Dewey Murphy remembered 

Mandolin player Dewey D Murphy passed away on August 8, 2017. He was 88 years old and lived in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Dewey Dwight Murphy, with his brother, Fred (guitar), was part of the first generation of bluegrass musicians, making a significant debut in about 1947 on the Saturday Night Shindig in Gastonia, North Carolina. Dewey sang lead and tenor, while Fred sang lead. 

Later Dewey and Fred became regulars on Hillbilly Time in Caroline, a regular programme on WGNC, also in Gastonia, North Carolina. 

In 1948, joined by younger brother John (bass), the duo joined Wade Mainer, working in Forest City, North Carolina, but the brothers’ desire to play hard-core bluegrass music rather than in Mainer’s old-time string band style. So, when the Murphy brothers met fiddler J.C. ‘Pee Wee’ and Hubert Davis (banjo) – the Davis Brothers – they began playing as the Blue River Boys.  

The quintet had a daily radio slot on rival Gastonia radio station WLTC and another regular slot on a Saturday night radio and stage program, the Tarheel Jamboree, on WHOS in Shelby, North Carolina. A regular guest spot on The Don Gibson Show, also on Saturday evening, on the south-east radio network. 

For a brief period in 1948, the three brothers worked with Hoke Jenkins, Carl Smith and Wiley Morris on WGAC in Augusta. 

At the end of 1949 the Blue River Boys moved to Mount Airy to take up daily broadcasts on radio station WPAQ, while doing show dates in Virginia and North Carolina.    

When the Davis brothers left, the Murphy brothers recruited the Scruggs-style banjo player Joe Medford. 

Working as Fred Murphy & the Blue River Boys they recorded two sides, You’ll Always Be My Blue-Eyed Darling and I Want to be Ready, and two more, Is There Any Harm to Dream backed with an instrumental Mountain Swing, in support of Dee Stone; both singles were released by Mutual.  

While his brothers were seconded to do service in the Korean War, Dewey Murphy became part of the Special Service in Europe playing music on the Armed Forces Network.  

Around 1955 Dewey and John Murphy reorganized their band the Blue River Boys and added L W Lambert Jr on the banjo. This ensemble stayed together for about six years.

For over 50 years he was a pastor with the Presbyterian Church, serving churches in North Carolina and South Carolina. 

In 1979 the three brothers started playing music together once more. In 1982 they recorded an LP, Authentic Bluegrass (Anvil RSR 1263), assisted by added L W Lambert Jnr and Ken Poovey (fiddle).  

A further LP, The Early Bluegrass Recordings (of the Murphy Brothers and the original Blue River Boys) (Cattle LP 69) was released in Germany in 1985. 

Largely forgotten these days, The Murphy Brothers was one of finest (and most obscure) groups in early bluegrass music. They had a great selection of material, a great vocal blend and solid instrumentation.  

While Fred Murphy wrote most of their original material, Dewey did pen That Old Cabin Home, Why Not Now? and Lumberjack Blues as well as helping out on a couple of instrumentals.

In 2008 we reported that it was Dewey’s intention to donate his 1924 Lloyd Loar mandolin to the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM), in Owensboro, when he retired from music. We approached Savannah Hall, the Curator at the museum, who has advised us that the mandolin hasn’t (yet) been deposited with the IBMM.   

The work on the new museum premises is on schedule and it will be opening on October 20, 2018.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.