The Next Stage

Jimy Murphy, the Kamikazi Kid, gets his act together.

In those days, Evergreen was two blocks of mom-and-pop businesses, a man-made lake, and maybe a couple hundred full- and part-time residents living in homes scattered along the forested hills. There were no Wal-Marts, no King Soopers, no interstates.

About a decade later, another musician, James Murphy, came to town. Murphy had taught himself to play piano by ear and had been a member of a big band back East called Blue Baron, but after World War II broke out, he'd been stationed in Denver with the Army Air Corps. He was passing through Evergreen with some service buddies and dropped by the local telephone company to ask for directions.

There he chatted with the female operator -- Ellece King, Beth's daughter. Murphy asked her out and she accepted, and their first date was at a local bar called the Roundup -- now the Little Bear. It wasn't long before they were married. They had two daughters and a baby boy, born New Year's Eve 1954. They named him after his father but called him Jimmy.

Murphy's grandfather's band.
Murphy's grandfather's band.
Enter, stage left: Jimy Murphy, performing with the Evergreen Players.
courtesy of the Evergreen Players
Enter, stage left: Jimy Murphy, performing with the Evergreen Players.

Beth King and James Murphy weren't the only performers in the extended family. Ellece helped found the Evergreen Players in 1950. "My earliest memories are of going to rehearsals," Murphy recalls. "I would learn everybody's lines so I could be the prompter."

Other early memories center around cast parties at the Murphy residence. Jimmy was usually ordered off to bed early, but he'd sneak back to spy on the "drunken revelry," which included his father banging out tunes on the piano, "something like 'Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women,' and I'd say, 'Yeah...I like that.'"

After the war, James Murphy got his law degree at the University of Denver, then set up an office in Evergreen. Within a couple of years, he was elected Clear Creek County judge -- and was so well-liked in that job that some of the guys he packed off to prison sent him license plates they'd made in their new digs. Although the senior Murphy was an extraordinary performer -- both as a musician and an actor with the Evergreen Players -- he had another, more unexpected talent. "He was a psychic," his son remembers. "We'd be sitting at the dinner table, and all of a sudden he would stop, his eyes would glaze over, and he'd say something like, 'Earthquake, tomorrow morning, northern Mexico.' And sure enough, it would happen."

Those psychic talents gave his son a sense there was "something greater out there," later prompting his interest in spirituality and religion. "It also convinced me that I would never be able to hide anything from him," Murphy says with a laugh. "So I never tried, at least not much. Fortunately, what I loved most about my dad was that he accepted me no matter what I was doing. It was always unconditional love from my father, and that is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give you."

His mother gave him another gift: She put him on stage, where he discovered that he enjoyed having an audience. (By then, he'd already given himself a more theatrical name, having exchanged Jimmy for Jimy, in honor of Jimi Hendrix.) Still, in his early teens he began to rebel, coming up with excuses for why he couldn't, or wouldn't, appear in a play. "It was something my parents did, so I tried to stay away," he recalls. "So my mother used to pay me when she needed me."

At that age, what he really wanted was to be the best "Stink" player in the world -- or at least in Evergreen, the only place the game is played. A combination of Capture the Flag, roller derby and ice hockey without a stick, Stink was part of growing up in Evergreen. Stink, and music.

Murphy started playing guitar with his friends Rick Delano and Steve Neal while they were in the seventh grade. Delano "was something of an idiot savant when it came to the guitar," Murphy recalls. "I remember when he went to a Jethro Tull concert at Red Rocks and came back the next day and played 'Thick as a Brick' note for note having heard it once." In high school, the friends added Mark Hopkins, a painfully shy new kid who'd just moved to the area, to their group. Hopkins was a bust with the girls, and he stammered whenever he tried to talk, but he could play the guitar.

As much as he liked music and playing with his friends, Murphy didn't envision music as part of his future: He wanted to be a writer, a poet. He wanted people to listen to what he had to say and be moved by it. But even though he was an honor-roll student at Evergreen High School, he didn't really fit in. He was bored by traditional learning. The first couple of years there, he'd made a deal with several of his teachers: If he could pass the final exams, they would let him spend the rest of the school day in the library, reading about the sorts of things that interested him -- poetry and philosophy and theology.

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