Murphy got his start in the blues scenes of Memphis and Chicago, playing with guys like Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett as a member of his Howlin’ Wolf Band. Although he didn’t form his own band until 1982, Murphy’s list of collaborators in the following years is extensive and celebrated, from brief performances with Otis Rush and Berry (mostly when he was working as a session player for Chess Records), to recurring stints working alongside guys like pianist Memphis Slim and harmonica player James Cotton.

In 1978, Aykroyd and John Belushi were looking to cement their fascination with the blues into something more solid; hunting around for artists to lend the Blues Brothers band a little extra credibility, they tapped Murphy, whose work appears on most of the band’s recordings, including the double-platinum live release Briefcase Full Of Blues. Here’s Murphy talking about meeting Aykroyd and Belushi, from an interview he did some time around 2000:

Actually, I was playing one night at McHale’s, in New York City, and what happened was it seemed like everybody was there that night…Sha Na Na was there, then Johnny Winter came through the door, and people were like (in a hushed voice) “Ohhh, here comes Johnny Winter!” Oh well, we had become friends before that because he invited us to go on the road together with him… So, what happened, was…since I always carried two guitars with me, I gave him one, and we were on the bandstand jammin’ when John (Belushi) and Dan (Aykroyd) came in. Oh yeah, we got through jammin’ and the people understood what was happening! So, when I came off the stand, they introduced themselves to me, and they said that they’d like to make an album with me, and asked if I’d be interested. I said “Yeah, I’d be glad to do it.”


In 1980, Murphy appeared as a fictionalized version of himself for the Blues Brother film, most memorably as the recipient of a musical tirade from his on-screen wife, Aretha Franklin, inviting him to “Think.” (They would both reprise their roles in the film’s 2000 sequel.)

Murphy suffered a stroke in 2002, although he continued to play for many years afterward. A musician’s musician, he’s still well-remembered—beyond his appearances in a group that sometimes blurred the line between legit blues band and novelty act—for being the real thing, one of the fastest, most dedicated players out there, emerging just as the art form was beginning to grow and evolve.