A few weeks ago, more than 100 friends of Ralph Murphy gathered in a small community theatre in Wallaceburg, the tiny south-western Ontario town that Murphy called home.
Yes, he worked out of Nashville, the epicentre of the songwriter's world, where he had an office in the ASCAP building, and where he received visitors from, literally, all over the world. Yes, he was a songwriter with hits, and a gateway for any songwriter who crossed his path and needed a friend in Music City. And, yes, he was a regular at music conventions and songwriter gatherings, from across Canada, the United States, Europe and farther afield.
But home was always Wallaceburg, where he settled when his parents moved there from England when he was a kid.
The celebration in his hometown was heartfelt. His friends and neighbours heard some of his songs, sung by Thomas Wade and John and Michelle Law and Jamie Warren. And this writer offered a keynote speech, a tribute to Murphy and to the art of writing songs — and how important that gift is to the world, and how it preserves stories and reflects the lives of the writers and their audiences.
Yesterday (May 28), Ralph Murphy died in Nashville. He was 77 years old, and recovering from cancer radiation that had mostly robbed him of his voice, when he was taken by pneumonia.
He leaves behind hundreds of friends who trusted his advice, laughed at his jokes, relished his company. He was, for songwriters, a beacon of hope, a fount of inspiration, a source of encouragement, a connector of people — Murphy, one instinctively knew, could connect you with almost anyone in Nashville. He’ll be mourned in publishing companies from Los Angeles to London, from New York to Nashville.
He was also a man who could down his Heineken — even though, in recent years, he’d taken to Guinness with the enthusiasm of a man who felt as at home in Dublin in the same way that he felt at home on Music Row and in Wallaceburg.
At the celebration in his home town, he was as tall as ever — he was well over six feet tall — but he was obviously weak. He spoke sparingly, but he greeted friends, some of them going back to his childhood, with warmth and grace.
His track record — as a songwriter, as an author, and as a friend to so many — was outlined in a piece I wrote a month ago for FYI, when he was presented with SOCAN’s Special Achievement Award. Here’s a link to that article.
Now, as our music business loses its luminaries, songwriters everywhere have lost a hero, a friendly giant, and a friend.
-- A more detailed overview of Ralph's career, penned by Nick Krewen, can be found here.