|TURK MURPHY’S SAN FRANCISCO JAZZ BAND — LIVE FROM
EARTHQUAKE MCGOON’S ∙ 1973 ∙ A LOST JAZZ TREASURE
(Merry Makers Record Company MMRC-CD-48). Playing time: 71m. 55s.
New Orleans Stomp; See See Rider; Dusty Rag; Silver Dollar*; Sugarfoot Stomp;
Kansas City Man Blues; Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me†; Tom Cat Blues;
Wolverine Blues; Chimes Blues; Doctor Jazz°; The Pearls; The Torch*; New Orleans
Joys; Texas Moaner; Willie the Weeper; Ragged but Right†; Sidewalk Blues;
Dippermouth Blues; Bay City.
Personnel: Turk Murphy, trombone, vocal*; Leon Oakley, cornet, vocal°; Bob Helm,
clarinet, soprano sax, vocal°; Pete Clute, piano; Bill Carroll, tuba; Carl Lunsford,
Recorded in 1973 at Earthquake McGoon’s, 630 Clay Street, San Francisco,
Details about this rare find seem almost non-existent—all that is said is that it is a
“newly discovered live recording, found in 2012, from 1973 ….” No mention is
made of who had it, who discovered it, who made it, etc. But it is vintage Murphy
fare, all of the numbers having had other outings on Murphy LP’s and CD’s, many
of them numerous times; still, it is always good to hear yet another Murphy band
rendition. All of the players are in top form here, being so familiar as a group with
these tunes that there are no discernible clams to be heard. Of course, Murphy
bands were always very “tight”—as John Gill, a former Murphy sideman, says in
the liner notes, “it was Turk’s way or the highway. He knew exactly how he wanted
it to sound and demanded a high level of musicianship and professionalism from
his band”—and such discipline resulted in performances that delighted audiences.
I was particularly struck with how firm a lead Leon Oakley provides right from the
start as he leads the band into New Orleans Stomp with a blistering attack.
Throughout the offerings on this CD his passion is clear and his technique sure—
you just know he isn’t going to miss or flub a note, and indeed he doesn‘t. Much
the same can be said of all of the others, really, although I have to admit that at
times I find Bob Helm’s tone on clarinet a little “sour,” although I seem to recall
reading somewhere that he played thus because Murphy (and Lu Watters before
him) liked it that way. Certainly I have heard him play in other settings without
that slight flatness, especially in the upper register.
As I said earlier, the band is quite familiar with all of these tunes, but that does not
mean that the musicians are jaded or the performances are dispirited. I especially
enjoyed some of the small touches given to the arrangements, such as that of Blues
My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me. There is a two-bar stop time sequence following
the banjo solo where the clarinet takes two bars solo and is answered in turn by the
ensemble, then come two from cornet, banjo, and trombone in turn, each followed
by the ensemble response. The next sequence is an eight-bar ensemble, then
another series of four two-bar stops by solo clarinet, cornet, banjo, but rather than
trombone as before, tuba, which takes the last two.
Another pair of small jewels is to be found in Tom Cat Blues. Following the clarinet
solo, there is a brief series of two-bar ensemble stop time phrases, each answered by
two from the tuba. Later after the trombone solo, the cornet comes in for a muted
solo that is offset by a neat riff from the backing ensemble. Finally the coda is led
into a ritard by the tuba—all very entertaining.
There are a few shortcomings, but none of a major kind. The vocals—and
fortunately there are only a handful—are all off-mike to a degree, some having an
inaudible opening. The balance is off, too, with the banjo a little too prominent
and, on a few numbers, there is a certain muddiness of the ensemble sound. But
these flaws do not seriously detract from what is otherwise a recording that is easy
This CD can be ordered directly from Merry Makers Record Company, 926
Beechwood Circle, Suisun City, CA 94585, telephone 707-422-1224. The cost,
including mailing, is $16.00. It may also be available from some mail order dealers