Blues guitarist Bobby Murray has had plenty of highlights in his musical career. The Ferndale resident added another honor this weekend as he was selected by the Detroit Blues Society as a recipient of the group’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I found out Sunday morning. I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat overwhelmed as a matter of fact,” said Murray, who lives in Ferndale with his wife, two dogs and two cats. “It didn’t get me out of chores though.”
Murray is perhaps best known for his 20-plus years as guitarist with legendary singer Etta James. Murray also fronts his own Bobby Murray Band and has released three recordings, with another one planned for 2011.
Born in Nagoya, Japan, to an Irish father and Japanese mother, Murray, age 57, grew up in a military family, eventually landing in Tacoma, Washington. He went to high school with Robert Cray and they formed a band together that became Robert Cray and the Crayolas.
Many years later, Murray performed with Cray and B.B. King on the song “Playing with My Friends,” from King’s Grammy Award-winning album “Blues Summit.”
Murray performed with guitar great Albert Collins off and on for 20 years. He has also shared the stage or recorded with Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Guitar Watson, Lowell Fulson, Taj Mahal, Otis Rush, Percy Mayfield, Charlie Musselwhite, Johnny Taylor, Otis Clay and Sugar Pie Desanto.
You may have heard his guitar work on the Etta James’ song “Blues is My Business,” that was used on “The Sopranos;” or seen him perform on “The Tonight Show,” “Austin City Limits” or “Late Night with David Letterman.” Other career highlights include performing with Etta James and the Roots Band at the WOMAD festival at the Barcelona Olympics and at the inaugural for President Bill Clinton.
The Lifetime Achievement Awards have been given every year since 1992 and are the highest musical honor given by the DBS. It is awarded to living and deceased musicians that have made significant contributions to Detroit blues during their careers in the business and is voted upon by all Detroit Blues Society members.
Past recipients include Son House, Sippie Wallace, Billy Davis, Bobo Jenkins, John Lee Hooker, Little Sonny, Sir Mack Rice, Lazy Lester, Alberta Adams, and Uncle Jessie White, among many others.
The DBS names two Lifetime Achievement Award winners each year, one living artist and one who is honored posthumously. This year’s posthumous honoree is singer-guitarist Willie D. Warren (1934-2000), one of Detroit’s all-time greats, who played in bands with Otis Rush and Freddie King. It was Warren who taught Guitar Slim how to play the guitar more than 50 years ago. It is also said that he was the first to play electric bass by tuning down the first four strings on his guitar. In later years, he was known for playing his 12-string hollow-body electric guitar with only six strings.
“I loved him,” Murray said. “He was a magnificent talent and one of those guys you could literally listen to one note he played and know it was him. He had that rare quality to be able to inject his musical lifetime into one note. He was a one of the world’s sweetest guys. It’s beyond an honor (being inducted in the same year). It’s kind of overwhelming and I’m a little speechless about that.”
Other posthumous nominees this year were Juanita McCray, Chicago Pete, Wild Child Butler, Baby Boy Warren, and Calvin Frazier. Other living nominees this year were Doug Deming, Jim McCarty, Kenny Miller, Kenny Parker, and Robert Penn.
“That’s a great group to be in,” Murray said. “Everyone single one of them is worthy of that award. I’m honored just to be in the running, and it was nice to win. I feel very lucky too.”
Murray moved to Michigan from California in 1996.
“I’ve been a transplant my whole life, ever since I was born,” Murray said. "I’m kind of used to it. I do consider Michigan my home and I’m honored that people thought of me as a Michigander.”
Also honored was guitarist Bryan Iglasias of the group Zerapath, who received the James S. Henry Award, which recognizes young blues musicians.
The awards will be presented on Saturday, Feb. 12 at the Detroit Blues Society monthly meeting and jam at Mr. B’s, 48550 Van Dyke in Shelby Township. There’s no cover charge.
For more information on the Detroit Blues Society, click www.detroitbluessociety.org.
MOTHERSHIP SIGHTING: Funkmaster George Clinton (Parliament/Funkadelic) was a special guest at Saturday’s DBS meeting and jam at Kelly’s Bar in Hamtramck. Clinton, who was joined by the widows of Funk Brothers bassist James Jamerson and singer-pianist Joe Weaver (Motor City R&B Pioneers), was there to promote his Mother’s Hip Connection Education Foundation, which was created to help artists and their heirs claim uncollected royalties.
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