Just back from five sold out shows in Spain with Olivier Durand, and we played for over two and half hours each nigh. I can still see the faces of the fans in the front row. They’re my inspiration and my motivation to do something special each night – they look at me and I just want to do the best I can for them. Its magic! And now just as one year of touring ends another begins so quickly for us. It seems just yesterday that I was saying something about this being our last show of 2005 and now I was saying these are our first shows of 2006! Everything changes – everything stays the same. What will change?
Well for one big thing (no pun intended), Danny Montgomery who has been our incredibly charismatic drummer for the past five years has moved back to California for personal reasons and we will miss him in so many ways. I’ve been blessed to play with some incredible drummers in my time: Gene Parson from the Byrds, Jim Gordon from Derek and the Dominos, Phil Collins, Tony Machine, the late Jesse Chamberlain and, of course, Danny. Drummers are a particular breed of musician and there would be no rock ‘n roll without them. As I said in “Last of the Rocks”: ” … and your homework now is never complete but you don’t care ’cause you got the BEAT!” And none gave me the big beat better then Danny Montgomery. They bang on modern versions pots and pans and tree stumps covered in animal skin and for the most part are spared the ever-evolving technology of guitarists and keyboard players. But they keep it all together on-stage and in the studio. There are two kinds of drummers: those who swing and those who find another way to make a living. Danny Montgomery swung like Sammy Davis and he always brought a lot of love. That was one of Danny’s jokes and he did a wonderful Sammy imitation. In fact, he kept us laughing through many a dark night and long day on the road. Endless hours in the van when conversation has run mighty thin and still Danny would be able to bring a smile on all of our faces. I will miss his playing and his camaraderie but as someone once said: “Never say never … “
On the other hand, we’ve put together a new band or I should say that Olivier has put together a new band featuring Laurent Pardo on bass and cello and Alan Fatras on drums. As you might have guessed both are French and both live not far from Olivier in Le Havre. Both are wonderful musicians: Laurent played with the legendary Kid Pharon for years and I’m really looking forward to him playing cello with us – that will be a first. Oliver has been talking about Alan for years and always said that if Danny had to go this would be they guy for us. Alan just returned from Nashville drumming on Moon Martin’s new album. Olivier knows talent so I’m not worried. What I am worried about is how my level of French will fare when these guys start talking about football and foie gras.
Of course, Olivier and I continue to do at least half of the shows as a duo and that is something I always hope to continue and to grow with. We know each other so well that the freedom we have on stage is enormous and I can literally call out any one of my songs and he will know it … probably better then me. I can even call out any Dylan song and he’ll know it or Tom Waits or Bruce Springsteen for that matter. My dream one day is to own a teleprompter where I can put all the words to all my songs. My fantasy is to write all the songs for each show right before the show in the dressing room. Of course, I’ve never done that (nor has anyone else I think) but I did write “Green River” one morning in Bilbao, Spain, teach it to the band in the afternoon and that night we played it before 500 people in Vittoria. That’s rock ‘n roll.
Am I still a rocker or have I metamorphosed into a bluesman as Murphy Gets Muddy might suggest. Rock ‘n roll is the music of youthful hopes and dreams and energy while blues is the result of experience and the ecstatic highs and so damn lows of a life well lived. But even a relatively young man like Robert Johnson had the blues and sang with an authenticity few singers can reach today. For my part, I’ve always lived somewhere between all of these musical worlds: rock ‘n roll, folk, blues, country even a little be-bop jazz. And, of course, Mozart …
We continue to record new songs: “40 days and 40 nights”, “Pneumonia Alley”, “Going Home Again”, Bruce’s “Devils and Dust” and so many others. Olivier says I have enough tracks for a new album but I don’t feel it yet. I’m lost and that’s a good sign. Normally the albums find me before I even know they’re there. They tap me on the shoulder and say: “Guess what? We’re finished!” and the next thing I know I have the CD in my hand. These days I find I write best when I’m moving: in cars and trains. But not on planes because they’re I’m moving so fast that I’m almost standing still.
I love to hear from anyone who wants to contact me. One of the advantages of my level of moderate fame is that I get to know so many of my fans personally on a first name basis. We’re all a big family now and you know who you are. So keep the flame burning and I’ll try and catch a fire each night …
Elliott Murphy, Paris 20 Jan 2006
Photo by Marc Ginot