MANKATO — Bandmates of Minnesota Music Hall of Fame inductee Steve Murphy, a Mankato-based guitar player, singer and songwriter who died Sunday, say his talent was only eclipsed by his humility and kindness.
Murphy performed with a variety of bands since the 1960s around Mankato, most recently as frontman for the Murphy Brothers, a blues and rock band that has been together since the early 1980s and performed regularly at RibFest and the Blues on Belgrade music festivals.
Murphy died of pancreatic cancer at age 71.
“For me, he was a mentor,” said drummer Jay Flugum. “He made you want to be a better person.”
Flugum, who hosts the radio show “Jay in the Morning” on KXLP, had Murphy on as a guest to promote a Christmas show he was playing back in 2011.
“We talked for about an hour about everyday life before we even hit the air,” he said. “It was easy. He was a stranger, but we immediately became friends, and that was Steve.”
Three years later, when Murphy invited Flugum to join the Murphy Brothers, Flugum didn’t hesitate to say yes. He was already a fan, inspired by their energy and musical abilities, and by Murphy’s intricate guitar playing.
Murphy Brothers guitar player of nearly 20 years, Greg George defined Murphy’s style as “smart guitar rock,” building off of early influences like the Allman Brothers, Deep Purple and Kansas. The two became fast friends with a common interest in collecting vintage guitars.
“He would play so hard sometimes that his pick would get so hot — it would literally start to melt,” George said.
Jason Anderson, who like George joined the band nearly 20 years ago, said the band was like a family, celebrating birthdays and holidays together. When Anderson’s children were born, both Murphy and George were there.
“I’ve been in bands before where it was like, ‘See you at the next gig,’” Anderson said. “With us it was, ‘Give me a hug and I’ll see you guys tomorrow,’ to get together and hang out. We called it practice, but sometimes we would go, ‘Oh shoot, we forgot to practice!’”
That happened on more than one occasion.
“Steve’s wife would holler down, ‘I don’t hear any instruments being played at all.’ I guess we forgot to do that,” George laughed.
Murphy took playing seriously though, hammering out complex and challenging guitar parts that were anything but easy. If a band member made a mistake or had a bad night at a show, Murphy kept it positive, focusing on the band as a unit that lifted each other up.
“We always went into gigs with the idea that we were a team,” George said. “If one of us fell down, we had enough support from the other three that it was going to be OK.”
Murphy has been officially recognized multiple times for his contribution to the Minnesota music scene. His first band, the Epicureans, was inducted into the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Murphy Brothers Band was inducted into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2014, Murphy was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.
When Murphy died, Flugum, Anderson and George said their phones blew up with calls from people whose lives had been impacted by Murphy.
Lifelong friend and Epicureans bandmate Jerry Clark said Murphy was “one of the most approachable, however so humble, individuals I have had the privilege of joining on the stage of life.”
“We should all be lucky to have a friend like Steve — a man that accomplished so much and yet had zero ego,” said friend Brian Mock of Icabod Productions in North Mankato.
“We all have lost an irreplaceable friend and one heck of a vocalist, songwriter and guitar player.”
George said he will miss Murphy’s friendship more than anything, like the conversations the two had while driving to and from local and regional gigs. He said Murphy had a way of making friends everywhere.
“I think it’s a rare combination to have somebody that talented and to be that friendly to everybody,” he said.