About The Artist
Various writers have described Jimmy Murphy as an "off-brand" and a "maverick." One thing for certain, he was unusual and unique. In his time he did sessions for both RCA Victor and Columbia as well as several numbers on obscure record labels.
Murphy hailed from the mining region of Alabama, not far from Birmingham. His father liked both blues and early day country music, and both influenced young Jimmy. He grew up working with his father who left mine work to open a small construction firm. After World War II, Jimmy went to Knoxville where he found a radio job at WROL on Archie Campbell's Dinner Bell program. There he met Chet Atkins. Although not yet a major power in the record business, Atkins, working through Mel Foree at Acuff-Rose, managed to secure Murphy a contract with RCA Victor. Although all eight songs were memorable, none were commercially successful. His gospel technology song "Electricity" and his blaming parents for the rise in juvenile delinquency in "Mother, Where Is Your Daughter Tonight" became minor classics.
In 1955, he signed with Columbia with similar results. The sessions showed more of a rockabilly influence such as "Baboon Boogie" and "Sixteen Tons Rock and Roll." Murphy often showed up in different places and continued to record on small labels. Eight numbers were recorded but only six released until later years. He and his wife Flo had children along the line.
Perhaps in fitting with his reputation, he almost became a politician in Knoxville in 1955. On October 6, 1955, news accounts show that James W. (Jimmy) Murphy ("a guitarist - singer on a Cas Walker radio show") was one of five candidates that had qualified to be on the primary ballot for Mayor. The others were George Dempster, the incumbent, Jack Dance, Tim Lawson, Bob Broome, J. W. Parrott and D. A. Cooper. Cas himself announced he would run for re-election as councilman as he saw no one he felt could replace him. But on October 11, the mayor's race was whittled down to just four candidates. Jimmy Murphy ("a Cas Walker hillbilly entertainer") was qualified to be on the ballot, but did not accept the opportunity along with three other mayoral candidates. Cas Walker was going to be on the ballot on November 3 for Councilman of the Third District.
In August 1956, Billboard reported that Jimmy was being heard over WIVK in Knoxville as well as doing a weekly show over WATE-TV and WTVK-TV in Knoxville as well.
Murphy became a minor legend in his time. Two tales I picked up concerning him, one comes from Renfro Valley's John Lair via Reuben Powell. Lair auditioned him for his Barn Dance, but he never returned. The second was told by Knoxville mandolin wizard Red Rector about how Murphy showed up at his front door and the two reminisced for a while when Murphy suddenly asked what time it was. After that he said that his kids were out selling Bibles door-to-door and that he was late picking them up.
In the meantime, Jimmy recorded for Rem (who sold their unissued masters to Starday), Midnight, and Ark. Long after his death most of these appeared in a compact disc on the British label, Ace. One contained a song titled "Hub Cap" with the memorable line: "Just because your head looks like a hub-cap/doesn't mean that you're a big wheel." His earlier sides were reissued on Bear Family.
In 1978, Murphy was rediscovered and scheduled to appear at the National Folk Festival. He recorded an album on Sugar Hill with band support from Ricky Skaggs and other new traditional figures. It met with positive reactions and might have led to renewed interest. However, it did not happen.
Murphy died three years later, much admired by a few but remaining virtually unknown to the masses.
Credits & Sources
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