for you and Gail for Jonathan and that brought some high level in your compositions. After trying several backing bands you eventually chose to have one musician with you, Olivier Durand, the same way Jonathan is paired with Tommy Larkins. Do you feel like both of you have this troubadour approach in common ?

Like me, Jonathan continues to tour all the time and never let the disfunctional world of the music business stop him. I think we can both perform solo but its lonely on the road alone. I've been playing with Olivier Durand and his contribution has been enormous. People are calling my new album COMING HOME AGAIN my best in a very, long time and a lot of that is due to Olivier.

- Have you seen any Jonathan concert lately ? Are you familiar with his recent songs ? Any feelings about it ?

I wasn't a great fan of the Modern Lovers albums after the original one - the lyrics were too infantile for me. But I've heard a lot of recent Jonathan songs I like and his soundtrack for There's something aboutMary was very nice. Jonathan looked good in a tree and I bet he climbed up there himself if he continues to do so many pushups as before.

- I have heard some of your recent live gigs and I was pleasantly surprised to hear how you managed to give new colours to the covers you were doing. A song like "Gloria" which was covered hundred of times by so many bands is totally revamped in a new direction when you take care of it, amazing. What Jonathan song would you like to cover ?

Roadrunner, Hospital and Pablo Picasso come to mind right away. They're all classic songs that I could see myself doing.

- Do you think Jonathan has some influence on today's music ?

Probably in a very below the radar way. He opened the door for all kinds of iconoclastic singers. I'm sure there are many young musicians who listen to him.

- Any anecdote related to Jonathan ?

Ernie told me that after they finished recording their first album in Los Angeles Jonathan immediately called up Warner Bros (their record company) to tell them he wouldn't be performing any of the songs on the album in concert! I'm sure they loved to hear that !

PS: Tell Jonathan to find his own accountant ...

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