Valley musician performs, teaches for positive change
YOUNGSTOWN — Performing music and playing in a band came naturally for Jason Murphy.
Throughout the mid-1990s and into the late 2000s, Murphy was touring with his ragga jungle duo, Imperial Sound System (aka ISS), scratching records on a turntable as a sound source. Little did he know back then that his musical talent one day would serve adults with disabilities.
Murphy, 45, struggled with anxiety and low self-esteem during his childhood, but throughout his life, performing music served as his refuge and gift to serve and heal others.
“I remember the first time I walked up on stage, it was at a show with my band, Imperial Sound System in Louisville, Kentucky, in the mid-’90s. I was in front of a thousand excited people. I walked up to the turntables, put a record on, scratched a bit and the crowd roared so loudly. I looked behind me to check to see what it was that they were cheering about, and I found out that it was me they were cheering for. It was at that moment I felt more validated and empowered. It improved my self-esteem and anxiety,” Murphy said.
Today, Murphy serves as the band director at The Purple Cat, ISLE (Iron and String Life Enhancement Inc.), and Golden String Inc., a local workshop program for adults with disabilities. Not only is Murphy’s music program a class, but it’s also a professional band known as The Feral Cats.
The Feral Cats is comprised of Purple Cat clients and has performed at various local events such as The Greater Youngstown Italian Fest, Pabstolutely Festival at Royal Oaks, Mahoning Valley St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Canfield Fair. Murphy has worked for ISLE for 10 years, and his wife, Jennie, also works for The Purple Cat at an art program at Joe Gallagher’s Lunch Bucket.
“I want to relive that experience of that show in Louisville with The Feral Cats. I knew the formula, but I want my clients to experience that moment that I had. I want them to experience a little bit of status in standing for people who feel small in society,” Murphy said.
Murphy grew up in Hubbard and attended Hubbard High School. During his middle school and high school years, he played guitar in several bands. Murphy then joined Imperial Sound System, which was his most acclaimed long-time touring band. Imperial Sound System went on the road with many well-known acts, including The Prodigy and Plasticman. Murphy recalls a time when Imperial Sound System was breaking up and he knew he had to make a career change.
“I had moved back to Hubbard from Louisville after my stint with Imperial Sound System. I came home from touring and the band was breaking up, and I did not know what to do career-wise. My anxiety hit, and I felt lost. I remember sitting in my mother’s kitchen, holding my head and wondering what I should be doing. Then my friend from Hubbard and bandmate, Victor Tirabassi, showed up and approached me about creating more ragga jungle music. So Tirabassi and I formed the band 45 Thieves,” Murphy said.
Then Murphy saw The Purple Cat buses driving all over Hubbard, which he thought looked like pods from another world.
“I filled out an application and dropped it off at the ISLE office. They hired me to do respite, where I would drive to an ISLE client’s house and provide services for that client. I did respite for a year-and-a-half, and then I worked with behavioral clients with special needs at ISLE’s group homes, where I got acquainted with Jimmy Sutman, president and founder of The Purple Cat,” Murphy said.
Sutman and Murphy bonded over their love for vinyl records. Murphy was talking about how he used records for scratching as a sound source like an instrument, while Sutman was more interested in collecting vinyl to listen to for enjoyment.
“I showed Jimmy a video of myself scratching records on stage with my band 45 Thieves. He then asked me if I would be interested in doing a music program at The Purple Cat, which I thought after seeing those buses that my salvation was there, and it was. I showed up right away. It was meant to be a music therapy type class. I am not a music therapist, but I knew how to put together a band, and I found out that there were clients who can play instruments, so I brought my own instruments,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he was intrigued by the clients’ musical talent and was able to identify right away who fit into a band dynamic.
At this point, The Feral Cats was formed. Murphy said parents of the clients loved what The Purple Cat was doing with its music program, so they decided to donate PA systems, computers and instruments, which is everything a band needs.
When Murphy isn’t working with clients , he focuses on his latest recording project called Coach with his longtime friend, David Merrick.
For Murphy, being the band director for the Feral Cats since 2015 has been a wonderful learning experience. The clients have taught him so many new things about himself.
“Luckily for me, working with these clients has greatly reduced my anxiety and improved my mental health. It is the hardest and the most demanding job I have ever had in my life. At the same time, it has been the most fun I have ever had in my life,” Murphy said.
The Feral Cats is working on a debut album and has a gig booked at the Greater Youngstown Italian Fetsival in early August.
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