One of many wonderful things about living in Paris is the wonderful people I get to meet; singers and musicians from the 60s; authors: famous and to be famous; playwrites and actors. I wrote about one of my favorite people, Elliott Murphy, when I saw a documentary about him The Second Act of Elliott Murphy in 2017. Filmed by Spanish director Jorge Arenillas, the documentary talks of Elliott’s transition from the US to Paris. Elliott is not only a prolific musician–he has 38 albums, a number of books, live albums–he is a kind and generous person. He recently produced a new album, a creative stretch for him. But let him tell you about it:
Hi Elliott, I was planning to repost the blog I just received announcing the release of The Middle Kingdom, your latest album. But I thought it might be fun to ask you some questions instead.
I’ve got plenty of time on my hands to answer any and all questions. Covid-19 has provided me with the longest vacation in almost 50 years!
This album is a bit different than your many earlier albums. Why have you chosen poetry for this musical project?
The Middle Kingdom is probably close to my 40th album, and is my first entirely “spoken word” album although I have had a few songs that were more spoken than sung. One of the prominent in that category is “On Elvis Presley’s Birthday” which I still regularly perform in concert and is a fan favorite. Also, I had recently completed recording an “audiobook” of my memoir JUST A STORY FROM AMERICA [soon available on Audible.com etc] which required a week of narration recording so I had grown familiar with the process of recording a spoken voice as opposed to a singing voice. And then when the confinement kicked in I was looking for a way to continue working musically with Olivier Durand who has been my brilliant guitarist and musical partner for over 25 years and I had published two books of poetry “The Middle Kingdom” and “Forty Poems in Forty Days” so in a moment of inspiration provided by my muse I thought, why not record a selection of poems and then let Olivier find musical backing in his studio in Le Havre which he did brilliantly. The final step was for my son and producer, Gaspard Murphy, to mix it at his beautiful Paris studio. And to be honest, I’ve been amazed at the incredibly positive response the album has generated.
How do the wonderful Corona Couch Concerts fit in?
I’m actually considering re-starting the “Corona Couch Concerts – The Return!” tonight at 8pm Paris time but I need to find something new to throw into the mix. The experience of presenting 56 Corona Couch Concerts on Facebook and Instagram during the first lock-down where I not only sang 3 or 4 songs each night but also acted as a kind of “talk show host” made me open to doing a spoken word album. Maybe I’ll find a way to fit all of this into The Return … (Elliott found a way and you can hear The Return on Instagram and FaceBook @elliottmurphy tonight and every night at 8pm CET)
I’ve noticed that during this pandemic, many friends and others have turned to poets like David Whyte and Mary Oliver for soothing answers to existential questions.
I love to hear of poets I am not so familiar with. I will check out David and Mary. One of my favorites is Richard Tillinghast. By the way, there is a great album of Jack Kerouac reading while Steve Allen plays piano which was definitely a precursor to The Middle Kingdom.
Now you’ve joined the frey!
I think you mean the Fray … but you may be referring to Glen Frey the late member of the Eagles who was a very cool guy indeed!
But most of us will always think rock n roll when we think of Elliott Murphy.
And well they should!
Can you respond to that?
I have been floating down the rock ‘n roll river since deep into last century. It’s the reason I live in Paris although France is not really a rock ‘n roll country – more jazz in my opinion.
Have you been able to perform since the worst of the lockdown was lifted?
We did two shows in October – one in Brittany and another in the Paris suburbs – and although it was a bit surreal to walk out on stage and behold a sea of blue masks it was wonderful to create magic with the public. Now my shows in November and December have been cancelled, or hopefully moved to the Spring. I’ve been on the road my whole adult life and usually play between 60 – 100 shows a year so to go so long without a show is quite a shock to my system but not all negative. I always complained to my wife that I needed more time off and now I’ve got it. So I’ve been working on a new novel which I’m co-writing with Peter Redwhite who has translated two of my books into Spanish.
You wrote a wonderful vignette about Bobby Vee and Bob Dylan. Can you repeat it here.
Here you go:
Poetry in Motion was a 1961 hit song for both Johnny Tillitson and Bobby Vee; the two of them early rock ‘n roll pioneers who put a tasteful touch of country music into the musical mix in the same vein as Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis. Johnny Tillitson was originally from Florida and featured the legendary Nashville piano player Floyd Kramer on his version of the song while Bobby was a genuine teen idol from North Dakota who, while still early in his career, hired a Minnesota musician who went by the name Elston Gunn to briefly tour with him and his band. Elston was actually Robert Zimmerman who became Bob Dylan and who mentions Vee in his biography Chronicles.
For more about Elliott, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elliott_Murphy which has a complete list of everything he has conceived in almost fifty years of being a artist.
So be patient. Amuse yourself with learning new things. Time passes and we will know who won eventually.
Stay safe, stay well, be smart and wear a mask, socially distance yourself. Your health is your responsibility.