Judge Murphy: Solid Survivor

By: Dennis Cook

Judge & Lauren Murphy by Raymond Van Tassle
In January of this year one of the great veterans of the Bay Area rock scene, Judge Murphy was diagnosed with liver cancer after a gig with his band Lansdale Station. This year has been an ongoing challenge to Judge and his longtime partner Lauren Murphy, who helm Lansdale, but there are friends gathering to help the Murphys through this stretch. For the next two nights, March 4 & 5, Judge will rejoin his mates in Zero at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco for a pair of benefit shows for the Judge Murphy Wellness Fund. These shows will reunite Judge with one of his finest creative foils, Steve Kimock, and reaffirm the man’s lust for life and music after battling the first round of his disease. Special guests for these gigs include Hadi Al Sadoon, Jessica Fierro, Pete Sears and more surprises. A very special silent auction will be held at these shows, including seven donated jeweled Telefunken mics being used onstage by performers, in hand carved boxes signed by the band. These shows precede another benefit for Judge happening later this month in San Rafael on March 20th [details at end of article].

“Last January 2nd we had a gig and on the song ‘Mercy’ where I hit a high note, when I went way up, I had a sharp pain in my abdomen and I went, ‘Ahhh, fuck!’ The pain kinda stuck and I thought I had a hernia or something. So, I made an appointment with my GI, and he had me get a sonogram at the hospital, which revealed that I had a Stage 1 tumor on my liver,” says Judge. “Singing saved my life. They call this one the silent killer because most people don’t feel it until it’s so far down the line that it’s Stage 3 or Stage 4 and it’s inoperable. I got this one at Stage 1 and I got my surgery early in Stage 2, but now that the cancer indicator has spiked [in a recent test] we’re concerned about some of the other benign tumors in my liver have changed. They don’t always take everything else out because of the trauma it causes to the organ. But when I looked into my surgeon’s eyes [during my procedure], he said, ‘You’re going to be okay,’ and from that point on I believed it. You know how some people have the power to lock eyes with you and say something you just know is true? ”

Judge Murphy by Susan J. Weiand
The whole ongoing experience has had a profound effect on Judge and his family, but also stirred a real appreciation for the given moment in the day at hand.

“It was a beautiful, glorious day outside on my walk today. The plum blossoms are blooming in my backyard and I planted some flowers for Lauren yesterday. You know, man, it’s good to be alive,” says Judge. “All I can say is I have to continue to wear a positive halo around my head. I’m not going to future-trip this into some gear that it’s not in, or even if it is, I’m gonna squeeze every last little drop of good life out of myself.”

This attitude isn’t exactly new to Judge or the music he makes, which has long tried to suss out hope and deeper meaning inside the rat race we run, something especially true since he began collaborating with Lauren.

“I have always tried to represent the good in things, and Lauren is a very strong, prolific songwriter, someone who was a poet before she was a songwriter and musician, someone who learned from Andrei Codrescu,” says Judge. “He gave us a copy of his Leaves of Nerves, which we have above our bed. On either side we have acoustic Led Zeppelin and Jim Morrison, so he’s sandwiched between two Jimmys – Page and Morrison [laughs]. She sleeps under Morrison. She wanted folks to know that.”

“I never set out to write ditties, and that’s one of the reasons it’s been harder to get across to bigger audience. I started reading Shakespeare with my mother when I was 5 because I was acting, and she’d have me read it and ask me, ‘Do you understand it?’ And she’d help me translate. By the time I was 10, I was fluent in Old English. One of my songs off my second [solo] CD is a John Donne poem written in 1633 that I set to music,” says Lauren Murphy. “I write from a pretty heady space, and a lot of people can’t wrap their heads around it. They just want to hear [sings], ‘Baby, baby, baby!’ Ugh, shoot me! I want to give people a message, and sometimes the way I do it shoots way over their heads, which is why we try to have the boogie band underneath it [in Lansdale Station]. We aim to be a really rockin’ kickass band but like James Taylor, on the third or fourth spin, you go, ‘Oh my God, he was really saying that?’”

Lansdale’s Dave Zirbel & Lauren Murphy by Bob Minkin
“Woody Allen has this quote I love: ‘I don’t do art to become famous, I just don’t want to die trying,” continues Lauren. “I have this vision of myself looking down from wherever you go after you die and seeing people 300 years later going, ‘Wow, this record rocks!’

Lansdale Station has all the elements of a truly great rock band – killer songs, strong & distinctive vocals, chops to spare and the indefinable mojo that makes rock such an evergreen thing. They vibrate on a wavelength with Creedence, The Band or perhaps a California inflected relative to Fairport Convention – true craftspeople that still adamantly rock the hell out while offering something rib-sticking. Their music is simply well-freakin-made in every respect, and they have the goods to knock it out onstage to boot. But as of yet, Lansdale remains an under-appreciated Bay Area jewel.

“There’s been a lot of things along the way that have kind of shot us in the foot, but definitely the talent of the band is without question. And of course, Lauren and I as a genetic musical partnership have it going,” says Judge. “In the days of Clive Davis, the likelihood of someone like Santana going from local head to chart-topper wouldn’t have been possible without people like Clive Davis. There has to be a leap of faith from some people that say, ‘Yes, this band is good.’”

Still for many, Zero remains the main outfit Judge is known for, and while the group isn’t very active these days, this weekend will provide a chance for fans to relive some of the sparks and deem hum this band produces.

Steve Kimock by Susan J. Weiand
“There were times where there was a lot of trepidation depending on the configuration of the band, but the other day when we rehearsed it set the engine in motion. I had a really good time and really enjoyed it. Steve played his L7 Gibson, which he said it used to be house guitar. He sounds like Charlie Byrd or something. Such a beautiful sound,” says Judge. “Kimock is magical as a guitarist, no matter the configuration, but in my own humble opinion, I think he’s always been at his best playing in Zero. I say that and I stand firm on it. There’s something magical there.”

It’s true that Kimock is often at his most natural and unforced in Zero, where he plays to the songs and shows obvious respect for the entire band.

“I don’t know if it’s millions of miles together, but at least hundreds of thousands. When you play music with somebody for 20 years, driving around and flying around the country, you go through divorces and deaths and children together. There’s a certain amount of reverence we have for each other being the survivors of the band in its many configurations,” says Judge. “Between me and Steve there’s definitely an answer-call thing happening as vocalist and guitarist playing off each other that’s a special thing. And the other thing is [Robert] Hunter seems to have written into the future for us. Unlike some of the things he wrote for the Grateful Dead, I think some of the best work he ever did was the Zero stuff, a chunk of which was written specifically for me. I remember one night at the Music Hall, he said to me, ‘If Zero never amounts to anything else at least you’ll be known as a great interpreter of my work.’ I took that as a nice compliment.”

Lauren Murphy & Barry Melton by Bob Minkin
The challenges continue with Judge’s fight with cancer, and right now a transplant remains the best option. He starts a new round of treatment in a few days. For those that can’t make the Zero shows this weekend, Lansdale Station will perform two sets on March 20th at an event co-presented by the Artista Gang, who will hold a silent auction for their works and offer a limited edition poster by Pat Ryan. Tickets can be purchased here, and here’s the details:

Artista Spring Equinox Benefit Party for The Judge Murphy Wellness Fund featuring Landsdale Station & Very Special Guests

Sunday, March 20th – 6-10pm
George’s Night Club
San Rafael, CA

Special guests are: Barry “The Fish” Melton (Country Joe & the Fish), Carlos Reyes (Steve Miller/Norton Buffalo), Pete Sears, Barry Sless, Banana (Youngbloods), Ryan Scott of the Monophonic Horns, Brad Jenkins on sax (Jerry Miller Band), Michael Hinton (Merl Saunders Rainforest Band) and a secret guest surprise.

100-percent of proceeds will go to the Judge Murphy Wellness Fund. Those wishing to make donations to the fund can contact them at booking@laurenmurphymusic.com.

In the face of everything, Judge continues to maintained a fantastic attitude that could teach a lot of us something positive.

“Take what you get from get from this life, work hard for what you want and be happy with it,” says Judge, “because if you don’t you’re not going to be a very happy person.”

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