Vocalist Shaun Murphy is at home within a variety of musical genres.
She can "tear it up" on a hard-edged blues number, or apply a
subtle softness when needed.
By the early 1990s, Murphy had lent her background
vocals to a number of albums by the reunited group Little
Feat. In 1993, she graduated to permanent status, replacing
Craig Fuller on lead vocals. Her voice blends
effortlessly with those of such veterans as Paul Barrere,
and has helped take the group to new heights.
In addition to her extensive work with Little Feat,
Murphy has performed with such artists as Eric Clapton,
the Moody Blues, John Hiatt, Bruce Hornsby,
Meat Loaf (as part of the duo Stoney & Meatloaf) and Bob Seger.
Digital Interviews: When did you first realize that music was a part of you?
Shaun Murphy: Not for a long time, although my mom and dad did sing, for their
own personal entertainment. At one point, they went in and did a
little acetate. My mom sang "Hard Hearted Hannah" and my dad sang
"Route 66." I had that acetate for many years. Unfortuantely, it
got "lost in the shuffle."
First I got interested in acting. That was right around 9th grade.
I started going out for plays. Somebody dared me to go out for a play,
and I got the role. I got the bug, too, at the same time. [laughs] So,
from there I went on to do other stuff. Once I got into the tenth grade,
they said, "We're going to do this musical. Since you seem to have this gift
for acting, do you want to do this musical?" I said, "I think I can sing,
but let's try it." So I joined choir, and learned a bit about reading
music - that sort of thing. The rest is history. I got interested in
musical theatre - went on and did a couple of Broadway shows.
DI: Who were your major influences at the time?
SM: Of course, I was very interested in Elvis Presley...and at a very
early age. My dad brought home a couple of his first singles. We weren't
allowed to touch them. [laughs] He'd play them. And it was wonderful music.
From there I started listening to the radio more. We were still in Omaha
at the time, prior to moving to Iowa and then Michigan, where there was a
lot more music, in Detroit, from Motown. I went to the Motown thing,
and the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the English movement. Somebody asked me
if I wanted to join their band when I was in high school, and I
said, "Well, sure."
DI: What were some of the first bands you were in?
SM: They taught me a lot, as far as stage presence. They weren't
real "commercial" bands. They were younger bands. A lot of them weren't
allowed to play in the clubs. At one point we did have one underage girl.
After a while we had to get permission, and her mother came with her
when we played in clubs. [laughs] For the most part, it was private parties
and stuff like that, and I learned a lot about music, different types of
music. They were all very different bands. The Loreleis were very well steeped
in R&B, the old sixties R&B. At that point, it was "top ten." James Brown, Irma
Thomas - some really old stuff, but it was current at the time.
We did a lot of that. Then I moved on to the Wild Angels, which
would be considered, in today's market, a heavier "metal" band. There was a lot
of guitar - still an all girl band. We did a lot of Hendrix and stuff.
One of the girls had actually met Hendrix and was kind of taken under his wing.
Unfortunately, it was towards the end of his life, and that was sad for her.
But, I got a whole new lease on the music life, and learned a lot of that...genre
of music. Then we went on to do the next band, was more of a pop band. So we
did a cross section of all the music.
DI: Tell us about the Wilson Mower Pursuit project.
SM: That was my first introduction to a mixed band.
Myself and the bass player were women, and everybody else in the band were men.
So there was just a lot more power. We played a lot of festivals. At that time,
that was about the main thrust of the Detroit live music world, these festivals
that sort of "swirled around" in the summer. I mean, you could have places like
the Grandy Ballroom, which was sort of like Cheetah's in New York, or some of the
bigger clubs. But that's what was going on in Detroit at the time.
DI: You performed in Hair while in Detroit?
SM: That was fanstastic, because I felt like I came home.
It's musical theatre, which was my real first love. It was so much fun,
and I got a chance to do so many things in the entire two plus years that I
was in the show. I started out as the lead character, but I was pregnant at
the time, so I went to the pregnant girl. Then I got too big to do that,
so they put me in little vignettes, little costumed kinds of things. That was
really when I enjoyed myself, because I got to do all these little characters,
and make up characters when I went along. It was really great - a lot of fun.
DI: Is this when you met Meat Loaf?
SM: Actually, I met Meat Loaf before, when I was in the Pursuit.
He was in a band called Popcorn Blizzard, and they were out of the middle of
Michigan at the time, although he's from Lubbock, Texas. So we did a lot of
those revolving festivals together.
DI: You also collaborated together as Stoney & Meatloaf.
SM: We did an album on Motown that actually stemmed out of Hair.
We actually had no scenes together in the play, but Motown came to the show
opening night, and for some reason picked both of us out and said,
"Oh, let's put them together." [laughs]
DI: Did you begin opening for bigger bands?
SM: We did a stint, while we were with Motown. We opened
for a pretty popular band called Rare Earth. We were on Rare Earth Records,
a subsidiary of Motown, so we opened a few dates with Rare Earth.
The band that Stoney & Meatloaf was with, is a band that I
actually joined a little bit later, called Riot. Their other singer
went on to have a major role in the TV sitcom "Amen." She was a fabulous
singer - still is. I know she does some stuff in Los Angeles now, and New York.
DI: Tell us about your work with Bob Seger.
SM: When Motown split - actually they let Meat Loaf go, and they
kept me under contract and moved me out to California. I stayed
there for a year, and they put me - a couple songs here and there with
different producers. They were in such chaos. Suzanne DePasse was
just taking over and it was a huge job, and nobody really knew what to do.
So I ended up calling Punch Andrews. I said, "Look, these guys are not
happening. Do you know anybody that needs a singer?" "We just happened to
have fired our background singer. Do you wanna do that?" I said, "Well, I've
never done any background singing, but how hard can it be?" [laughs]
DI: Was it difficult to go from being a powerful lead signer to singing backup?
SM: I think there's probably certain people that can't do it.
I was very fortunate in being able to do it, but that's maybe because I
was a front singer first, because I had a chance to be in a choir.
So I was able to realize that you have a blend of people. For me, to go either way,
back and forth, was very, very easy.
DI: How did you join Eric Clapton's band?
SM: Through the girl that I was actually singing with - with Seger -
Marcy Levy, who later changed her name to Marcella Detroit.
She had cowritten with Eric, a number of things over the years. Eric said,
"I'm going to do this new record, Behind The Sun. Why don't you bring
somebody along that you can sing with, like a strong female sound?" So she called me
up and asked me...I said, "Sure, why not?"
DI: How did you first begin singing with Little Feat?
SM: I have to go back to Bob Seger, and thank him for that.
He was doing his "supposed" final tour, his farewell live tour in 1986.
So he said, "I want to put my dream band together. I've had all these people
working on my records all these years. I want to put some of them on the road."
So he asked Fred Tackett and Bill Payne to go out on the road with us, and I'd
been touring with Bob off and on since 1973, so I met them when they toured.
When you're doing records with Bob, it's done in sections. So the musicans come
in first, and it's usually the background singers that are put on at the very end,
or towards the very end. So you don't get the chance to meet all the players on the
record. I got a chance to finally meet Fred and Bill. They had been hashing
over getting the band together to do a dedication to this room [where] they used
to rehearse, called The Alley. They wanted to do a special dedication to Lowell [George].
That meant getting the band together. It's the first time they'd been together as a
band since Lowell passed. They realized how much they missed it, and how fabulous it
felt to play together again. They got ahold of Craig Fuller, and they started
thinking about doing songs and writing, and this and that. This is along
towards the end of Bob's tour. Bill came to Bob and I, and said,
"Would you guys like to do some backgrounds on the record?" So, I went in -
I think it was "That's Her, She's Mine," for either Let It Roll or
Representing the Mambo. Anyway, I did one song on each of those.
Then on Shake Me Up I did about four songs as a background singer.
Then Paul called me up one day in early 1993. He said, "We're doing some
demos at my house. Would you mind coming over and doing some backgrounds?"
He lived right down the street - no biggie - so I went over there, did that,
at the end of the day, they said, "We have this one song. We'd like to hear
your interpretation on it, if you want to take it home and then
come back and sing lead on it tomorrow." I said, "Whoa, that's quite a compliment."
So I came back and did it, and it was "Romance Without Finance."
Still at this point, none of the songs I was working on were Craig's songs,
and it didn't dawn on me - there was no other reason for him to be there.
I had no idea he'd left the band. They asked me if I'd join the band.
They had toyed around with a few other guys, Kim Wilson being one of them, I believe.
But, seeing that I was already sort of "in the family" after the last few years,
and I had done some live performances with them, in '91, they felt really
comfortable with me. They'd known me by then, so many years, so...
DI: Do you consider yourself the lead singer?
SM: Everybody says, "Oh, you took Lowell's place," but it's not true.
If you really come down to the nitty gritty, Paul took Lowell's place.
He does most of the singing, he plays most of the leads - its just another entity.
DI: You really keep the mood of the band as it was when Lowell was there, though.
SM: I want to keep it as pristine as possible. Certain aspects of certain songs,
maybe I can throw it in "second person," I can maybe change the gender. But I
certainly don't want to change the song as a whole. I mean, that would be
ridiculous, and I dont think the audience would stand for it. It wouldn't
make any sense to change it.
DI: Have you found acceptance from the fan base over the years?
SM: Much more so.
DI: Is it because of the time you've spent in the band?
SM: I think it's...actually the visualization of us. When they see us
live, they realize that I'm not there to usurp anybodys place, that I do have a
niche, and I fit in that niche, and I dont bleed all over everything else.
So it's not like they're seeing something so foreign now that they don't want to come.
DI: You've also been writing songs for the group?
SM: I started writing in the 60s, but I sort of fell out of it, and
I didn't really get back into it until this band. They asked me to write, so I
started writing just little bits here and there. Now I'm able to bring in an
entire song and know that it's probably going to be accepted by everybody. You know,
first of all, youre dealing with people that have been writing for 33 years or more.
Second of all, [they] have grown poetically in all those years. Here I come,
and I'm like this little weed coming out of the ground. [laughs]
That's the daunting part, to bring in something that I feel is coming to
be equal of their talents as writers. They're phenomenal writers, you know?
DI: Are there any solo projects you'd still like to do?
SM: Oh, I always think about that stuff. I'd like to work with
everybody I can. I'd like to do some duets with established singers -
Delbert McClinton, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, a lot of the people that I've
already sung with.
DI: Do you have any tips for a young vocalist, just starting out?
SM: There's so much! [laughs] It's an overwhelming situation. I would say, be very
jealous for yourself. Keep yourself healthy in mind, spirit and body.
Everybody's dream is to be an overnight success. Well, that's wonderful, and
if you are an actual overnight success, that can be a death knell in itself.
Because then you fall into this whole way of living that is so foreign
to what you were yesterday. Sometimes that can be a terrible thing. I know
nobody would believe that, but it can be a devastating thing to your psyche.
It's really important to be strong in your beliefs, and have a good support
system around you.