Willie Murphy is not just a bluesman. He is a soul,R&B, blues and rock legend who once challenged the Rolling Stones to a pool tournament. In Willie’s words, “The Stones chickened out.” As a charter member of the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame along with Bob Dylan and Prince, Willie is a musical force to reckoned with.
His life plays out like a history of modern music, born out of roaming, rebellion, drugs and a boundless energy to create. He’s performed with everyone from Jefferson Airplane, James Taylor and Joan Baez to Muddy Waters, Carl Perkins and Son House. Willie is a songwriter and producer, but most of all, he is a performer whose music is larger than life.
Born in Minneapolis, Willie started playing the piano at age four and in 5th grade, became a charter member of the Little Richard Fan Club. His formative years coincided with the beatnik era of the 1950’s and 60’s and found him cruising the streets of South Minneapolis in hot cars, learning how to play guitar, pick up girls and jam with R&B and jazz groups. An avid reader, he was also busy writing poems and crafting his own songs. As the beatnik scene progressed to the counter-culture movement, he grew his hair, partook in alcohol and drug experimentation and frequented wild parties.
While becoming an integral part of the Minneapolis West Bank music scene (that churned out such musical legends as Bob Dylan and Koerner, Ray & Glover), Willie met “Spider” John Koerner, and the two began to write together and tour the country. What came from this musical partnership was a wild month-long party in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that resulted in the iconic 1967 release Running, Jumping, Standing Still (re-issued on Red House in 1994), which to this day, is considered one of Elektra Records’ best releases. The duo toured the US club and festival circuit, playing with the biggest names in music, enjoying a spectacular slot at the 1969 Newport Folk Festival, where Willie met Muddy Waters and hung out with Don Everly and Carl Perkins.
Jac Holzman, head of Elektra, was Willie’s biggest fan and wanted a second album from Koerner and Murphy. He also offered Murphy a house producer job if he would relocate to LA or New York. Although he had enjoyed playing the folk clubs with Koerner, Willie was eager to return to his R&B roots. Excited by his new band The Bumble Bees, he turned down both of Jac Holzman’s offers so he could tour with them. He kept Minneapolis as his home base, thriving in the vibrant Midwest music scene.
It was in Minnesota in 1971 that he produced Bonnie Raitt’s first recording on Warner Bros. Recorded in “Snaker” Dave Ray’s studio, the album featured Willie and the Bees as her backing band. Following that, Willie’s band toured with Bonnie and went on to share the bill with such luminaries as James Brown, Dr. John and B.B. King. Willie and the Bees went on to enjoy much success, reeling in a who’s who of musicians to see their live shows, including Steve Miller and fellow Minneapolis native Prince.
After burning out on drugs and drinking, Willie quit both. He continued to tour, making folks across the country “dance their brains out” with the wild, soulful sounds of the Bees. Then, after 14 years of making music together, the Bees played their last gig together on New Year’s of 1984. Willie started playing solo blues and rock piano. He continued to write more songs and eventually started his own label, Atomic Theory, producing mostly local Minneapolis musicians like Becky Thompson, Boiled in Lead, The New International Trio, and Phil Heywood. Willie has continued to tour with his new band the Angel Headed Hipsters performing for large audiences in Europe and around the Midwest.
Now, Willie surprises his fans once again with his new genre-bending release on Red House Records. A 20-track, 2-CD album, A Shot of Love in a Time of Need is exactly that–a refreshingly joyful album that lifts you up and makes you dance. Featuring soul, jazz, funk, rock and folk, this wildly eccentric album embodies the best of Willie Murphy and is sure to be an instant classic.