Matt Murdick

There are currently several generations of blues musicians performing and living in St. Louis. However, running down the list of talented musicians, there is something that becomes glaringly obvious: there are very few piano players. Matt Murdick has been pounding keys on the blues scene for over ten years. He has played with the jazz fusion–oriented Bebops, Buffalo Bob and the Bedroom Blues Band, the Soulard Blues Band, Beau Shelby’s Band, the Cryin’ Shame, and Macy Thomas. Currently, he is the featured pianist with the Rich McDonough Band, Good Night Irene, and the St. Louis Social Club.

Can you describe the St. Louis blues sound?

There is a pretty wide variance, but there is definitely a St. Louis style to everything. More than anything else, it comes from the way bass players and drummers play together. There’s almost a kind of St. Louis shuffle; it’s just a different vibe, and the chords are different. Straight Chicago or Memphis style tend not to have beef in their chords, but you’ll hear plenty of color when St. Louis musicians play.

Is there a St. Louis style of blues piano?

There aren’t too many guys playing the St. Louis blues–style piano. The definitive guy would be Bob Lohr right now. It’s almost a combination of boogie-woogie and Otis Spann; it lies somewhere in between.

Are you a St. Louis music history buff?

You know, I learn something new about blues history every day. I was fortunate enough to see James Crutchfield play back ten years ago. I’ve seen Silvercloud play a couple of times, and that’s amazing. It’s scary for a guy his age to play like he does. I’ve seen Henry [Townsend] play a few times. I can sit at B.B.’s and have a conversation with Mark O’Shaughnessy and learn something new in a few minutes.

I’ve been really lucky to hang out with some of these guys. Oliver Sain has a new story for me every week. He probably has half a dozen of them, but doesn’t have time to tell them all to me. So my knowledge is acquired bit by bit.

Most guys I know don’t talk about the past; they talk about the present, the state of the music now and the state of where they’d like to see it go. That could be because you have a community of guys who just want to make the best music they can now. There is a core of guys who have a lot of stories, but they don’t think it is their place to orate it. Maybe they think that you need to go out there and learn things for yourself.

As a musician who plays so many of the same songs each night, how do you keep it interesting?

Because there aren’t that many piano players around, I get to play with different guys all the time, and bands in St. Louis are pretty good about coming up with their own arrangements of a lot of the chestnuts.

Does the ability to play with several bands ever cause problems, or is there common understanding among musicians?

For the most part, for as good as the musicianship is in St. Louis, there really isn’t that feeling of cutthroat. There is a real camaraderie between the guys in St. Louis. I’ll play a gig with Eric [McSpadden] one day and then compete with him across the street the next, but there is no ill will like what I’ve seen in west Memphis.

I think the reason is that there isn’t a lot of industry here. If Capitol Records built a building downtown, you might see a little fiercer competition. You’d get people coming in from other places, and the almighty dollar starts to become more important. But we’re all just trying to make music.

This interview originally appeared as part of a longer piece in the winter 2003 BluesLetter, a publication of the St. Louis Blues Society. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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