Bobby Christina’s Caravan – True Blues Brothers: The Legacy of Matt “Guitar” Murphy | Album Review

Bobby Christina’s Caravan – The Legacy of Matt “Guitar” Murphy

Nola Blue Records

24 tracks (2 cd’s) – 1 hour, 23 minutes

Matt “Guitar” Murphy was born in Sunflower, Mississippi on December 29, 1929. He was raised in Memphis but moved to Chicago at age 19. He worked with many of the era’s Chicago blues musicians including Holwin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, and Little Junior Parker. In the 1990’s he became the guitarist for harpist James Cotton. But he gained much fame as he joined The Blues Brother’s band and appeared with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in the movie about the band. He recorded his first solo album Way Down South in 1990 and followed that up with two additional albums in 1996 and 2000. But in 2000 he suffered a series of strokes forcing a retirement from music.  But after considerable rehab, he returned to the stage to play at the 2010 Chicago Blues festival with James Cotton. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2018, he started work on a new album with drummer and producer Bobby Christina.

Bobby Christina has forty years of musical background starting with watching his older brother Fran Christina on drums practicing in the basement with his friends Al Copley on piano, Duke Robillard on guitar and Larry Peduzzi on bass – the original Roomful of Blues. The Westerly, Rhode Island native at age 15 got some of his brother’s hand me down drums and continued on his own career which led him to perform with Matt in over a dozen performances following his return to music. Bobby talked to Matt about recording a new album that would feature new songs from Matt and songs from artists he had played with. It was also intended that it would feature some guests from Matt’s past. The first session occurred in 2018, but Matt died suddenly on June 15, 2018, before any follow-up session could occur. Matt recorded three new songs for the album in that first session that are performed on this album.

Bobby determined that he would record a tribute album to Matt so his new songs could be heard. He reached out to Matt’s friends, previous bandmates and those who were influenced by him to produce a legacy album. 72 outstanding musicians responded to the request resulting in what was originally perceived to a be a single cd developing in the double cd that is now being released. It will be impossible to list every performer on the album, but I will attempt to provide some rundown of the major leads on the songs.

The album opens with Matt on guitar on his first new song, “Matt’s Boogie”, an instrumental. It features Ricky “King” Russell on guitar, Bruce Bears on organ, Bob Worthington on bass and Fran Christina on drums. Michelle Brett on guitar, Dave Howard on vocals, and The Mitchfest Horns follow with Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”. ” I Feel Alright Again” written by Deadric Malone and previously performed by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown finds Brian Templeton on guitar, Nick Adams on guitar and Colin Tilton on sax. Johnny Nicholas provides the vocals and piano with Scrappy Jud Newcomb on guitar and mandolin, and Danny Levin on fiddle on Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth”.

A second Memphis Slim song, “I’m Lost without You” features Fran Christina on vocals and drums with Bill “Fox” Mills on guitar, Greg Piccolo on sax, Al Copley on piano, and Marty Ballou on bass. Etta Jame’s “Something Got a Hold on Me” has Christine Ohlman on vocals with Cliff Goodwin playing guitar. A short snippet of the instrumental “Peter Gunn I” from Henry Mancini has Neal Vitullo on guitar with The Mitchfest Horns. Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” has Phil Diiorio on vocals with Troy Mercy playing guitar.

Aretha Franklin’s “Think” features Toni Lynn Washington and Lisa Marie on vocals with Chris Leigh on guitar.  “Way Down South”, the title song from Matt’s first solo album, is performed by Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne on vocals and piano, Steve Cropper and Enrico Crivellaro on guitar, Lee Oskar on harmonica, and Mati Vaarmann on Hammond organ. Mighty Joe Young’s “Suffering Soul” is another instrumental with Ronnie Earl and Nick Adams providing guitar, Ron Levy on keyboards and Jaimoe joining Bob Chrsitina on drums. Tom Hambridge wrote an original song, “Jack Rabbit Boy” for the album and provides the vocals and drums with Rob McNelly on guitar and Tommy MacDonald on bass. The song is very much in keeping with something Chuck Berry could have recorded.

The second cd starts with the second song from Matt, “Matt’s Shuffle”, with the same personnel as the first song. Willie Dixon’s “Evil” has Craig Rawding on vocals, Bob Margolin on guitar, Jerry Portnoy on harmonica, and Chuck Leavell on piano. “Rocket 88”, written and originally recorded by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats and later by Jerry Lee Lewis is performed by Bill Kirchen and Mike Williams on guitar with Carig Rawding on vocals, Chuck Leavell on piano, Gordon “Sax” Beadle on tenor sax. “Sugar on The Floor” is attributed to Pauline Matthews, professionally known as Kiki Dee, as its composer. Christine Ohlman sings with Cliff Goodwin and Ricky “King” Russell on guitar, and Jessica Mancusso on violin.

Fran Christina on vocals and drums combines again with Duke Robillard, Greg Piccolo, Marty Ballou and Al Copley on Memphis Slim’s “Lonesome”. Tracy Nelson takes the vocal lead with Tom Ferraro on guitar and Chuck Leavell on piano on Don Nix’s “Same Old Blues”. Samuel “Magic Sam” Maghett’s “Give Me Some Time” features Doyle Bramhall II on vocals, guitar and bass with Anthony Farrell on keyboards. Andrew Williams’ “Shake A Tailfeather” has Nick David on vocals with Lisa Marie and DD Bastos providing back-up with Chris leigh on guitar, and Johnny Juxo on keyboards.

The third and final song featuring Matt on guitar is “Tired of Sleeping Alone” written by Ricky “King” Russell who also shares guitar with Matt and provides the vocals. Another short snippet of Peter Gunn II follows. Muddy Water’s “Let Me Hang Around” has Joe Beard on vocals and guitar, Chris Beard on guitar, Billy Boy Arnold on harmonica, Brian Leach on bass, and Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith on drums. The album closes out with an original song written by Joe Beard and on which he sings and plays guitar with Billy Bob Arnold on harmonica as a duet.

The album definitely represents a legacy to Matt Murphy’s performances and demonstrates his range in playing to different genres.  Every song is expertly performed and engaging.

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