Motown Records’ eye for talent has been celebrated since the company first came to the attention of the public over sixty years ago. While the label is recognized and celebrated for the icons that it made a part of the pop music zeitgeist, the artists they signed and developed with recognition of the infamous “it” factor who did not achieve the commercial breakthrough that seemed obvious are discussed far less often. Yvonne Fair’s The Bitch Is Black, Rose Banks self-titled 1976 debut, and Kiki Dee’s Great Expectations are just a few examples of artists who recorded singular albums with the label that showed great promise but for a variety of reasons didn’t result in the success they seemed destined for. Thanks to The Second Disc/Real Gone Music, we get to explore another such Motown production. Stoney and Meatloaf: Everything Under the Sun, The Motown Recordings collects their self-titled Motown debut along with unreleased cuts and alternate mixes on compact disc for the first time. Replete with photographs and beautifully crafted liner notes by Randy Fairman, this deluxe double disc collection tells the story of Stoney and Meatloaf’s chapter at Motown complete with quotes from Ralph Terrana, Stoney (Shaun Murphy) herself, and others involved in the production. 

Meat Loaf would, of course, find massive success with 1977’s Bat Out of Hell and Stoney would shake off her nickname and begin an illustrious career under her given name, Shaun Murphy, as a session and touring vocalist with artists like Bob Seger and Eric Clapton. She was lead vocalist for Little Feat for fifteen years before forming her own Shaun Murphy Band, which has produced eight critically-acclaimed and award-winning albums, firmly rooted in Murphy’s dedication to the blues. SoulMusic.com’s Tim Dillinger had the opportunity to talk with Shaun about her musical influences, career and the re-release of Stoney and Meatloaf: Everything Under the Sun, The Motown Recordings.

SoulMusic.com: What really struck me as I listened to the Stoney & Meatloaf project is how the real core of who you are today was always really apparent. Your love of and grounding in the blues is so striking.  Who were your models in the early days and how did you discover the blues? 

Shaun Murphy: Back in Detroit, 1969, the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. There was a time where all of the Detroit acts would play just about every festival there was, both locally, statewide and in the surrounding states. One of the great things that we would play when I was with Wilson Mower Pursuit was the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival. We always had to ride in one car—the drummer’s car—and if he didn’t like the people that were playing, we just didn’t get to see them! Fortunately, he liked the blues and we had the chance to see a number of people after we played. Standing on stage, standing so close listening to Big Mama Thornton…it just changed my whole outlook on singing and emoting and stage presence….everything! I kept that with me throughout my career and just used nuggets here and there in my development. It was just so monumental to be able to see her alive and in person.  I know so many people who love her, but had never seen her, so I feel very fortunate in that regard.

I sang a little differently than a lot of my contemporaries in the field at the time and nobody really knew where to put me. I was searching and when I heard Big Mama Thornton, I thought, ‘You know what? That’s the kind of gut-bucket voice that I love and that I sing with,’ at least to a point at that time, so, of course, I looked for anything that she recorded. I started diving into people like Big Maybelle and she did a lot of jazz as well.  I loved her stuff and, of course, Koko Taylor! 

I got to see her as well at a little place called The Second Chance in Ann Arbor where my bands used to play as well. I heard she was coming and I went out to see her. I don’t think she was really well represented [professionally] at that time, but just hearing her sing, it was like, ‘Oh yes. This is where I want to go with my voice!’ And then, not so much blues, but soul, Denise LaSalle was always a big muse for me as well. I’ve done a bunch of her songs and I will forever do something by her probably on almost any record I make. 

SoulMusic.com: So I know that you and Meat Loaf were aware of each other prior to performing in Hair together, but when Motown signed the two of you as a duet, you’d actually not had the opportunity to really work together in that capacity. They were taking two solo singers and putting them into a group setting. What was the process of putting yourselves together as your own entity? 

Shaun Murphy: I’d known Meat Loaf for a couple of years.  At the time he was living in Midland, Michigan. Michigan was really true to their own and whenever there was a festival, they included as many local bands as possible—so I’d met him on the circuit. He was working with a band that changed names a few times—the two I remember are Floating Circus and Popcorn Blizzard—so we became friends at the time.  Later on, he’d moved to LA and New York and when Hair opened in 1969, he was there at the table with the people who were judging the people auditioning. When I walked in, he turned around and said ‘There she is!’ I guess he’d been talking to them about me, but didn’t know how to find me. It was kismet, you know?  

So, opening night, Russ and Ralph Terrana from Rare Earth Records, a Motown subsidiary, were there and went back to work the next day and told Harry Balk, who was the president of Rare Earth at the time, ‘You’ve got to check out these two artists.’ One thing led to another and we took a meeting with them.  I think Meat Loaf suggested the duo. They took us under their wings as far as learning how to sing in the studio, being pitched, all the stuff that you need to have a successful ‘sing’ as it were.  

We didn’t do any tracks together. We were doing all of our tracks separately. Meat Loaf had a shorter range than I did and I was still finding my ability to sing, so I didn’t have as much control as I do now. I ended up singing really, really high because it was only in certain keys and you just had to go for it! As you can hear in some of the unreleased [solo] stuff, I’m singing much lower. Now, I sing all over the place and I’m happy about that! 

We had a lot of people helping us develop our act [for live performance].  We did maybe twenty dates—something like that.  Meat Loaf, of course, was the master of full throttle performance on stage.  He wasn’t throwing himself off the stage at that point, but he was always dressed.  In his other bands, he was always in a tuxedo and the scarves. Very theatrical. I was one to just wave my arms around a lot, shake my finger and the audience and grab people!  It was a lot of fun. 

SoulMusic.com: Well, the performance pairing of Stoney and Meat Loaf with Rare Earth and Richie Havens is so eclectic—Today that kind of pairing would, most likely, not even happen! 

Shaun Murphy: Back then, people were so hungry for live music and at a lot of these festivals, there were multiple stars. People wanted to get there at the beginning and stay to the bitter end. They wanted to be filled up with all of this music, exploring and finding new artists to hear and they were just hungry! It was just a wonder to see back then. 

SoulMusic.com: There’s such a throughline from this first project to what you do today. Tunes like Ike Turner’s “Game of Love” and Patti Jerome & Mike Valvano’s “What You See Is What You Get” could just as easily find themselves on a Shaun Murphy Band project. Tell me about moving to Nashville and building your band. 

Shaun Murphy: Many, many moons ago I came to Nashville when I was living in LA to do a session and I just fell in love with the place. I thought, ‘One of these days I’m going to move there.’ Everybody was so friendly and there was a lot of music going on, so I figured it was the next logical place. I wanted to move into a music community that was actually a one-day drive to my folks’ house in Detroit instead of a three-day drive. I moved here in 1995 and was still working with Little Feat at the time. I didn’t do any networking at that time because Little Feat was traveling, so by the time I got back to Nashville, I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was nest! But I came upon some Blues Jams, and one thing led to another. I picked up a band and some of those people are still with me today…and that was in 2009! 

SoulMusic.com: How does it feel to have Stoney and Meat Loaf back in the world again by way of this beautiful reissue after fifty years? 

Shaun Murphy: Meat Loaf and I stayed in touch over the years and in the last years he had moved to Nashville. We’d been talking and going to dinner and he came to one of my jams, so we saw a lot of each other and he said, ‘Let’s do another duet as a tribute to the Stoney & Meatloaf record.’ I found a song and took it to him and he was crazy about it.  He wanted to do it here with all of the Nashville musicians.  I started gathering the best players and engineers.  We were gung-ho and ready to do it. He’d been having a lot of problems with his back and falls over the years, so he would have bouts where he was in so much pain that he couldn’t leave the house. And then all of a sudden, I heard that he passed away.  It had been maybe two weeks since I’d seen him. I felt so bad for his kids and his wife, so [having this project out again is] absolutely wonderful and bittersweet at the same time.

SoulMusic.com: What’s next for you?

Shaun Murphy: We are playing around with album number 11. We have no idea when we’re actually going to start recording, but we’re hunting and gathering different songs now. We’re just continuing to grow and create…so we’ll see how that goes!