Few people waved the flag for Canadian country music the way Ralph Murphy did, whether it was on the streets of Nashville, across the pond or anywhere else people would listen.
The British-born songwriter and producer, who died on Tuesday at 75, wasn’t just an advocate for homegrown talent – he committed most of his life to the cause, his friends say. He was a mentor and a friend to young artists who moved stateside with stars in their eyes, helping those who had little experience with the cutthroat politics of the music industry.
Mr. Murphy was also a creator whose songs were recorded by the likes of Shania Twain and Randy Travis during their rise to fame. Earlier in his career, he produced for Canadian rock act April Wine in the 1970s.
“He was the biggest promoter of Canadian music I can think of, and Lord knows I’ve known many,” said long-time friend Todd Brabec during a call from Los Angeles.
“He had such a long-term experience on the business side that he knew the good, bad and the indifferent … and could advise people on it.”
Mr. Murphy suffered numerous health issues, including cancer, in recent years and was hospitalized earlier this month, Mr. Brabec said. He died with his two children and his wife by his side.
But even a few weeks ago, Mr. Murphy was still active in the music industry, showing his face at Canadian Music Week in Toronto in early May, and accepting a special achievement award at the SOCAN Awards in March.
Although Mr. Murphy wasn’t necessarily known by most country music listeners, he was a considerable force behind the scenes, where he held positions at many music organizations, including being the only Canadian who has served as president of the Nashville Songwriters Association.
Growing up in Wallaceburg, Ont., Mr. Murphy started playing music seriously as a teenager before he moved back to Liverpool in the mid-1960s. He played in bands and locked in a publishing deal before relocating to New York a few years later with a pocketful of experience.
Mr. Murphy also produced songs for Halifax act April Wine, including their cover of Hot Chocolate’s You Could Have Been a Lady and Bad Side of The Moon. The band’s front man, Myles Goodwyn, took to Facebook to say Mr. Murphy taught him a lot.
“‘Write everyday,’ he once told me,” Mr. Goodwyn said in the post.
His other early songwriting efforts included American country singer Jeannie C. Riley’s 1971 chart hit Good Enough to be Your Wife, which introduced him to the world of Nashville.
“I accidentally had a country hit – I was drawing on my Wallaceburg roots,” he recalled in an interview with trade publication Words and Music in 2017.
He said he flew to Nashville and fell in love with the town. “Everyone and everything said, ‘Go to Nashville.’”
Mr. Murphy became deeply entrenched in the business side of the industry, helping form the publishing company Picalic, and becoming an executive at ASCAP, a performance-rights organization for American composers, where he led workshops and advocated for songwriters’ rights.
His book Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting: How to Write a Hit Song become a textbook of sorts for many in the industry, Mr. Brabec said, and he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
Over the years, Mr. Murphy’s presence at music industry events was almost a given. At Midem, an annual trade show in Cannes, France, Mr. Murphy couldn’t walk down the grounds without an endless flow of friends and former students coming up to say hello, Mr. Brabec remembered.
“Everybody on the street would know him, they would come up and thank him for what he did,” he said.
In recent years, Mr. Murphy continued writing songs for some of the industry’s biggest names.
His co-written track Raining Whiskey appears on Kid Rock’s 2017 album, while Mr. Brabec said a number of weeks ago Jimmy Buffett stepped into the studio to record a new song penned by Mr. Murphy and Irish songwriter Paul Brady.