The Dennis Murphy Gang, Madison, Wisconsin, 1960-1965
Dennis Murphy was the leader of a group of art and music majors who
met regularly at our house at 5710 Bittersweet Place in Madison’s
Crestwood, a few blocks north of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prefab house of
about 1956. We improvised on oriental, renaissance, medieval and
American folk music. Clayton Bailey, a pottery student then, and I
were not musicians, but Dennis taught us to play the mouth bow and
Jew’s harp. The mouth bows we made were constructed from two inch
wide hardwood strips of wood, with one or two piano strings at the
upper end of the scale secured with tuning pegs.
The regulars of the group were Dennis Murphy, Raleigh Williams, a math
teacher, musician, singer and instrument maker, Monona Rossol, who was
a pottery student like Clayton Bailey and myself, and she was also a
classical singer. My wife Gail, a piano major, and I were also
regulars. Thomas J. Banta, then an assistant professor of psychology
at Wisconsin, became a regular also though he did not participate in
the music making. The exceptional Wisconsin social life that brought
art and music majors together in small groups was not that evident
among the professors and grad students of the psychology department.
This is perhaps partly why Tom Banta became part of our group. Tom
Banta is the announcer at the beginning of the piece The Prelem Party, May 1962 .
The musicians in the group were Dennis Murphy, Raleigh Williams, Monona Rossol and sometimes Gail Pyron. And there were some others such as Gloria Welniak, Carlton Welton, Jim Quigley and an art major I called Old Dick Gong.
The Dennis Murphy group was active from 1960 to 1962. Clayton Bailey had left Madison by the fall of 1962. Dennis Murphy was at a session in my house then near lake Monona in downtown Madison in November of 1962, our last meeting.
One time in May of 1962 we met at Clayton Bailey’s place out in the
country south of Madison. We built up a good sized camp fire which
can be heard burning on the audio we made that night. Dennis
Murphy was playing on his sitar, Monona Rossol was wailing or
vocalizing, Clayton Bailey was blowing his blatting ceramic horn he
had made by rolling a slab of clay and firing it, and I was pounding
on my Chinese tom-tom. Had someone nearby heard all that, they would never have known that three of those performers were to become well known – Dennis Murphy, Clayton Bailey and Monona Rossol.
Here are a few links to Dennis Murphy, including a wikipedia article on him:
On http://www.kalvos.org/murphyd.html above there is a good photo of
Clayton Bailey attained to some image as a sculptor on the West Coast.
Bailey has been written up in numerous art
journals and newspaper and magazine articles and has many links on the
Internet. He turned seventy in 2009. Dennis Murphy was 75 then.
Monona Rossol is an authority in New York City on the toxic aspects of
art materials and has written several books. She also has many links to her on the Internet.
I have some cassette tapes that were copied from the old reel to reel tapes of the music of the group and three of these are on the Internet, now at supload, but i hope to put them on another site. It was not until summer of 1965 that photos or movies of the Murphy group were made and not until June of 2012 that my son Blake had the 47 year old 16mm movie converted to digital. He extracted these still photos.