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Family Style: Kathy Murray's Blues

From the dance floor to the stage
Margaret Moser, 4:20pm, Mon. Dec. 3, 2012
In the mid Seventies, about the time Austin’s blues scene began to whip up, I hit the clubs however possible. That’s however, not whenever, because I had no car, only a bicycle, and lived in dread North Austin. Getting to places like Soap Creek out in the hills could be tricky. Among the people I saw in the audience wherever I went was Kathy Murray.

Murray was about my age. We both liked the music and we both liked to dance. Without willing partners, we’d often dance with each other.

It was the days of the Ritz, the Armadillo, the Buffalo Gap, the Sit n Bull, La Cucaracha, the South Door, the Back Room. Any venue that booked the blues, we’d be there, waiting to dance. I never minded dancing with other girls because I wanted to dance. Kathy Murray, on the other hand, would even dance by herself.

In front of lanky Paul Ray as he crooned on Tuesday nights with the Cobras snaking out behind him, Murray sometimes owned the dance floor. Wearing blue jeans and tossing around her long dark hair, she’d grin to the band and they’d all grin back. Then she'd close her eyes and let the music move her feet.

Playing my copy of Kathy Murray’s brand new CD, Relatively Blue, thus approximates tumbling down the rabbit hole and coming out in a mirror world. This time it's her in the spotlight. And it’s not her first time center stage, either. Murray's sultry voice electrified local blues as Kathy & the Kilowatts for a number of years in the Eighties.

Relatively Blue arrives as something of a family affair. Murray wrote eight of the 10 tracks and co-wrote the other two with husband and guitarist Bill Jones and brother David Murray, who also cut his guitar teeth on the scene with his sister before playing for Marcia Ball and acting today as the Sound Engineering Consultant for City of Austin. David’s son Andy drums with his familial elders on the album, which was recorded at Murray Music, David’s studio.

“The project started with ‘Bird the in the Hand,’ which I’d pitched to Toni Price and was thrilled when she cut it,” explains Kathy. “Spencer Thomas cut it too. I really liked the feel of being in the studio with Bill and David, so I decided to flesh out the other songs. I'd taken years off to focus on songwriting and wanted to learn to play instruments onstage. Now I play guitar. And ukulele.

“I wanna be good cake,” she chuckles at her efforts. “Bill’s a monster on the guitar. He’s the icing.”

As the title suggests, the disc's largely blues, a spectrum as broad as the sky above and rooted deep in Murray’s heart. On Wednesday at Antone’s, Relatively Blue receives its official release. On the bill is another Kathy who grew up under the sway of Austin music, Kathy Valentine, who’s performing with the ever-fabulous Bluebonnets. And like Valentine, Murray values growing up in Austin.

“The first night I saw a live band in Austin, I was 16,” she recalls. “David was 14 and we’d sneak into the Armadillo where they’d sell us a pitcher of beer. There was a triple bill of Storm with Jimmie Vaughan, the Nightcrawlers with Stevie [Ray Vaughan] and Keith Ferguson, and Paul Ray & the Cobras with Denny Freeman. My little teen self was totally blown away!

“Blues comes and it goes. Maybe it’s time for another wave.”

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