Eddie Murphy sings? Yes,and it's no joke,he says

August 27, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Over the phone, he sounds like any other singer at the start of a tour. He talks about his band, describes his songwriting routine, mentions how much he enjoys the intimacy of club shows, and jokes about having to be on the bus for the ride to Poughkeepsie. Hearing him talk, you'd think he was just another guy trying get people to come out and listen to his music.

But he's not just another guy. He's Eddie Murphy. And that lends an entirely different tone to his career in music.

"People already have a perception of who they think I am," he admits, over the phone from Connecticut. And no wonder. His comedic career -- on stage, on album, and, especially, in film -- is the stuff of legend. As a joke-teller and as an actor, Eddie Murphy is one of the biggest stars in show biz.

As a singer, however, he's essentially an enigma. Because audiences know him from comedy, he says, their first reaction to his record might be, "What's this?"

"You might not even be able to put it together after listening to it," he says. "You might be, like, 'He wrote these songs? And that's him singing?' "

It's tough, but it doesn't really bother him. Music runs too deep in his blood for Murphy to worry about mere success. "If I never sell another record, I'll still write two or three songs a week," he says. "I'll do that till I die."

And that, really, cuts to the heart of it. For some people, music may be the means by which they get to the big time, but for Eddie Murphy, music is simply a matter of self-expression. Consequently, he kind of likes the idea of singing on the nightclub level when his stand-up could easily fill an arena.

"Because one has nothing to do with the other," he says, quietly. "One thing is about music and the other thing is about being in show business. Two totally different things.

"I'm a musician, right? Just because I've been blessed, and I can make movies for a living, doesn't mean I shouldn't nurture my other talent."

Besides, it's fun. "I like sweating," he says. "I like looking right in somebody's face and playing. It's almost reminiscent of when I first started doing stand-up. That's the coolest way for a person to hear the songs.

"Especially in the world we live in, with the Milli Vanillis and all that other [stuff]. The best way for people to see that it's real is to actually be there doing it."

Real or not, Murphy's voice does have its detractors. Ever since he made his musical debut in 1985 with "How Could It Be" (which produced the hit "Party All the Time"), Murphy has had to deal with complaints that he wasn't a legitimate singer, that his musical career was somehow just a spinoff of his life in comedy.

"When I did my first record, I remember one of the things that a critic said was that I didn't really sing, that I did, like, impressions" he recalls. "So you can't really take my voice seriously, because I could be just doing an impression.

"I thought that was the weirdest thing I had ever heard."

Still, he understands how the range of his vocal skills could lead to that sort of misinterpretation. "I have a real versatile voice," he says. "I do so many different things with my voice all the time. I'm always doing some weird [stuff] with my voice, so I guess I've got pretty strong vocal cords.

"Plus, I've been writing since I was 19 years old. So from being a writer, and having the control over my voice that I have, and then having my own personal thing that I want to say and do musically, I can go in any direction and grab anybody's vibe."

Except that the "anybody" in that last sentence doesn't necessarily include the mass audience, as Murphy learned with his last album, "Love's Alright." Despite an all-star cast that included everyone from B. B. King to Elton John to Michael Jackson (who shared vocals with Murphy on "Whatzupwitu"), the album flopped. And Murphy, frankly, still seems puzzled by its failure.

"If you look at 'Love's Alright' and see who worked on the album, it's actually kind of funny that the record didn't do anything," he says, not laughing. "From vocalists to musicians and engineers, we had everybody who's anybody working on that record."

Rather than sit and lick his wounds, though, Murphy simply decided to change tactics and try again. Instead of working with session men, he put a band together -- Psychedelic Psoul, with music director Larry Graham -- and wrote new songs to fit his new musical attitude.

"The record is a little edgier than the last record," he says. "I think I was ticked off when I went in that no one was responding to 'Love's Alright.' So I kind of went, 'Forget preaching about love and all that -- just go say what you feel.'

"It's a little less idealistic," he says of the album, which he expects will be out by Memorial Day -- the same time "Beverly Hills Cop 3" is scheduled for release. "The vocals sound different, and the sound is bigger and harder."

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