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Still rockin’ after 50 years

By Staff | Nov 3, 2014

Several extraordinarily talented citizens have come out of Faribault County, whether their talents have been cultivated while living in the county or not, this area will always be considered home.

However, only one local name will appear in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame alongside that of Bob Dylan, Prince and Judy Garland guitar player, singer and songwriter, Steve Murphy, of Mankato.

The longtime musician will be inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame Nov. 7, at Turner Hall in New Ulm.

Murphy was born in Blue Earth during the early 1950s. For the first few years of his life, the boy grew up on a farm located near County Road 16 between Blue Earth and Guckeen. Murphy’s uncles, on his father’s side, owned several other farms in the area as well.

“When you see a farm on that stretch of highway, you can bet it was a Murphy farm at one time,” he says with a laugh. “Everyone called it ‘Murphy Avenue.'”

At eight-years-old, he and his family moved to Fairmont. It was while living there that he grew more and more interested in his older brother’s hobby playing the guitar.

“My brother Mike gave me the first two guitars I had,” Murphy says. “When he would get a new one, he gave me his old one, but it was new to me.”

The budding musician began playing the guitar when he was 12-years-old after watching his older brother perform as a member of one of Fairmont’s first rock bands, The Four Shades.

“The first time I saw them, I was hooked,” Steve Murphy says. Fully captivated by the music, Murphy decided it was time to form his own band. However, it seemed that one band was not enough for the ambitious 15-year-old. It was then that he formed his first three bands: The Volcano’s, The Centuries and The Pacers.

Eventually, two of the groups merged and The Epicureans were born.

“We recorded our first forty-five in 1966,” Murphy says. “It got a lot of local attention, so that opened the door to bigger gigs.”

In 1968, Murphy graduated from the?Fairmont High School and enrolled at Mankato State College to study music theory. It was in the same year that he met another Blue Earth native, and his future bride, Bonnie Anderson.

“Once we started dating, we found out that we’d actually met three different times,” Murphy says with a laugh. “Actually, Bonnie’s mom and my mom grew up across the river from each other in Jo Daviess Township.”

As soon as Murphy moved to a larger city, the band’s fan base grew larger as well. They had just finished recording their second forty-five at Universal Audio Studios in Winona in 1970 when the band made yet another transition the following year.

“We changed the name to Highway in 1971,”?Murphy says. “There was a lot of band member turnover at the time and eventually, we went from a four-piece band to a three-piece band.

As the lead singer and guitar player, Murphy preferred the three-piece format.

“We started opening for bigger named groups and playing higher profile establishments,” he says.

Highway recorded their first record, and Murphy’s third album, in 1975. Only 500 copies of the record were made, a satisfactory amount at the time.

“People from all over the world started contacting me years after it was released,” Murphy explains. “People from Germany, England, Brazil. But we only made 500 copies of the record on vinyl, so today, they’re actually pretty rare and worth quite a bit of money. It’s really pretty cool.”

Murphy rereleased Highway’s original album, plus four previously unreleased songs, as a CD in 1994. With today’s rising popularity of vinyl albums, he also plans to re-release the original album on vinyl within the next year.

Though the members of Highway are now seeing a rise in listenership, when the album was first released in 1975, the live rock ‘n’ roll band was forced to compete with a new era of disco music.

“When you listen to a band, you can tell if they aren’t really associated with the music,” Murphy explains. “You can tell the difference between whether they’re playing just because they have to or because they’re really passionate about the music.”

Though he agrees that the artists are talented, he argues that many performers lacked a sense of passion for their music.

Yet, in 1976, disco was America’s preferred genre the band struggled to book shows, so finally, Highway disbanded.

Once again, Murphy was the only member left in the band.?So in 1977, he and his brother, Mike, put together a song list and began playing together as a duo until 1980 when they decided to add a bass player and a drummer.

The newly formed quartet called themselves The Murphy Brothers Band.

The band released their first all-original CD, Synergy, in 2005.

“In the 37 years that this band has been playing, only 10 of the members have changed,”?Murphy says.

Today, only one member of the band can actually claim the last name ‘Murphy,’ but the four men have grown close enough over the years to consider themselves ‘Brothers.’

Today, Murphy lives in Mankato with his wife, Bonnie. The two of them work at Willard and Williams Insurance Agency in Mankato.

However, Murphy’s true passion has been and always will be the music.

“I just love to play,”?he says. “I think I love it now more than ever.”

The Murphy Brothers Band frequently performs in venues around?Southern Minnesota. Murphy and his son, Jade, also perform together as a duo and his daughter, Bree, is featured in many of their tracks.

The rocker’s career has earned him a spot in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. Though he feels insurmountable gratitude for the recognition, he is well aware that he was not successful entirely on his own.

“I’m not a shy person in most cases, but in this case, I am,” he says.

The ceremony is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 7, from 7:30-10:30 p.m. at Turner Hall in New Ulm. Tickets for the induction ceremony can be purchased for $45 per person.

The ceremony will be followed by the 2013 Inductee Showcase, held Saturday, Nov. 8, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 27 N. Broadway in New Ulm.

“Many musicians play in many different groups in their careers,”?Murphy writes as part of his induction biography. “I feel fortunate because I just kept working off the same effort we started as kids.”

“Someone would leave, we would hire someone else; times changed and the music did also, but by keeping the same movement going, I think I was able to realize a lot of things that would not have happened if not for that ethic.”