J.F. Murphy - guitar, keyboards, vocals; Ron Allard - bagpipes, clarinet, flute, sax, vocals; George Christ - harmonica, percussion, vocals; Joe Parrino - guitar, trombone, flute, vocals; Russell Warmolts - bass, vocals; Bob Paiva - drums
Opening for The Byrds at Port Chester's long running Capitol Theater, this captures New York's esoteric musical fusion pioneers, J. F. Murphy & Salt, just prior to their self-titled Electra album. A magnificent blend of traditional Irish folk music, blues, jazz, and of course rock 'n' roll, J. F. Murphy & Salt was an utterly unique sextet that became a popular college campus fixture during the early 1970s. The band's rebellious stance against the Vietnam War was part of the picture, but it was the original compositions by bandleader, J.F. Murphy, and an overtly creative non-traditional approach to the covers they developed that brought them such a dedicated fan base. Showcasing unique instrumentation for an American band at the time, J. F. Murphy & Salt's four-man front line were all multi-instrumentalists, and while Joe Parrino was quite capable of playing searing lead guitar (ala Jimmy Page), the group just as often featured clarinet, sax, flute, harmonica and even bagpipe solos throughout their music.
The first three songs of the set are all Murphy originals that display the diversity of his songwriting and showcase the various factions within the band. "Long Hard Road" begins with a mournful bagpipe intro from Allard and then vacillates between a traditional Irish battle hymn and a straightforward rocker. Next up is "First Born," a song they would soon feature on the self-titled album. Written for Murphy's son, he informs the audience, one might expect a soft introspective ballad here, but just the opposite is true. This is a frantic, bopping jazz/blues number, featuring hot sax and a blazing solo from George Christ, not unlike the speed-crazed harmonica playing by John Popper decades later. "The Star," which Murphy dedicates to his dinking buddy, Dave Van Ronk, is a more introspective storytelling ballad about the life of a musician, uniquely told from a fan's perspective.
The second half of the set showcases the interpretive creativity of the band, beginning with a vocal harmony-laden rendition of Jimmy Roger's "Hobo Bill," that becomes a hot country-styled rocker. However, it is the last two numbers, which total nearly 24 minutes between them ,that truly display the group's instrumental prowess. This begins with the Irish myth-based jamfest, "Silver Horn." It should be noted that this concert took place on the eve of Saint Patrick's Day, which no doubt helped to fuel this inspired performance. Following a humorous monologue from Murphy, the group takes off in waltz-like tempo, telling the tale of a young man's adventures at an Irish dance attempting to pass himself off as a leprechaun. Not unlike early 1970's Fairport Convention or the Albion Band, this is traditional folk music creatively applied to modern electric instrumentation. The entire group breaks loose into a foot stomping electrified Irish jig that becomes quite the impressive jam, before slowing it down to a bagpipe-led death march, which gradually increases in tempo to conclude in a rousing uplifting climax—especially fitting for this holiday.
For sheer excitement, the best is saved for last as the group thoroughly stretches out on "Kansas City," fully flexing their instrumental muscles and displaying the diversity of their influences during extended solos. Essentially a blues song this veers off in all directions, with a celebratory vibe tying everything together. The first half stays closer to the song's original form, but taken at a more up-tempo clip. Brief solos from George Christ on harmonica and Allard on sax are impressive, leading to an engaging unison jam between Murphy's scat style vocals and guitar. This continues to build in both energy and dynamics when everything suddenly stops! A lone harmonica is heard, beginning slow and mournful, but then gradually picking up momentum. George Christ gets an opportunity to truly cut loose with a frenzy of ideas, including a quote from "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic." Then he suddenly stops and George Parrino, also unaccompanied, takes over on electric guitar. Parrino delivers an impressive high-energy solo, recalling the gritty searing sound of early Led Zeppelin-era Jimmy Page. He begins developing a crunching guitar boogie and just when you think the whole band is going to jump in, Parrino also stops on a dime. At this point Allard steps up and like the others, develops his sax solo alone. Beginning slow and bluesy, Allard quickly veers off into free-jazz territory, with furious blowing, honks, squeaks, and a boatload of energy. He winds the solo up with a few quotes from "Auld Lang Syne" before the propulsive rhythm section of Warmolts and Paiva lead everyone into a frantic double-time conclusion to end the set.
J. F. Murphy & Salts' self-titled Electra LP captured the band at the quintessential time and this performance, recorded less than a year prior, is an illuminating glimpse at the band beginning to reach that mark. The group's rebellious anti-war-without-compromise stance is tempered with enough subtly that it avoids the preachiness so often associated with groups of that time. There is an intelligent undercurrent to Murphy's lyrics and he comes across as a unique topical voice in a band with a vision.