Beloved Music Row Ambassador Ralph Murphy Passes

Ralph Murphy. Photo: Canadian Country Music Association

Songwriter, publisher, artist, producer and Music Row ambassador Ralph Murphy died Tuesday (May 28) following a brief illness.

Murphy, 75, is a member of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. He was a longtime ASCAP Nashville executive. At various times, he was also a president at NSAI, the head of the Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy and a national NARAS trustee.

As a songwriter, he has had major hits with Ronnie Milsap, Jeannie C. Riley, Crystal Gayle and a number of pop and rock acts. Others who have recorded his songs include Randy Travis, Shania Twain, Don Williams, Ray Price and Lynn Anderson.

Ralph Murphy was born in England and educated in Canada from the age of 6. He began performing and writing songs at age 14. After experiencing the music business in Los Angeles and New York, he moved to London at age 19. He became a recording artist and signed as a songwriter with Mills Music in 1965.

He began having British pop hits as a songwriter in 1966 via such artists as Billy Fury, Vanity Fare and James Royal. He also continued to record as a member of various pop groups.

Murphy migrated to New York in 1969 and then began producing million-selling records for such top Canadian rock groups as April Wine and Mashmakhan in Toronto.

In 1971, Jeannie C. Riley scored a top-10 country hit with Murphy’s song “Good Enough to Be Your Wife.” Charmed by Nashville during his subsequent visits, Murphy moved to Music City in 1978. He formed Picalic Publishing with British-born hit songwriter Roger Cook.

Among the company’s many successful songs were Cook’s “Talking in Your Sleep” and Murphy’s “Half the Way,” both chart-topping hits by Crystal Gayle in 1978-79. Murphy also co-wrote the No. 1 Ronnie Milsap 1982 smash “He Got You.”

Another of his best-remembered songs is “Seeds.” Co-written with Pat Alger, it appeared on Kathy Mattea’s 1992 CD. In 2006, Cliff Richard had a British hit with “A 21st Century Christmas,” co-written by Murphy with Paul Brady.

Ralph Murphy joined the executive team in ASCAP’s Nashville office 25 years ago. He was the organization’s Vice President of International Membership. As such, he became not only one of Music Row’s most visible and liked denizens, but also an ambassador of Nashville’s scene all over the world.

Generous with his time and advice, Murphy was known for his “open door” attitude, making him a welcoming figure of encouragement and support for fledgling songwriters. He became a mentor to many. As another assist to aspiring writers, he wrote Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting: How To Write Hit Songs. The book remains available online.

Ralph Murphy and Lyle Lovett attend the 50th Annual ASCAP Country Music Awards at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel on October 29, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for ASCAP

International music businessman John Lomax III commented that it was poignant that Murphy died just prior to the annual international MIDEM convention in Cannes, France. “So few here could move adroitly amid U.S., Canadian and all the major European music industries,” Lomax recalled. “He’d always say when you asked how he was, ‘all the better for seeing you.’”

Canadian music journalist Richard Flohil eulogized Murphy as “the songwriter’s heart and soul. “He leaves behind hundreds of friends who trusted his advice, laughed at his jokes, relished his company,” Flohil wrote yesterday. “He was, for songwriters, a beacon of hope, a fount of inspiration, a source of encouragement, a connector of people. “Songwriters everywhere have lost a hero, a friendly giant, and a friend.”

Ralph Murphy was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012. Last month, SOCAN presented him with its Special Achievement Award. He won the CMA’s Jo Walker-Meador International Achievement Award in 2011.

In recent years, Ralph Murphy has had health problems. But he continued his good-will visits to Sydney, London, Dublin, Toronto, Berlin and other international music centers. Following a visit to Toronto earlier this month, he contracted pneumonia. This led to his death.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

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. As a longtime member of the ASCAP family, he was a relentless champion of ASCAP’s mission to nurture each new generation of music creators to master their craft and fulfill their potential. 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. To some of us he was simply ‘Da Murph,’ a title that seems to best describe a true gentleman, world traveler and remarkable friend.”

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 story telling, his humor and the warmth and love he shared with so many.”

 

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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