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Shaun Murphy: From Background to Foreground

Marty Rickard

Shaun Murphy returns to central Illinois to perform at the 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards September 23 at the Fluid Events Center in Champaign.  Murphy is nominated for Female Blues Artist, a category she won in 2012 when GLT Blues Radio broadcast the awards show live from Buddy Guys Legends in Chicago.  In addition to fronting her own band, Murphy has a distinguished music background. She was co-lead vocalist of Little Feat for 16 years, as well as background singer for notable names including Bruce Hornsby, Herbie Hancock, and Michael Bolton. She also sang on Eric Clapton's “Behind The Sun” album and joined Clapton on-stage during Live Aid. 

Murphy's has had a steady gig with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.  If you've been to a Seger show in the last 35 years, you likely saw Murphy singing and banging on a tambourine behind the classic rock legend.  In a GLT Talkin' Blues interview, Murphy said it takes a a strong and focused mental makeup to sing behind other artists.

"You have to adhere to the program.  You're not running the show obviously, so you have to be well versed in the songs. You have to be ready, and on time. Just do your job 100%.  I know a lot of people that float from band to band because they don't have those principles."

Murphy said she met Seger in the 1970's through his manager Punch Andrews.  At the time, Andrews was also a booking agent in the Detroit area who was booking Murphy in a number of his clubs.  She said when Seger was looking for background singers, Andrews later invited her to sing on the initial recording of “Katmandu.”  

Not long after that, she moved to California.

"I was working with Motown, but that wasn't really working out" said Murphy.  I was used to working all the time so I called Punch to see what was going on back in Detroit.  He said Bob was again looking for a backup singer.  So I moved back to Detroit to work with Bob. That's when his band was called the Borneo Band.  When he disbanded and reformed as The Silver Bullet Band, I came back on in 1978 and I've been with him ever since."

Murphy said she always has a difficult time picking a favorite Seger song when asked, but conceded that one song often bubbles to the top.

"He tries to mix up the songs as much as he can” said Murphy.  He's such a prolific writer.  It's really hard to narrow down the 20 some songs he usually does in concert.  I do love to do “We've Got Tonight.”  But really there are too many songs of his to count."

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.