Welcome to the fifth installment of our “Big John” Murray interview. What a journey it has been. In this installment we go back to where it all began, rock ‘n roll. We also look at John’s celebration of an accomplishment that he achieved over 30 years ago!! Through it all, we learn that whether it is on a tour bus, in a wrestling ring, on a football field, or in the lives of his friends and fans…”Big John” Murray is the undisputed champ!
TMR: I’d like to shift gears now and go back to the music. I know for a while there when I would go to shows I would see you there hanging out, supporting your friends in the bands. But all of those times you were very much in the background. But then about 2 years ago, Poison came to Riverbend here in Cincinnati. It was Poison and Cheap Trick, and a couple of other bands I think. But you got on stage not only with Poison, but also with Cheap Trick. That was a magical moment for those of us who know you, to see you back on the stage.
JM: Yes it was.
TMR: I don’t know if that was the first time in a long while, but can you tell us what that meant to you to be back up there on stage?
JM: I go out on stage with Poison every night during “Something to Believe In,” and “Nothing But a Good Time” without fail. Bret usually introduces me. For years, Bret has dedicated “Something to Believe In” not only to military and first responders but also to his cousin Bob who is a Marine from Vietnam. He got the purple heart, twice. He also dedicates it to me. He says, Big John who was in Somalia and Desert Storm. For 20 years now he’s done that, and even today it chokes me up. To be in front of that many people and to hear them cheer…and a lot of them are military veterans in that crowd. Many people are veteran’s spouses. To get recognition from them, and just to be a part of that…It’s so weird, I don’t look at Poison’s fans as fans anymore. I look at them as family. The reason I say that is because even though I’m not a part of the band, I have been with them long enough that people associate me with the band. When you look out and see your friends and the people that you’ve gotten to know over the last 20 years cheering…and they are waving to you, it feels really, really good.
He’s done that for 20 years. But Cheap Trick, on the other hand…Because we had toured with them, I had gotten to become really good friends with Robin Zander, Tom (Petersson), Bunny…who is no longer with them, and Rick (Nielsen.) It was the weirdest thing because…they were playing, and I always try to be on the side of the stage when they are playing because growing up they were one of my favorite bands. To this day they still are. I got into them because of “Dream Police” and “Surrender,” and this movie, Over the Edge back in the ’80s. I was like, this is a cool band, who is this? Next thing you know, it’s Cheap Trick. Then this many years later, Rick looks at me and he throws guitar picks at me. He tries to hit me (laughs.) Ironically, that night…it was not planned. There was no foreshadowing, he looks at me and goes, get out here. They were getting ready to start the song “Surrender.” I was like, what? He goes, sing! I said, hell no I’m not singing. He goes, just sing…you’re here now, just do it. I’ll be damned, I remembered every word. I started singing and I was even singing Robin’s parts. Robin turns around and looks like, who the hell? He looks up and I’m singing. He gets this big smile on his face and goes oh, you can sing (laughs.) I’m out on stage with this Hall of Fame band in Cincinnati where everybody I grew up with can see me, and I’m singing with Cheap Trick. It was the coolest damn feeling I ever had in my life.
TMR: I had just gotten done shooting the first 3 songs from Cheap Trick, so we had to walk our stuff back. When I got to the seats my wife, Candy, told me about it. She said, Big John was smiling from ear to ear. My question is, did something get sparked that night?
JM: Yeah…you know, here’s the weird thing. Even though I was married at the time…I’ll backtrack a little bit. I got married to my ex-wife in Hawaii back in 2014 or 2013. I told her in the beginning, there was a reason I moved to Salt Lake City. It was because I wanted to disappear. After Rock of Love, drinking problems and everything else, I decided that…I don’t want this life anymore. I want to disappear, and I want to be me. I had gotten into such a deep and dark place that I had to reconnect with myself…if that makes any sense.
So, we moved to Hawaii. God, I love Hawaii. But because of the heart problems, we moved back here. Before I got divorced, things really started to go bad. There was infidelity, on her part. I could see that we just weren’t happy anymore. When that happened….deep down inside, touring, the road, wrestling, entertainment…the entertainment business was in my blood. To suppress it for that long when I was with her…I was just miserable. I was running away from myself is what I was doing. I couldn’t find the answers anywhere because I was still missing something deep down inside. What I was missing was the responsibility. The job that I do in music. The interaction with people and the fans. The comradery. Something was missing, and all of those things put together was that thing. When I saw those guys from Poison, and I saw those guys from Cheap Trick, something sparked inside of me. I was like, this is what you are missing. This is what has been missing for the last 7-9 years. I am so blessed and lucky to be in a position to be able to, after walking away…Not walking away altogether. I still did solo tours with Bret every once in a while and would show up at their shows. But it was never the same. After that happened, the spark reignited. I started showing interest again. I started calling Bret and hanging out with Rikki. The greatest thing about the guys from Poison is, you can be gone for 10 years then see them in 1 day and the minute you reconnect it is like you were never gone. That’s why I love them so much. Like I said, it’s one big family. When I saw those guys, it was almost like a reunion, if you will. It was like, thank God…this is what has been missing. By getting back into it, and by being happy…by doing the things I do. The Monsters of Rock Cruise, and being able to be a part of the music business again…I think it helped heal me too as far as the heart. The stress of everyday life and everything was gone, finally. Especially after the divorce. I was finally able to do what I wanted to do. For what I had been searching for the past 10 years.
TMR: That is awesome brother! Now you are getting ready to….we are going to put any speculation aside for this. You are getting ready to go out on a major rock n’ roll tour with The Stadium Tour. How did you get yourself back in fighting shape? Like you said, you did some one-off shows, but this is a major tour. How do you get ready for that?
JM: It never goes away. Tony, it’s the most amazing thing. I went out on a tour with Bret in November called “The Hometown Heroes Tour.” It was us, Night Ranger, Lita Ford with special guest, Joe Diffie and Joe Nichols. We went to Military bases around the mid-west and west coast. I’m telling you, the minute that I stepped on that tour bus to the minute I stepped off on that last date, everything fell into place. There was no prepping, no planning…it is what’s in your blood. Everything that Poison, Ratt, Larry Morand…like I said, he is the director of the Monsters of Rock Cruise. He was my first tour manager that gave me a shot with Ratt. Everything that they taught and instilled in me…it can be tucked away in the back of the book, but the minute I stepped on that bus again that book was wide open again. Everything is right there again. People say it’s like riding a bike. It’s not even like that. It’s just there…if that makes any sense at all. Especially with Poison. With Bret, there is such a chemistry there. We’ve known each other for so long. C.C., Bobby and Rikki…I know them. At one point, it was me taking care of all four of them. So, I know what they want and what they need. I’d like to think that I can think ahead of them so I can head the problem off before it even happens. If I can’t, then I go to the people who can.
TMR: I know guys trust you after all this time. I remember when Faster Pussycat played here a while back. Taime Downe…you were the guy he wanted to walk him to the stage and then back to the bus when the show was over.
JM: I love Taime. It’s funny because a lot of these guys remember me from the Sunset Strip days, which I never thought would happen because I was stationed out in Camp Pendleton and then hanging out in Hollywood when I was off.
TMR: I know I was listening to Riki Rachtman’s podcast about The Cat House and he was talking about you. I remember texting you and you were up on a roof. You were like, how in the hell did you know about that???
JM: (laughs) That’s right, it was you who told me about it. I went back and listened to it. It was David Ellefson from Megadeth. I was like, how in the hell do they remember that?
TMR: That’s pretty good because this business has a tendency to forget pretty quickly.
JM: Yes, it does. Waaay before I got into the business, and worked with the crews and bands, I heard a quote from Ozzy Osbourne. Years and years ago. He said something to the effect that no matter what business you are in, don’t piss people off on the way up because you are going to see them on the way back down. I will be damned if during that 8-9 year hiatus I didn’t run into more people that I met in the beginning said they would say, I wish you were still here. I was like whoa, did I make that much of an impression? Even higher up guys like Howard Kaufman and John Kalodner. The first time I met John Kalodner was in Dallas, TX. I was with Ratt at this huge venue down there. This guy comes around the corner looking like Jesus in a John Lennon suit. He said, I would like to see Warren Demartini. I said yeah so would a lot of other people…you can see him at the meet & greet. Then Dimebag Darrell, Vinnie and all the guys from Pantera are there with me and they’re like, holy sh!t! Do you know who you just blew off? I had no idea. They told me it was John Kalodner and I was like, oh man!!! Later on that evening, John comes up and in his little raspy voice says, I just want to introduce myself. I said, Mr. Kalodner, I am sorry. He said, don’t you ever apologize. At least I know you’re doing your job.
TMR: I’m a huge Aerosmith mark, so I love that story. That is great. You could take me down a rabbit hole talking about being at a Ratt show with Dimebag and Vinnie, but we’ll save that for another conversation.
JM: Yeah, I miss those guys so much.
TMR: I guess it would be fitting to end where we began with the first interview, and that is here in Cincinnati. I saw a little bit about this, but I’d like for you to go into more detail if you would. It’s a story about the guys from your high school football team presenting you with your championship ring. Can you tell us that story?
JM: Absolutely! It…it’s one of the hardest times in my life and I still get choked up over it. In 1986 I was a part of the Purcell Marian championship football team. We went 14-0 and were the #2 high school team in the nation. After the regular season, and into the playoffs we found out that my grade point average was not good enough to play. I never got to finish out the season, even though I stayed with the team. I was a starting offensive tackle. It killed me because I was up at Ohio State watching these guys play. The clock is ticking down 3…2…1 Purcell Marion wins the state championship. There was all this celebration and everything, but it felt like I didn’t belong. There were a few of the team members…you watch the guys you bleed and sweat with celebrate and you can’t be a part of it. The coach at the time decided that even though I helped get them into the playoffs and into the state championship game, I didn’t deserve a ring. He made it very clear. Very clear…you’re not getting a ring. You let me down, blah, blah, blah. I don’t think anyone on the team was aware of what he did. I don’t think some of the administration knew what he did either. They all just assumed that I got it because I still did all the pep rallies and stuff.
So, 30 years later I keep getting all of these letters from Purcell Marion high school and their alumni association asking me to donate. For 30 years I kept writing back letters saying they weren’t getting a dime until I get what’s rightfully mine. I want my ring. Well, someone got wind of it. It went to the school and they found out it was never given to me. Tony Adkins, who was our team captain and Steve Misleh presented it to me. But it wasn’t just those two who got the ring for me, it was done collectively through a lot of the team members who never knew that this happened. I don’t know what those rings cost, but several guys from that team chipped in. There were people who went out of their way, 30 years later, to make sure that I got this. They presented me with this ring and I completely lost it. I choked up and started crying. For a very long time in my life, from 1987 to the day they gave me that ring…I hoped and prayed that the day would come when I would get it. Putting that thing on for the first time after 33 years….it was pretty damn cool. I am living proof. If any athlete thinks they are going to coast through because they can play football…I’ll warn you. I was recruited by some of the highest colleges in the nation, but if you don’t have the grades, you’re done. Study, that’s all I can say. Because if you don’t, you’re going to regret it. I regretted it for 30 plus years, but finally, my dream came true.
TMR: I love it, man. It seems like things are starting to fall back into place for you. I am happy for you brother.
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