Over the years, insane troubadour Kaz Murphy has had more incarnations than Cher—musician, space cowboy, playwright, rock-opera star, master thespian, studio owner, lyricist, and now author. A fabulous singer-songwriter, Murphy is reminiscent of throwback folk-rockers Dylan, Guthrie, and the man in black, Johnny Cash, but with a neoteric edge all his own.
Elliott Bay Book Co., September 22
A regular on the musical indie-circuit for decades, Murphy has drummed for Allen Ginsberg, fronted Mad Mad Nomad, was bandleader for Inspector Kazbo, and led Kaz and the Ponymob. In 1996, he made a solo album, One Happy Camper (Liquid City). Like most truly independent performers, Murphy's difficult-to-describe stylings have made him hard to pigeonhole—and made it hard for him to garner airplay. If he wore a funny cowboy shirt, he'd be bigger than Garth Brooks; with better marketing, he'd be the perfect crooner to accompany Ally McBeal's opening credits.
Part rock, part Americana, part alt-country, Murphy's beat keeps your foot to the metal while the lyrics ingratiate themselves into your gut. Typical of his eclectic nature, One Happy Camper features country ballads (Phil Och's "Boy in Ohio"), '60s-influenced folk tunes ("Hit from Buddha"), and hard-driving numbers about Gypsies "selling good luck for a song." Full of trailer-park imagery, urban apartments ("Paper Thin House"), and American dreamers, the album sounds as original as its creator, whose influences include Captain Beefheart, Leonard Cohen, and Vic Chesnut. With help from members of the Picketts and the Posies, Murphy's album waxes autobiographical with tunes touching on rhinestone philosophers, peyote trips, and family vacations gone bad. Mixed throughout are contemporary tumbleweed landscapes that could only come from a guy born in Jersey.
Last year Kaz and his longtime love Jacque Grad took their act to Italy, Barcelona, and Amsterdam. Europeans, more apt to listen to new acts who are not Britney Spears, took an immediate liking to Murphy, and he was soon booked on international television and invited to play at the prestigious "Europe in Music" conference. Virgin Records flew him to the "Music in Media" showcase in Brussels, where he met artists from NoFrontiere, an innovative mixed-media design firm.
Before long, this versatile songwriter was recruited as chronicler for the book In the Place of Coincidence, a collage of images culled from the company's portfolio. A gorgeous art/design text, it features Murphy's own impressions, which appear in diarylike entries throughout, adding humor and perspective to the rich kaleidoscope of layouts. His running commentary riffs on how concepts, images, and conversations overlap, and how connections are inadvertently made. It's just like Murphy's eclectic career, where innovative music, words, and performance come together.
"The Nofrontierians often work on several projects at once, allowing some of the best and simplest ideas to be acted upon spontaneously, forcing overworked concepts back into the pool of dreams," he writes. "Sometimes [the staff] seem like kids not sure whether to shave a sideburn, shorten a skirt, go back to school, or hit a party on Saturday night. Their corporate mantra: Hire them young while they still know everything."
Kaz kicks off a West Coast performance tour and signs copies of In the Place of Coincidence tomorrow at Elliot Bay Book Co. As an added bonus for those who attend, he'll also play tunes from his upcoming album. All we can say is catch the act now, before he does Carnegie Hall.