Ramblin' Rhodes: Mickey Murray makes music again

Secret Stash Records owners Eric Foss on drums and Cory Wong on guitar accompany Mickey Murray at promotional party. Murray's album People Are Together was recently rereleased on vinyl.

Thanks to some young record company owners in Minneapolis, 74-year-old North Augusta resident Mickey Murray is enjoying renewed national and international attention.

Secret Stash Records not only re-issued Murray’s 1970 vinyl album People Are Together with new packaging but flew Murray up to Minneapolis in January to perform the album’s songs for a promotional release party at the Cedar Cultural Center.

He was backed by a six-piece band that included Secret Stash owners Eric Foss on drums and Cory Wong on electric guitar.

The company (secretstashrecords.com) specializes in limited edition vinyl and CD releases of forgotten classic recordings.

“Last summer they started calling me from their record company, and I told them I wasn’t interested,” Murray said from his North Augusta home. “But they kept calling and sounded convincing, so I kept talking to them.

“Now they’re talking about me doing another album with them, but I’m 74 and not sure how much I want to get back into it. I enjoy my church and my garden and getting out and walking.”

You can find videos from that show on youtube.com by typing “Mickey Murray, Secret Stash” into the search window or other videos of Murray’s singles by just typing “Mickey Murray.”

All of that is amazing for a guy who retired from Georgia Pacific in 2007 and whose main public appearances in recent years have been in the choir of Old Storm Branch Baptist Church in North Augusta and at parties, weddings and family gatherings.

In the late 1960s, Murray was one of the nation’s best known soul music singers with his 1967 recording of Shout Bamalama selling a million copies. His fans included the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown.

He recorded on the powerful King/Federal labels, opened shows for Aretha Franklin at Harlem’s famed Apollo theater and toured with such hot rhythm and blues acts as Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers and The Isley Brothers.

Murray and his brother, Clarence, started out singing gospel songs in Augusta and North Augusta. His brother would become a lead vocalist with the legendary Swanee Quintet based in Augusta. Murray sang with the Dixie Jubilaires.

It was Murray’s band teacher, Raymond Dean, at Jefferson High School in Bath, who hooked him up with Augusta show promoter Sam Gantt, the manager of a popular band called The Zippers.

Murray began touring extensively with the band playing regularly at the Times Square Hotel on Broadway in New York City and frequently at after-game parties at major colleges throughout the South. They had a regular gig playing every Wednesday night at the NCO Club at Fort Gordon.

“Those white college guys were in love with black music,” Murray recalled of those after-game shows at Emory, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, etc. “They would get in their dorm rooms with their portable radios and turn them down low and listen to disc jockey John R broadcasting soul hits on Nashville station WLAC.”

One fateful day Murray’s manager, Gantt, took him to see Blanche Carter, who lived on Bluebird Road near Lake Olmstead. She had written a pop song called Devil Or Angel, which was a Top 10 hit by The Clovers in 1955 and Bobby Vee in 1960.

“She took me to meet a records producer named Bobby Smith in Macon,” Murray said. “He said, ‘I like him but I don’t have anything for him at this time.’ He later called my manager and told him to bring me and the band to Jacksonville; that he had a song for me to record.”

The song was Shout Bamalama that Otis Redding had written and recorded at that time with little success. Murray didn’t like the song and didn’t want to record it. His drummer, in fact, had been the one singing lead on the song when The Zippers performed it.

“My manager talked me into it, and they wrote the words out for me on this big blackboard in large letters,” Murray said. “We recorded it on a four-track machine and had to do it 20 times because if someone made a mistake on a four-track, you had to do the whole thing over.

“It didn’t get much promotion from the record label, but it took on a life of its own. It just would grab you when you heard it.”

The huge success of that recording led to other Murray albums including People Are Together, which barely got any attention; partly because of the title track promoting racial equality and because the record company was going through a transition.

“Disco music started killing our rhythm and blues shows,” Murray said. “You could have a club full of people and take a break, and you’d see the dance floor jam packed when they started playing disco songs during your break. You could see it coming what disco was doing to our business.”

For about three years, Murray performed with an Augusta-based band called Leroy Lloyd and The Swinging Dukes.

“One of the last tours I did was with that band about 1971 or 1972,” Murray said. “We went out with Betty Swann to Denver, Colorado Springs, Oklahoma City and a month of one-nighters across Texas.”

Eventually, Murray gave up show business life for quieter times living in North Augusta and working regularly across the Savannah River.

What’s ahead? Who knows? But at 74, Murray couldn’t be happier that a bunch of young record company owners in Minneapolis appreciate the recording magic he made more than four decades ago.

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