Sunday, December 21, 2014

Robert Murphy, 74, popular doo-wop perfomer

His group, Neighbors’ Complaint, sang throughout the region.

Robert Murphy
Robert Murphy

DICK CLARK was trying to be cool.

He was greeting fans of his "American Bandstand" at the Marriott's Kona Kai when this little black guy pushed his way forward, trailed by four comrades, and confronted Clark.

"Dick Clark," he said, "I'm Big Murf from South Philly. I know about 'American Bandstand.' I used to throw lightbulbs from the El station down on your predecessor, Bob Horn, because he told us we had to stand 6 inches away from the Catholic schoolgirls during the slow records."

Big Murf then blew into a silver pitch pipe and produced a C note. The boys serenaded Clark, and a growing crowd around them, with a series of a cappella doo-wop songs.

As described by the Daily News' Dan Geringer in a 1982 story, each song featured "Big Murf injecting major-league drama into every line with his imploring hands, his rooster strut, his boxer's feints and jabs, his finger pops, his swivel hips."

That was an accurate description of the performance skills of Robert "Big Murf" Murphy, lead singer of the popular doo-wop group Neighbors' Complaint, which drew crowds to area nightclubs, theaters, jazz festivals, and TV and radio shows throughout the '80s.

The boys sang several songs for Clark, who called out as he left them, "Rock 'n' roll lives!"
Big Murf, who was actually a little guy, died Feb. 27 of a stroke. He was 74 and lived in South Philadelphia.

Neighbors' Complaint was well enough known in Philly to merit a mural, dedicated in April 2010 behind the Trolley Car Diner at 7619 Germantown Ave., in Mount Airy. The mural, called "Doo-Wop Diner," also depicts the Tymes, another doo-wop group.

Murf and other group members, a bit gray-haired and paunchy but still peppy, performed for about 100 fans who showed up. Neighbors' Complaint sang "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" for the occasion.

Murf was one of those kids harmonizing on street corners with a group called the Goldtones back in his Overbrook High School days. They recorded a few records that got some airplay on the East Coast.

In the late '70s, Murf teamed with Bob Reilly, Harry "Golden Voice" Schmitt and the late John Jones to form Neighbors' Complaint.

According to Robert Bosco, writer and music historian, the boys hung out in a hole-in-the-wall bar called the Little Bourse Cafe in Society Hill. They persuaded the owner, Michael Altimuro, to let them sing on a Friday evening when the bar was devoid of customers.

"Steve Applebaum, one of their very first followers, invited all his friends, one of whom was disc jockey Charlie Horner, and soon the establishment was hopping," Bosco said. "People were pouring out into the street.

"Eventually, the Complaint morphed into a quintet when they really hit their stride. Appearing all over the Delaware Valley, with Murf offering his Little Anthony interpretations, which were spot on. They often brought listeners to tears."

The group began appearing on radio and TV shows like "City Lights" and at major venues like the Tropicana in Atlantic City, where they opened for Fats Domino, and the Academy of Music.
Murf grew up around 17th and Carpenter streets and later 15th and Christian streets in South Philly. His parents, Minnie and Roscoe, befriended a young singing piano player named Nat King Cole. His father bought a piano for $400 so Nat could perform in their living room when he was in town.

Murf told Geringer that it was hearing South Philly's Mario Lanza sing that inspired him to become a singer. He attended the Granoff School of Music.

But after a stint in the Navy, Murf almost gave up music. He was sweeping subway platforms for SEPTA when he ran into a man named Bob "Bobski" Riley, a singer who had collected some of Murf's early records. Bobski encouraged Murf to renew his music career.

"We got another janitor and a guy from a garage and started Neighbors' Complaint," he told Geringer. "After a while, things began to move."

Murf is survived by his wife, Alchia; four daughters, Venus Murphy, Toni Hart, Gina Murphy Williams and Eydie Murphy; six sons, Robert Murphy Jr., Gilbert, Paul, Latief and Najieb Murphy, and Muhammad Amin; 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services: Were Friday.

JOHN F. MORRISON
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