Gary James' Interview With Rick Murphy Of
Rick Murphy is Bob Seger. That is to say, he portrays Bob Seger in his tribute band, Hollywood Nights.
Q - Rick, where are you and Hollywood Nights based out of?
A - I'm based out of a little town called Hainesport, New Jersey.
Q - How far are you from Atlantic City?
A - I'm an hour north of Atlantic City.
Q - There must be a lot of work for a band in Atlantic City.
A - Atlantic City is a tough town. I had a variety act and I played there for a few years. The people that run the casinos are pretty tough. I got lucky and got into The Sands casino. That was one casino that was run like a family, man. They just took to us. We took to them and we were their house band. Life was good in Atlantic City and then they decided to tear The Sands down and they hired us to be the party band for all the employees before they imploded the place. We played on the Compass stage, which was Cher, Frank Sinatra. We were the last band to play there. They tore it down. So then we went to venture out to the other casinos and kind of got a taste of what everybody else was saying; you're pretty much a worker. It is what it is. People make money down there. It's tough living down there and I didn't want to experience that no more. So, I kind of left Atlantic City.
Q - I bet they don't treat someone like Cher like that.
A - Oh no, and that's cool. You can understand. I'm at the bottom of the totem pole. I'm cool with that, but at least give me a little dignity. I'm not asking for a deli platter or God, even a bottle of water, but at least treat me like a human being and I'll be happy. You gotta search for that down there.
Q - Now that you're in a tribute band, you have to be treated differently.
A - Yeah. The casinos we go to now treat us really well. I think they understand if you make the act comfortable from the moment they pull up to the loading dock, that you're gonna put on a better show. And that's the truth. So, we're in a good place as far as being in a cover band tribute act.
Q - I've spoken to a number of tribute acts and they all seem to say the same thing, they are treated better than when they were a bar band.
A - Yeah, especially if you prove yourself and you are pro and you take the tribute you're doing seriously and you want to get all those nooks and crannies taken care of and they realize that. The next time you come back, you're treated even better. They realize these guys are breakin' out all the stops.
Q - You recently played The Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. How were you received there?
A - We did well. The venue was very happy with the performance. We had a meet and greet which lasted over an hour. The management was kind of hanging around during the meet and greet, sort of bending an ear. It was all positive response from the patrons. You couldn't ask for a better, complete night.
Q - You played The Turning Stone in mid-October (2011) and checking your calendar, you play again, your next gig is in January 2012.
A - I have summer gigs booked, but I was a little hesitant to put them up there 'cause we still have some gigs coming in for February and March. I didn't want to start putting summer gigs up and have people think the band's not playing until summer. We're at the point in the band's career, and we know this was gonna happen, where if you're lucky enough you get the good festivals, which is great. Those outdoor, big venues and open up for some national acts and there's a lot of people there and you build up a base. You use those festivals to build your base. We're coming into the third year. This is our third winter. So, the first two winters we didn't have anything booked 'cause the only places to play in the winter is theatres indoors and to sell tickets indoors, people need to know who you are. They need to be willing to take that chance. So now we're finally getting to the point where I think we've got enough momentum where we can put our feet in the theatres in the winter months. I think next winter is gonna be even better. Summer is usually a floodgate with gigs. So, it's sort of a slow burn, but there's still progression being made and I think all the members of the band feel that.
Q - Are you playing New Year's Eve? (2011)
A - No.
Q - Now see, that is surprising. The band is so unique.
A - I have some feelings on that question, but they're answers I wouldn't want published.
Q - From mid October to January is a long time between gigs. You would agree with that?
A - I 100% agree with you. This is a joint venture between me and Frank Kielb. He actually picked up the band (Variety / Top 40 band). I don't want to say I have a bad history. I want to say my history as a singer has been a shortfall due to my own self. I spent a lot of years singing. I probably sang out every weekend since I was seventeen years old. I never stopped singing 'live'. I think the longest I went without being in a band was two weeks. Most of the time those bands were my bands. I always sang 'live' 'cause I know that's where you get your chops, where you keep your chops, 'live', not in a rehearsal studio. I spent all those years singing 'live' trying to become the best Rock singer I can be. I thought that was enough. I thought everything would fall into place. I'm talking from when I was twenty-two through my thirties, that everything would fall into place and something would magically happen. Then, when I hit forty, I realized it's not enough to be a good singer or a great singer. You gotta be a businessman. The moment I decided to be a businessman was when I turned forty years old. I realize now, nobody can take me... I can only be made into what I am. I'm forty years old. I understand that I'm not twenty-one years old. You just can't put me on the road and do certain stuff that you could with twenty-three year olds in a band. The moment I took it as a business is the moment I started progressing and saw things happening. So now I know how to be a businessman in this world and I know what to do. So, everything was working fine and I got with Frank Keilb Entertainment and he was booking my band and I was booking my band and then he made me a talent agent for his company and I was booking other bands and then had some tribute acts like Get The Led Out. I met those guys like three and half years ago and I went to about ten of their shows, hung out with 'em and said "You know what? I'm not made to be making sure the deli tray is ready for those guys and making sure they have everything they need," 'cause I was starting to manage some of their shows on site and I said "I'm not supposed to be on this side of the fence." I told Frank that I need to be in this world. This is where I want to be. I want to play theatres. I'll be the band leader. I'll put the band together. He says "What do you want to do?" I said "I want to sing Hard Rock." He said "What do you mean? What do you want to be a tribute to?" I said "I don't know. I got a raspy voice. I got a lot of wind. I don't know. Maybe all the great Rock singers of all time, not just one singer." Frank was like "You can't sell that ticket. You wouldn't be able to sell that ticket. It would be hard to promote a show like that. I know what you should be doing." I said "What?" He said "Bob Seger." I said "I'm not sure about that. Let me go home and download his whole library." I spent about thirty days listening to everything he ever wrote and said "Wow! This guy's killer! He's got a lot of great material and raspy and I'm just as raspy as he is." Great stuff and I fell in love with his material. So, from that point on we did this sort of collectively. He would book the band and I would put the band together. I would run the band and get the band to the shows and he would book the band.
Q - You're telling me before Frank told you about Bob Seger, you didn't pay much attention to Bob Seger's music?
A - No, because where I lived, right here in the Philadelphia area, growing up with like WIOP and WMMR and WYSP, they catered to Bruce Springsteen and then of course Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Growing up with Bob Seger in this tri-state area where I'm from? The only thing you ever really heard was "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" and maybe "Night Moves" when it first came out in the '70s, but all that other stuff? You didn't hear that on the radio in the Philadelphia area. It's kind of funny. If you look at Bob Seger's tour routes through the '70s, he diverted from New Jersey. He didn't come here a lot. The only time I remember him coming here when I was growing up is when I actually saw him by mistake. In 1976 I went to see KISS in the Philadelphia Spectrum and he was opening up for KISS that year. So, that was my first experience with him.
Q - You have a ten piece band?
A - Yes.
Q - That pretty much limits where you can play, doesn't it? You couldn't play a bar with this band, could you?
A - It would be difficult because we also drag a baby grand piano around with us everywhere we go. That's about the only stage prop. Bob Seger wasn't really a big light show kind of thing. It was more the music. So, the only prop, if you want to call it a prop, the only visual kind of thing we have to help the band onstage in the three girls and that baby grand piano. It kind of sets the tone that we're taking it seriously and gives that feel that we are a road band and this is the way road bands roll and that's the way we roll.
Q - How many years has this band been together?
A - Three years.
Q - When you did that first Segar gig, did you have a good feeling about it?
A - It was still questionable at that point. I dug deep into the material. Maybe after the second gig. There was quite a few people that knew Seger and the people that know Seger, you can't mess with them. They know what's going on. They take Seger very seriously. I didn't realize that. Growing up without Seger in my life too much, you sort of take that for granted a little bit and say "Well, if he wasn't playing a lot around here, how well is he known? So, that was questionable waters I was going into as a vocalist. After those first of couple gigs, I was singing the songs correctly, but there might have been some grunts and some oohs and some ahhs and some vocal riffs that maybe Bob will throw in, that maybe weren't all in the right place and they would let you know about it. I went home that night and said "Man, these guys are stuck in every nuance of what Bob is. If we're gonna do this, we're gonna have to do it right." So, I dug deeper. It took a whole year to get that feel. You gotta develop that feel. It's not like being in a cover band. You can kind of just sing the song and you're singing the song and everybody likes it and they're just expecting to have another song they know. If you do it this way, they want you to really be this guy.
Q - And it helps that you look like him.
A - Yeah. I grew a beard, which my wife wasn't really happy with, but then I dug deeper into the material and all those nuances he does, it's like second nature to me. I feel like I sing it flawlessly without thinking about it anymore and that's a good place to be. At this point from the beginning, if you ask me how I feel compared to the second gig we did, there's no comparison to how I feel. I feel like this band is a power band. When we opened up for Molly Hatchet, we're backstage and getting ready to go out onstage, a few of the girls were nervous. They're like, "I can't believe we're here opening up for a national act." They looked at me and said "Rick, how do you feel?" I said "I'm excited." They said "What do you mean?" I said "We have a challenge here. We have to set the tone for this audience." Whether or not it happens with Molly Hatchet, I'll never know because I don't talk to those guys, but I want to leave that stage and in my own mind I'm gonna say that they're saying we gotta go out there and rock it 'cause that tribute band just put that stage on fire! That's my attitude. When you have that with you, I think that's what makes a mediocre band become a great band. You have sort of confidence, not cockiness. You know your job so well that you can't wait to get out there and let the audience feel how well you know your job.
Q - Was it easy to recruit guys for this group? Did musicians tell you it would never work?
A - Yes, it was tough, man. There were a lot of hours, mega, mega hours on the computer, on
BandMix.com, JerseyMusic.com, all those classified sections. Hours and hours over months of weeding people and going through the phone interview first and trying after somebody passed the phone interview and seemed like a good player, now you have the next hurdle. You gotta convince this guy to give up what he's doing and join your band and play Bob Seger music that nobody really listens to in this area and we were gonna be a ten piece and how are we gonna make any money? It was a big challenge for awhile.
Q - You had your work cut out for you!
A - You bringing that out makes me feel good 'cause you don't get that a lot. People just see the show and that's cool, that's what they're supposed to see. You don't really get asked that question too much; "was it hard?" It makes me feel good that someone understands that it probably was hard 'cause it was hard. It was the hardest part of the whole project.
Q - I would think the appeal of a tribute act like Hollywood Nights would be more universal than say a Rap group.
A - That's a good point. That's the one thing I like about the project. You can put this project in front of eight year old little girls and seventy-five year old grandmothers and then bikers at the same moment and I've seen everybody have a good time at the same time. The music transcends every age group and gender. Even the people who were there because it was a free show by their community in a big amphitheatre, they come to the meet and greet afterwards and say "You know what? I was never a Bob Seger fan. I never dis-liked Bob. But right now I'm a Hollywood Nights fan and tomorrow I'm going out and buying some Bob Seger stuff because I didn't realize he wrote all those songs."
Q - Does Bob Seger know about you? Has there been any contact?
A - The only contact we had was about six months ago (June 2011) he actually, from his official Facebook page, actually signed our Facebook page and gave us a Thumbs Up. Now whether that was Bob or not, who knows?
Q - It was a stamp of approval!
A - Yeah. At this point, if you ask me what my goal is, my goal would be to really do what Bob did in the late '60s, or right about 1970, and he would go to these big vacant department store lots, set up a stage and put on a free concert right in Ann Arbor. The whole band would love to go to Detroit and just do that, set up a big stage and put on a free show and show Ann Arbor, Michigan who we are and we're just here to carry on the great music of Bob Seger and we'd like to get your stamp of approval.
Q - Rick, I actually met a woman who grew up in the Detroit area and as a teenager would go to dances where Bob Seger was performing.
A - Wow! (laughs)
Q - Wouldn't you have liked to have gone to such a dance!
A - Yeah. That would've been really cool.
Q - Of course, you wouldn't have seen the Bob Seger the whole world has come to know, but you would've seen how he came to be.
A - Yup. I listen to all that old stuff. He was really aggressive. He had real power and that rasp. I really like that stuff and the more I read about him, the more... he said he didn't realize what his own voice sounded like until he played that Pontiac Silverdome and he had real monitors for the first time in ten years. He said "Wow! There's my voice!" No singer can hang onto that for that long, not hearing yourself and singing that sort of style. Eventually it's gonna catch up. You just burn yourself out.
Q - Bob Seger is 65. He's winding down. He's preparing to get off the road. If that happens, would that not create more interest in your band?
A - I would think so. I wouldn't see why it wouldn't.
Q - Wouldn't your ultimate fantasy to be to go onstage with Bob Seger at one of his concerts, or have him show up at one o your gigs and join you onstage?
A - (laughs) I talk a lot about that with Frank 'cause I know his manager, Punch Andrews, he's up in age too. I think he's a little bit older than Bob and we talk about that a lot. I guess we all look at things differently. I don't really know how Frank looks at it. I always try to talk to Frank once in awhile and say "We really need to get a hold of this Punch Andrews guy and let him know that we're out here because of Bob and we just want to carry on the music of this great musician and songwriter and this music needs to be carried on." If he's retiring, what's he gonna do? I try to put myself in his shoes, which I can't, obviously. I just try to hypothesize on it. I think if there's a band out there that's doing it right, then maybe we can get some kind of endorsement from him and have him show up once in awhile. If you're doing that, your ticket sales go from selling a three hundred seat theatre to an eighteen hundred seat theatre overnight probably. Of course, you give him a cut and figure all that out on the sidelines and just carry on the music. There can be special events where Bob shows up. To me, I see that as the future for guys who are past their prime and are ready to go into retirement and say "Why not carry it on?" The music is so good, it should be carried on.
Q - When Hollywood Nights isn't performing, how do you make a living?
A - I'm playing in two other bands in the winter.
Q - What kind of bands are they?
A - One is a Hard Rock band that just plays old school clubs like they used to with the full sound and full lighting, which bands don't do no more. They just go around with speakers or sticks and think everybody can hear the kick drum when they can't. We're still doing it right and we're still bringing in three hundred people in a club. And then the other thing is a trio with the lead guitar player and one of the back-up girls in the Seger project. We'll do acoustic stuff and percussion and play small places during the week
Q - Do you take these acts on the road?
A - No. I have a regular day job. I work for the PSE&G Electric and Gas Company in New Jersey. So, Monday to Friday I'm doing that. Summertime comes, I wind up using my vacation to take off Thursday to head out on the road for a Friday night gig in Ohio. Fortunately everyone else in the band has the same ability at their job 'cause we get back to "how did you put this band together?" That, unfortunately, had to be part of the screening process. You find a great guy, you weeded all those people out and then you get to the part of "OK, let's talk about being on the road. Before you join this band, tell your wife or your girlfriend this is what it's going to be like and this is reality. If you pass that test with your significant other, how about your job?" One of those two is usually a stumbling block for a band like this.