Many people know John Murray simply as “Big John.” But to his friend’s he’s simply John. People may know John from back in the day at Annie’s or The Blue Note in Cincinnati, OH. Others know him from his time on the road with bands such as Poison, Ratt, Cinderella and Kid Rock. Others recognize John from his appearance on VH1’s “Rock of Love” television show. I remember the first time I saw John in person. Poison were playing Riverbend Music Center here in Cincinnati and John was walking across the concourse to greet friends. All I knew at that time was the guy seemed large than life. Fast forward years later when Devil City Angels played MVP in Cincinnati. As the night ended, I was introduced to a gentleman name by the name of John. After a couple of minutes of friendly chatter I realized this was the one and the same,”Big John.” My impression did not change…the man was larger than life. I feel so fortunate that I have had a chance to get know John Murray the man. Not only is he a rock n’ roll legend, more importantly he is a U.S. Marine.
John has led a fascinating life, and he is gearing up to fight (and conquer) his greatest test yet. Devil City Angels are coming to Cincinnati on February 25, 2017 to throw a party for John. Leading up to party time I will be sharing a conversation that I recently had with John. I hope you enjoy getting to know this incredible man as much as I have. And even more, I hope that I see you at MVP on the 25th!!!
The Music Room: I think it is safe to assume that a lot of people associate you with the band, Poison. How did you get hooked up with them?
John Murray: The reason that I ended up with Poison is because during that tour…they were out with L.A. Guns, Poison, Great White and Slaughter I think. That was one of many interactions with Mark Slaughter and Jack Russell, because I had known them from Annie’s and all those other places. But I had never met anybody in Poison. I won’t say that I didn’t know anything about them. Ironically, they were one of my favorite bands for a while. I started….for some reason, and I don’t understand this, but everyone in the music business that I really connected with were drummers. I don’t understand it. I mean it was Blotzer, then in was Rikki Rockett, then it was Fred Coury. All these guys were drummers….Rick Allen from Def Leppard, for some reason I always seem to gravitate towards drummers and I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s some secret infatuation that I don’t know about or what, but drums have always been a part of my major friendships. So what happened is that while we were out on tour, I got to hang out with Rikki Rockett a couple of times and got to know him a little bit. But I crossed paths with Bret (Michaels) in Evansville, Indiana. We sat down and started talking. It turned into every time we saw each other we’d shoot the shit and start laughing about something. Our personalities just clicked…mine, Rikki’s, CC’s, Bobby’s and Bret’s . Somehow I just fit into that little puzzle. I enjoyed their company, and they were always asking me to come hang out with them and help out. About a year later they were going out on a tour without Ratt, and obviously I was attached to Ratt. Well, Ratt had broken up so I called up Rob Stevenson (their tour manager) and said listen, I know that I’m new but I would love to learn from you. He had been in the business with Poison from day one. I’d like to learn from you, the upper level. I’d like to be at the top with the bands playing the arenas, and if there is anyone I’d like to learn from it’s you. Well, he contacted Bret, then Bret called me. Rikki called me. CC called me asking what I wanted and how long I wanted to do it. I think they wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a pipe dream. Forty-eight hours later…I’ll never forget, it was Memorial Day weekend. They called me and said we got you a plane ticket, come and meet us. I think it was St. Louis at the time. It was the weirdest thing, but at that time everything took off. For some reason I stared to see the whole music business in a different light. Maybe it was because they were headliners…I don’t know. But everything clicked and it finally made sense. This is where I belong.
TMR: Now, you have already shared some thoughts on Ratt and Poison. What I would like to do is get your thoughts on some of the other bands you have worked with and have you give me a story or memory of your time with that band. Is that cool?
TMR: Give me something about your time with Cinderella.
JM: Short lived, but to this day some of the greatest friends and mentors. Fred Coury, Jeff LaBar and Eric Brittingham are not only some of my best friends in the world, but they taught me a lot about the fans perception of you. If you put yourself out there like a dick, that’s how they are going to treat you. I’ll never forget one day Fred Coury came up to me when I was with Ratt and we were on tour together. I had this Ratt shirt on and it said, “What the fuck are you looking at?” He looked at me and said if that’s the way you want to be perceived, that’s the way people are going to treat you. He said look at your shirt, is that the way you want to be known? I was like, not at all. He said, lesson learned. I never wore a shirt like that again.
TMR: How about your time with Kid Rock?
JM: Oh man, he was the best employer I’ve ever had. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I hate to take away from anyone, but working for Rock were the best times of my life. When you are doing a job that you get paid to do, and you are fully appreciated, it means the world. And that man goes out of his way to take care of his crew. That meant the world to me. He knew that without us his shows weren’t worth shit, and he made it very clear, every day.
TMR: Do you think the fact that you are a Marine made working for him extra special? He seems like he really cares a lot about the military.
JM: The funny thing is, it never really came up. He knew that I was in the Marines, and he respected it, but it stayed there. You know what I mean? He didn’t dwell on it. I think deep down inside he knew what it meant because… I took care of Rock’s wardrobe. I took care of all his personal effects. I was his personal assistant. Any item that he had, I treated as if it was my own, and sometimes even better. I still to this day, have an inventory of every piece of jewelry he owned while I was working for him. Ever pair of sunglasses, shoes, and every hat. I have a manifest of every piece of equipment with serial numbers and everything. The way that worked out was he had three set shows in Detroit. He never met me, didn’t know me from dirt. He had a party for the crew at his house the day before. I went to Pine Knob, DTE they call it now, and I started ripping the dressing room apart. Took all of his wardrobe out, sent it out for cleaning, pressed it and put it in order in his wardrobe cases. I had his shoes all laid out. I had an inventory of all his jewelry, rings…everything. He came into his dressing room about an hour early and he goes, what the hell? I said dude, you have to leave. He’s like, excuse me? This is my dressing room. I said no offense, but you have to give me a little more time. I told him I’m doing something here and if you want it done right I need to be alone. Well, he went to lunch at the venue and came back about forty-five minutes to an hour later, looked at his stuff and went geez…who are you? He said I need one of my white tank tops. I said third row down, folded nicely in the back left hand corner. He opened the drawer, then he got on the radio and told Shakes (his production manager), he stays. I don’t want to see anybody else again. That was one of those things where I was so nervous you couldn’t get a penny up my ass with a jackhammer. I mean, at that time Kid Rock was on top of the charts and he was taking the world over. I just wanted to make a good impression. Maybe in a way I over did it, but it worked.
TMR: What about this new kid coming up, Brandon Gibbs. Any thoughts on this guy?
JM: I love Brandon. The greatest thing about Brandon is…Rikki Rockett and I were doing a thing called Steamboat Days in Davenport, IA years ago. I can’t even remember what year it was. This band of kids is out on stage playing during the middle of the day and Rikki and I were sitting there watching these guys and they were absolutely amazing! Rikki and I are looking at each other and I said, these guys are going to be stars. He said I can’t believe how good they are and they’re only like fourteen. Low and behold after a few years we started seeing a little bit more and more of them, and they started popping up here and there. The next thing you know DCA (Devil City Angels) came about. Brandon and Eric (Brittingham) and Tracii (Guns) and Rikki (Rockett), I couldn’t have been happier. Brandon has always been like family. To see him go from Steamboat Days in Davenport, IA to opening up the Monsters of Rock Cruise in place of Bret (Michaels) for that special occasion just blew me away. I was like, you are on your way.
TMR: Let’s move on to “Rock of Love” for a minute. Do you look back on that as a good thing? How do you look back at that experience?
JM: I have mixed emotions on the whole “Rock of Love” thing. I’ll explain a little bit of both. At the time, the only reason I did it was because Bret wanted me to be a part of it. Like I said, he and I had a chemistry. I was more comfortable behind the scenes. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t really want to get known too much because I was afraid it would take away from being behind the scenes. Therein lays my problem with it, because that is exactly what happened. Neither one of us expected the show to do what it did. We thought it was going to be one episode, or one season with six episodes. You know…we did it and it was fun. It turned out to be VH1’s biggest show ever. What happened was initially they only bought six episodes. But in that first episode where Bret comes out and introduces me and kicks five girls out off the bat, which the producers had no idea I was going to do…Bret told them, let John be John and let him do what he does. I came out and said you, you, you, you and you hang tight. Because we were only supposed to have twenty girls, but they had twenty-five. Five were considered alternates. I said keep them in there, and they were like why? We can’t have them. It’s not going to work out mathematically. I said, keep them in there and let me do what I do. (Begins laughing) When they saw me kick off five girls in the first five minutes of the show they immediately bought five episodes. They were like, this is going to be frickin’ amazing! So, in a weird sort of way, immediately when I was in front of the camera, a side of me came out that became an attention whore. If that makes sense. All of the sudden I was “Big John.” Everybody knew me. By the end of the first season people were asking to take their picture with me and this and that. For a short period in my life, I absolutely loved it. I could not believe it. I was like hell yeah, this is great. Then the problems started….
Stay tuned for part III where John discusses hitting bottom, how he overcame his demons, and what challenge he is facing today. In the mean time, make plans to join us on February 25, 2017 at MVP in Cincinnati. It is the return of Devil City Angels and a chance to show John how much he means to us!!! Ticket info here.