Ralph Murphy, a veteran songwriter, musician, producer and publishing executive whose life and remarkable career spanned the U.K., Canada, New York and Nashville, died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 75.
Murphy was born in England and emigrated to Canada with his mother at the age of 6. Mesmerized by the Beatles, he began playing in bands in Ontario as a teenager and eventually returned to England, initially to Liverpool.
“I got a one-way ticket on a boat going to Liverpool,” he told SOCAN magazine in 2017. “It was The Kinks who wandered into a club where Jack Klaysen and I were playing. After the show, they said, ‘You guys are really good – what are you doing in Liverpool?’ And I said, ‘That’s where it is – that’s where all the sh– is happening over here.’ And they said, ‘No – they come here and sign us and we go to London, where all the studios, and managers, and producers, and record companies are.’ I said, ‘Well, we’re screwed – we’re almost broke.’”
The pair caught a ride to London with the band’s roadies, he recalled, “and three months later we had a record deal.” He released singles with the group the Slade Brothers — who opened for many top groups of the era, including the Kinks, the Byrds and the Walker Brothers — and other acts. He found greater success as a songwriter, scoring mid-‘60s hits with such songs as Billy Fury’s “Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt” and James Royal’s “Call My Name,” although he continued to work as a performer as well.
At the end of the decade he moved to New York and worked as a producer — scoring hits with the Canadian rock band April Wine — and gradually made his way to Nashville after working with country singer Jeannie C. Riley.
“I accidentally had a country hit – I was drawing on my [Canadian] roots – and I had a huge No. 2 hit with Jeannie C. Riley called ‘Good Enough to Be Your Wife,’” he recalled. “I won an ASCAP Award for it in 1972, and flew down to Nashville because I had never been. I fell in love with the town. I was just having children and the kids were getting mugged in the playground [in early-1970s New York City]. Everyone and everything said, ‘Go to Nashville.’”
There, he formed a publishing and production company with Roger Cook called Pic-A-Lic, and continued to score hits with songs like “Half the Way,” a hit for Crystal Gayle, and “He Got You,” for Ronnie Milsap. Over the years his songs were recorded by Randy Travis, Ray Price, Don Williams, Kathy Mattea, Shania Twain, and many others.
In 1994 he joined ASCAP as both a vice president and a de facto coach, leading workshops for songwriters and providing advice, much of which is included in his book “Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting.”
He was also active in the Country Music Association, the Canadian Country Music Association, the Songwriters Association of Canada, the Songwriter’s Guild of America and served as president of both the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International and the Nashville Chapter of the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences (now the Recording Academy).
Murphy was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012, and earlier this year was presented with SOCAN’s Special Achievement Award, which honors people who have made extraordinary contributions to Canada’s music industry and/or musical heritage.
A warm and powerful personality, Murphy was revered for decades in songwriting and publishing circles and always had a smile, a story and a piece of solid advice, when requested, for those who knew him and many who didn’t.
ASCAP President and Chairman Paul Williams said: “Ralph Murphy was a giant in music. For more than five decades and across several continents, his bountiful gifts as a songwriter, performer, musician, producer, author, educator and music advocate touched millions of people around the world. He would often ask songwriters: ‘Have you told the whole story?’ We’ll never know what stories Ralph had left to tell. But we do know that his legacy will enrich the lives of music creators for years to come.”
ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said: “Ralph always fought for what was best for all songwriters and I will miss his unique perspective and incredibly valuable insights. Ralph was a loyal ambassador for songwriters whose heart was always in the right place. All of us at ASCAP have lost a great friend and one of our best advocates. We will miss his storytelling, his humor and the warmth and love he shared with so many.”
He is survived by his wife Louise Murphy, his children Shawn Murphy and Kerry Murphy, and two grandchildren.