John Murry - photo by Amoreena Berg
Photo: Amoreena Berg

Oakland’s John Murry, who just wrapped up a European tour, will be playing Great American Music Hall with Chuck Prophet Friday night. Before Murry left for Europe, he released a great video for “Southern Sky” off his The Graceless Age album, which has continued to receive a lot of positive press and attention. I got in touch with him hoping for some quick comments on the symbolism in the video and the show, and ended up having two separate conversations that totaled well over an hour. The Wall Street Journal described Murry as a “marathon conversationalist”, but I don’t think that’s accurate, because you can prepare for a marathon. A conversation with Murry takes you all over the map – he got philosophical about the Oakland A’s uniforms, told me he is glad Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis was dead, informed me that “there is nothing that exists but death,” and was practically interviewing me most of the time. And that was just from the shorter phone call. Needless to say, a conversation with Murry is a lot of fun if you’ve got the time for it.

Eventually, I was sort of able to steer the conversation to the video for “Southern Sky”. Murry teamed up with Memphis filmmaker John Michael McCarthy, some Memphis pinup models, and a giant rooster in Murry’s hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi to record the video. Knowing what I’ve learned about him over the last couple of months (such as the fact that he’s a practicing Catholic and avid reader), I imagined there was a great deal of symbolism involved. Murry was pretty vague about specific references, but there are definite symbols related to man’s fear of death and feelings of lust and materialism. That being said, Murry says he’s still discovering meaning in McCarthy’s work. “I don’t know that I’ll ever entirely understand his reading of that song, but I do know that it’s real for him,” says Murry. “That’s why so many of those symbols and images do make sense to me. I don’t feel comfortable with it all the time, but it feels real, it feels right.” He also philosophized about videos and interviews in general adding, “It’s all an exchange, and hopefully something that furthers whatever art there is within that song, or whatever it is that’s being discussed.”

Murry’s appearance tonight with Chuck Prophet is special in a couple of ways. He calls Chuck a “best friend,” and Murry once played guitar in Chuck’s band. Chuck’s outstanding Dreaming Waylon’s Dreams album was released on Murry’s Evangeline Recordings, and Murry played on and wrote the story behind the album on Chuck’s blog. (Unfortunately, Murry tells me the story is mostly made up, although they really did record the album in two days.)

Not only that, Murry tells me his first Bay Area job was as a dishwasher in the Great American kitchen. “I’ve watched shows there, I know how things sound best, like where drums oughta be set up best,” says Murry. “I’m really fucking excited to play it, because I do think it’s an amazing sounding venue.” It’s really an adorable story, and talking about it made the often hard-edged Murry a little sentimental. “I’m really, really, really, honestly grateful…for the chance to do something that I don’t deserve the chance to do, and that doesn’t just go for the show, but that goes for everything now.”

See the video for Southern Sky below, followed by the Great American show details.

Chuck Prophet, John Murry
Great American Music Hall
May 31, 2013
9pm, $20