KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Jay Murphy always dreamed of being a rock star, but he soon realized he had a better hand for making guitars than playing them. The Jacksonville Jaguars-Baltimore Ravens game …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Jay Murphy always dreamed of being a rock star, but he soon realized he had a better hand for making guitars than playing them.
The Jacksonville Jaguars-Baltimore Ravens game in London on Sept. 24, 2017, changed the musical landscape for Northeast Florida after Murphy became incensed by players from both teams who kneeled during the National Anthem.
“I said that was it. I needed to find something else to do instead of watching football,” he said.
“I said, ‘Start making guitars like you used to like to do when you were a teenager,’” his wife, Terri, said.
That’s when he created Jay Murphy Custom Guitars.
He still works as a salesman, but his real passion is turning old, beat-up, out-of-tune guitars into musical masterpieces. One, a classic guitar painted with an American flag, gained worldwide notoriety when Paul Wane electrified a sellout Jaguars crowd with the “Star-Spangled Banner” ahead of their regular-season finale against Tennessee in January.
“It’s come full circle with the Jaguars,” Murphy said.
Wane’s performance was “liked” on social media more than 3,000 times and shared more than 400 times within three hours of his performance. Murphy already was spending every spare moment in his shed tinkering with old guitars. Now he’s thinking he may retire three years earlier than planned to devote his full attention to his handiwork.
It wasn’t easy to realize his guitar-playing ability was above average but not exceptional. But he found an outlet every bit as rewarding as playing an encore at Madison Square Garden.
“I love music; I love the sound of a guitar,” Murphy said. “I wanted to be a rock star. I’m not a rock star, but I love to see people play my guitars on stage. I live vicariously through them. I get that rock star feeling.”
The Jaguars’ patriotic protest
Murphy said he used to spend weekends watching football and golf on television, but that changed when players from Jacksonville and Baltimore kneeled at London’s Wembley Stadium.
The display turned off many fans – especially in an area where the military is the No. 1 employer. And it prompted the Jaguars President Mark Laming to send a letter of apology to the Jacksonville Director of Military Affairs two weeks later.
“They did it on foreign soil,” he said. “Being a military brat, that hit me hard. I turned off the TV and said, ‘I’m done.’ I’ll never watch a game again. I still haven’t.”
He found a better way to “not waste my time.”
“The Jaguars were the ones who made this happen,” Terri said. “Then we ended up at the Jaguars (with the guitar). It’s been full circle.”
Murphy had two free tickets to Wane’s performance, but “I wasn’t going all the way to Jacksonville to watch a 90-second song and leave,” he said.
Murphy said the Jaguars hired Wane because they didn’t expect the team to be competitive at the end of the year. Not only did the team surprise the experts by winning the division, but Wane’s “Star-Spangled Banner” became the NFL’s most-watched National Anthem on YouTube last season.
“The cool thing was when they hired Paul to do that, he was some local guy,” Murphy said. “They expected the Jaguars to be terrible, especially at the end of the season. They figured there might be 20,000-30,000 people in the stands. They were getting a discount by having this local guy. Then the season progressed the way it did. They won their last (five regular season) games, so the game was essentially a play-in for the playoffs. It was a sold-out stadium and turned out to be a nationally-televised game.
Murphy created the guitar, and Running Barefoot Farm’s Jackie Strickland added the artwork. The procedure is called pyrography. It involves burning the wood and drawing the flag with colored pencils. Murphy then added 13 coats of lacquer.
“We didn’t expect the National Anthem to be televised with all the controversy. They (networks) quit showing it. When the telecast came on, the teams would already be out on the field.”
The Murphys were at Amvets Post 86 in Keystone Heights during the performance. Wane’s rendition was quickly labeled “pure Jacksonville.”
“My mom and my sisters called and said they just saw it on ESPN,” he said. “It went viral. The funny thing is, a lot of the country, they were making fun of us and laughing at us. And we’re like, ‘This is who we are. We don’t care.’”
The guitar business keeps strumming along
Wane was impressed with Murphy’s work as soon as he picked up one of his guitars.
“He started coming up to my open mic a couple of years ago to Howlin Wolf and just asked if he could bring guitars up and display them and let people play them,” Wane said. “He did that so he could work the bugs out of anything that needed to be done. To him, because a lot of times with a new build, it will tell you what you need after it’s been played a few times.”
The first time the two met, Murphy asked him to play one of his custom-built guitars. Wane was so impressed he played it all night.
“I asked him how much he wanted for it, and I took it home,” Wane said. “Now, just about everyone in a band around here has a Jay Murphy Custom Guitar. I have four. I also take him my other guitars and have them worked on.”
Murphy quickly attracted an extensive customer base of more than 25 local musicians.
“It’s a cool way to get business, whether it’s a way for somebody to bring in a guitar to get fixed up or somebody who wants to buy one,” he said. “People don’t realize how much better a guitar like this is compared to one you buy off the shelves somewhere. I’ve got some customers who have three custom builds. They buy one. Then they want another. And another.”
Travis Bryan, another dedicated customer, plays beside Wane with Duval County Line. Bryan used to put new guitars through the paces and provide Murphy with helpful tips.
One of Murphy’s guitars was recently played by Austin James at Wane’s “Jumpin’ and Jivin’ Juneboree, a day-long festival of games and music to benefit Wane’s Rising Star: Give a Kid a Guitar program that provides free instruments to children as an outlet from trouble and sitting behind a computer screen.
“Dozens and dozens and dozens” of the nearly 300 guitars given away have been refurbished by Murphy.
“We have to buy parts every once in a while, but other than that, Jay’s never charged a dime for this,” Wane said.
Murphy often looks for old guitars in pawn shops and brings them back to life. A lot of them wind up in Wane’s musical nonprofit.
“We still get a lot of beat-up old guitars and some that are in great shape – somebody bought a guitar, played it for three months, stuck it in their closet. Five years later, they’re pulling stuff out of their closet, and they find it,” Murphy said. “They need a little attention to bring them back to life. They need to be freshened up, cleaned with new strings, a new setup.
“You can buy a guitar at a big box store, but it won’t be set up well. The cheaper guitars are often terrible right out of the box. I’ll take a little nicked-up guitar, beat up, and set it up where a kid can play it and enjoy it.”
By his admission, Jay Murphy never grasped his dream of becoming a rock star. The musical community would disagree.