Man of the Road’s Hometown Gig
“I never understood why Elliott didn’t become very, very successful right away,” Billy Joel says in “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy,” a 2016 documentary. “I thought he was good as soon as I saw him. . . . Elliott was a very poetic guy, he could write metaphorically. In a way, he was more akin to a Bob Dylan.”
Bruce Springsteen, with whom Mr. Murphy has performed several times, also weighs in on the artist in “The Second Act”: “Great-looking guy,” he recalls. “Looked like a rock star.”
On Nov. 8, Mr. Joel, who grew up in Hicksville, inducted Mr. Murphy, who grew up in Garden City, into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in Westbury. The musicians share more than a Nassau County upbringing, though: Mr. Joel, who has a house in Sag Harbor, played on “Deco Dance” on Mr. Murphy’s 1976 album “Night Lights,” and Mr. Murphy is “a longtime part-time resident in East Hampton, at both my sister Michelle’s home in Amagansett and my brother Matthew’s home in Wainscott, where my family have vacationed since the ’80s.”
The night after the Hall of Fame induction, Mr. Murphy, who released his first album, “Aquashow,” in 1973, played at the legendary Roslyn venue My Father’s Place. He will perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. And Friday at 8 p.m., he will play at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett.
“I usually come back to East Hampton every summer and during the holidays,” Mr. Murphy said from his home in Paris, where he has lived since 1990. “I played at the Talkhouse before it was even a real rock venue. Labor Day weekend, we set up a stage and did a show in 1978, I think. My story, my relationship with the Hamptons, goes back a long way.”
His 2017 album “Prodigal Son” is among more than 35 albums, innumerable performances, two novels, and several collections of short stories and poetry.
A life of music and adventure was perhaps preordained. His father, Elliott Murphy Sr., produced the Aquashow at the former site of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens. A May 1953 report in The New York Times seems to hint at the younger Elliott’s path, noting that that year’s edition would include “the elaborate European fountain display, called ‘Dancing Waters,’ ” which was “expected to prove the piece de resistance of the evening,” creating “a symphony of sound and sight.” The “aquatic and stage spectacle” was further jazzed by bands led by the likes of Duke Ellington and Cab Callaway.
Mr. Murphy, in fact, grew up in the town from which Charles Lindbergh would cross the Atlantic and land in Paris. “I took the same route in 1989 but in a much bigger jet,” he notes on his website.
“I guess it was a career move,” he said of expatriation. “I did my first show in Paris in 1979, and by ’89 had totally shifted to Europe.” But “in my case, especially, I think it was very important that I began in America. My first four albums made a big splash in Europe. If I didn’t come with those bona fides, they wouldn’t have taken me as seriously.”
The French, he said, “basically like Americans. Not all of us, but they appreciate our culture, sometimes I think more than America appreciates its own.”
Europe, he said, continues to inspire. “Even though I’ve been here a long time, Europe is very exotic to me. A city like Barcelona, I’ve been there many times, yet it still is thrilling to me. If I was going to go back to Cleveland after all these years, I don’t know that it’d have the same cachet. . . . It motivates me, staying on the road.” He has also made multiple concert tours of Japan.
“It’s easy to be a genius at 25,” he said, “but at 70 it’s harder. The inspiration always comes, it’s the organization part that takes work: remembering the ideas, putting them together. I write a lot of lyric notes, music notes, and I record melodies. For every 10 songs I finish, there’s probably another 50 I don’t. Most of my songs, lyrically, start autobiographical and go somewhere else. Sometimes they’re complete fiction.” He pointed to “Absalom, Davy & Jackie O” as an example of the latter. “My longest ever,” he said of the nearly 12-minute opus that closes “Prodigal Son.” “I saw it as a Quentin Tarantino movie.”
The Talkhouse, he said, “is special, because it’s a long way from the city yet has a big connection with the city — a lot of people come out there. Then they started featuring main talent and no one knew if it would work, but it did, and it kept going. For me, it’s a hometown gig. My connection with Long Island has been more with the East End and East Hampton than Garden City — I left Garden City at 18. East Hampton has become my Long Island home, I would think.”
This current visit to the country of his birth also included shows in Philadelphia, Piermont, N.Y., Port Jefferson, Staten Island, and Manhattan, where he played at the Rockwood Music Hall on Saturday. In March, he will mark his 70th birthday with performances at the New Morning, a Parisian jazz and blues club where he has delivered “birthday shows” for some 25 years.
“It’s a cycle,” he said of his career. “I write the songs. If they’re written, I want to record them. If I record them, I want to put out an album, and if I put out an album, I want to play live. Really, the road is the motive that keeps the whole thing moving. I’m still excited to be out there.”