Dudley Murphy passes

Dudley Murphy, top-rated flatpick guitarist with Radio Flyer, passed away on Saturday, November 19, 2022. He was 82 years of age.  

Born on April 16, 1940, in Danville, Kentucky, Murphy’s interest in music began during his high school days in Lexington, and then, when he moved to Tulsa (as a senior), he heard a rock ‘n’ roll band, and bought a Wabash guitar then a Sears electric guitar and began playing piano. He formed a trio – Dudley Murphy and the Fadeaways, with Carl Radle, and while in Tulsa he played in groups that would sometimes include Leon Russell, JJ Cale, Bill Raffenesperger, Leo Feathers, Junior Markham, and other famous ‘Tulsa Sound’ musicians.

Also, he became interested in the folk music of Peter, Paul & Mary, then Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Jack Elliott, and he played in clubs and some famous coffee houses in Oklahoma and Texas during the folk revival era.

As he took a degree course at the University of Tulsa and studied fine arts at Oklahoma University, he began playing bluegrass music under the influence of Dan Crary, Doc Watson, and another Oklahoma guitarist Royce Campbell, along with banjo ace Alan Munde. Also, he watched Norman Blake, Clarence White, and Tony Rice closely, learning different characteristics from each of them. 

In due course, Murphy became respected on the same level as Crary, Blake, Beppe Gambetta, Charles Sawtelle, etc.

In the later part of the 1960s he met and in 1968 married Deanie. The couple moved to Springfield, Missouri, where Dudley took a job as Curator of Education at the city’s Art Museum.  

Meanwhile, they began performing as a duo, playing at festivals and colleges in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. Their album of 15 songs and tunes eventually materialised in 1976.  

In 1970 they formed County Line with Dudley playing guitar; Deanie on mandolin; Jack Pearman (bass), traditional Missouri fiddler, Newell Looney, with both of whom they had already recorded; and Mike Breid (banjo). The band, with Kenny Richardson (banjo and resonator guitar), Dale Hopkins (fiddle), Pat Jackson (bass) then members, released an LP in 1978. County Line remained active until about 1983.

Murphy became involved with the activities of the Folk Music of the Ozarks program and helped to start the locally based Bluegrass Society of the Ozarks. 

Also, he took second place with a rendition of Dixie Breakdown in Winfield’s National Flatpicking Championship in 1973, demonstrating how well he had progressed with the style.  

In 1978 Murphy worked with Oklahoma-born Adam Granger on reputedly the first twin flatpick album ever recorded. This highly recommended LP was recorded with each guitarist on a separate channel. 

Dudley Murphy & Adam Granger – Twin Picking 

County Line pt. 1, 1983…

…and County Line pt. 2, 1983

In October 1984 Murphy and David Wilson (mandolin and fiddle) formed Radio Flyer with Roger Matthews (banjo) and Steve Duede (electric bass). 

Their impact was almost instantaneous as during the following year they won the Best New Bluegrass Band accolade at the Kentucky Fried Chicken Bluegrass Festival in Louisville. (Union Station featuring a 14-year-old Alison Krauss came in second.) 

They all had regular jobs – Murphy was Associate Professor of Art at Drury College, Springfield, until his retirement in 2016 – but performed most weekends at festivals and concerts, many on college campuses, and in 1989 they appeared on NPR’s Mountain Stage

Over the better part of a decade the band recorded and released three solid albums for Pat Martin’s Turquoise label, with one, Old Strings New Strings, designated for a highlight review by Jon Hartley Fox (Bluegrass Unlimited, May 1992). 

Radio Flyer – Radio Flyer 

Murphy sings lead on Kentucky Mountain Evening, Lonesome Wind Blues and Song For A Winter’s Night

Wayne Bledsoe, producer/host on KUMR, Rolla, Missouri, and publisher of Bluegrass Now magazine, considered them to be possibly “the most innovative and polished bluegrass band in the country today.” Another view of them was that Radio Flyer were “on the cutting edge of the new traditional sound.” This was in some considerable part due to Murphy’s masterful, highly respected guitar playing and singing that Nancy Cardwell Webster describes as with a “warm, low range, storytelling quality,” and song contributions such as Flowers In Your Hair, Kentucky Mountain Evening, Coming Home, Morning Always Takes My Dreams Away, Child Of Grace, Cincinnati Moon, This World Is Not My Home and Love Left Behind

Radio Flyer broke up in 2002 but Wilson and Murphy continued playing dates together as a duo, and the band had a reunion show in April 2011.

Cardwell Webster remembers … 

“He was a perfectionist and a valued mentor to many. 

He was always very kind to other musicians in the Springfield, MO area- my hometown. He hired the Cardwell Family Band at the Springfield Art Museum when he was working there in the 1970s, before he started teaching art at Drury College.”

Ned Luberecki played with Radio Flyer for about five years (back in the early 1990s ….. 

“I first saw Dudley play with Radio Flyer at the Tulsa Bluegrass and Chili Cookoff sometime in the early 1990’s. I was really impressed with the band and with Dudley’s flatpicking in particular. Little did I know that within a few short years, I would relocate to NW Arkansas and find myself without a gig. Dudley and Dave (Wilson) reached out to me when Roger Mathews left the band. I was delighted to be joining a band of such high caliber musicians.

Dudley was not only a superb flatpicker (well known in the Walnut Valley crowd) but a deep musician in many ways. He taught me that it was all about the sound. He used to describe Doc Watson’s guitar playing as having a certain ‘sparkle’ that nobody else got. And while I was always trying to be adventurous in playing the banjo in different keys without a capo, Dudley might capo his guitar to the 7th fret to play a song in G! He was always looking for a new sound or something to make it different. 

In addition to his guitar playing skills, Dudley was a graphic designer and a professor of design. I once gave him some examples of my taste in design and asked him what it said about my style. He described me as a ‘Progressive Traditionalist,’ which I believe describes me well in all avenues of life. 

Dudley was one of a kind and I’ll always cherish the time I spent with him and Radio Flyer. RIP my friend.

R.I.P., Dudley Murphy.

Services will take place on today, November 28, 2022, with visitation between 12:00 (noon) and 2:00 p.m.., with funeral to follow, at the Klingner-Cope Family Funeral Home, Rivermonte Chapel in Springfield, Missouri.  

Bluegrass Today acknowledges the assistance of Nancy Cardwell Webster, Orin Friesen, David Wilson, and Takehiko Saiki. 

A Discography 

Dudley Murphy & Deanie Murphy

  • At Home (Caney Creek Records CC LP-001, 1976) 

Dudley Murphy & Adam Granger

  • Twin Picking (Grass Mountain Records GM 1003, 1979) 

County Line

  • Sweet Prairie Hay (Grass Mountain Records GM-1001, 1978) 

Radio Flyer

  • Radio Flyer (Turquoise Records TR-5065, 1988)
  • Old Strings New Strings (Turquoise Records TR-CD 5079, 1991)
  • Town And Country (Turquoise Records TR-CD-5093, 1994) 

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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.