Prodigal Son On The Beach

Elliott Murphy - Prodigal Son On The Beach

I took a superfine vacation down to Miami Beach, which included a wild weekend in Key West this past month and I still have a little bit of tan to prove it. Both places being in Sunny Florida, of course, and not having visited either mythical sunspot in decades, I didn’t have any idea of what I was in for. I mean, back in the 60’s we called Miami Beach God’s Waiting Room but let me tell you, things have changed, as someone else once said. And as I once said, You Never Know What You’re In For; so I hopped on an Air France flight and before I knew it, the grey skies of Paris had been replaced by graceful palm trees swaying in the ocean breezes. Now if Air France is offering direct Paris – Miami flights that must tell you something is happening here even if you don’t know what it is … Mr. Murphy.

The first time I visited Key West was in 1972 when my brother Matthew and our best friend George Gates took a Greyhound Bus directly from Miami Airport. We were about to spend a considerable amount of time in Europe and I guess we were wondering if before we leave stateside we should check out if there was any exotic terrain left in the ol’ USA and Key West seemed like the right idea. I remember sitting on that Greyhound bus, next to two leather-skinned locals, real old-timers, both in blue overalls and straw hats. One was telling the other that this was all God’s Country, meaning the particular Key where he dwelled, as far as he was concerned as the other kept silent as he went on and on about the beauty of his home. Finally when Mr. Sunshine got off at one of the little Keys the other shouted out to him “Don’t mean a damn thing to me!” And I’ve remembered their conversation to this day. Isn’t that funny? I got sick in Key West that time and don’t remember much besides being in my motel room with bronchitis and coughing spells that would have made Doc Holliday proud. 

After that trip we split to Europe and when I went back to New York, I got a record deal with Polydor Records and derided Key West in many interviews. But, I was wrong … again. Because the next time I was in Key West was in 1977 when my late great manager McShane and I accompanied by my heartthrob at the time, the beautiful Commanche Carol from Texas, we went in rock star style. We stayed at the upscale Pier House and hung out in Sloppy Joe’s and Captain Tony’s, two local watering holes where Hemingway supposedly like to drink as well. More on Papa later … but I remember Key West at that time as a kind of picturesque border town being just 90 miles from Cuba full of equally picturesque characters who regaled about how during the Bay of Pigs invasion, the US military was dug in on the beach while tourists suntanned next to their foxholes. Now, with the warming of relations I suspect soon the Key West – Havana Ferry will open for business. But let’s get back up to Miami Beach for a moment.

My good friend Kevin, known locally as The Funmaster thought it would be fun to do a little recording at famed Criteria Studios in Miami. If you don’t know, that’s where Eric Clapton recorded “Layla” with his band Derek and the Dominos, and it’s also where the Bee Gees did Saturday Night Feverand the Eagles did Hotel California. So I was up for it to say the least. Kevin’s dear friend Wes, a well known producer in his own right, gallantly agreed to accompany us and keep things in the control room in order. Kevin suggested I record a Frank Sinatra tune and so “It Was A Very Good Year” went down that evening along with two new songs of my own. Still not sure what I’ll do with it. Maybe a mini 45rpm vinyl?

When Derek and The Dominos released the album Layla (And Other Assorted Love Songs) I was so enamored with Eric Clapton’s guitar playing that I once waited for him to step out of a TV show and into his limo just get a look at him close up. Fast Forward to 1974 when I was in LA recording Lost Generation and my producer Paul Rothschild asked me what drummer would I like to work with and, of course, I wanted Jim Gordon who actually co-wrote “Layla” and was a member of Derek and the Dominos. Jim Gordon’s story is about as tragic as you can get and I won’t go into the sordid and sad details here but let me just say the man had a massive swinging rhythm within him and he worked wonders on Lost Generation.

The last time I was in Miami was when I was opening for Electric Light Orchestra after the release of Just A Story From America and we played an arena in nearby Hollywood (still Florida) and let me tell you it was a completely different town. South Beach has now become the hippest art deco strip imaginable and the beaches are long and covered with too natural looking white sand and you hear more Spanish then English which was fine with me. Almost felt like I was in another country.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that I took the tour of Hemingway’s palatial Key West house full of six toed cats. And you know what? His wife bought the house for him! Also visited Harry Truman’s “Little White House” and took the tour there too. Came out of it liking Harry even more and I even had mentioned him in Prodigal Son. See if you can find it. Let me know … 

I’ll go back again to Florida. In fact, as I say in The Prodigal Son, “I’m coming back! I’m coming back!” And yes, I do have a new album out called¬†Prodigal Son¬†after the story in the bible although lots of folks think it’s about my own talented son Gaspard Murphy who produced, arranged and mixed the album. There are nine new songs and the record closes with “Absalom, Davy and Jacky O,” which at over 11 minutes is my longest song yet. I tried to write a song that you could listen to like you might watch a film if that makes sense. It may be my best record in a decade or more, it may mark my return to someplace that like that old timer on the Greyhound Bus was once God’s Country to me.

Photo: David Godichaud