Credit: Kyle London Photography

In Memoriam | Tom Murray: 1954-2022

Music and family were Tom Murray’s life. He loved spending time on the beautiful Santa Barbara beaches and in the backcountry. He loved creating things with his hands. Tom grew up in the Santa Barbara foothills in a family that has roots here leading back to the 1860s. He rode his bike through the lemon orchards off Foothill, took his motorcycle out to Caliente Hot Springs, and was a “hotshot” firefighter in Los Padres National Forest — after hearing him play guitar, his boss said, “I think you’re in the wrong profession!”

His sister, Colleen Million, remembered, “In his youth, my brother was crazy about learning to play the guitar. I remember him spending consecutive days in his room, never leaving it, just so that he could play Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton licks over and over on his vinyl record player while teaching his fingers to play all the riffs just like the British blues players. Eventually, he moved on to the great American originators of the blues. He was incredibly dedicated! He went on to study music at the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood and graduated in 1985.”

Tom met Linda Hughes during Fiesta ’81, and they were married the following September. They went together to Los Angeles, and when they returned to Santa Barbara, where Tom attended Santa Barbara City College, he was named music student of the year and won the Mahlon Balderston Scholarship Award. He then applied to UCSB, where he was awarded a Regents Scholarship and majored in music composition at the College of Creative Studies. Through all this, Tom and Linda had four children while working toward their UCSB degrees, Linda’s in educational psychology. Tom played gigs, dreaming of and then building a house for the family. Linda remembered, “We took our young children everywhere with us to listen to live music and see Tom play the big stage. Live Oak was always a special weekend. We counted them as the next generation of aspiring musicians. Tom focused on ethnomusicology and the blues. And we always had music in our house.”

He devoted much of his life, day in and day out, to playing music. The riffs he would play and the rewinding of the tape player were the continuous pattern in the house, Linda said, while the rest of us would tap our feet in the living room and two-step while cooking in the kitchen. Tom’s sliding blues, jubilant melodies, and deep singing voice are encapsulated in the songs he leaves behind. Not long before he died, Tom shared his belief in music. Perhaps some would call it being “in the zone,” but he explained a moment more than that, one that in some ways transcended all else. Being a master at your craft is in that moment, when you can play it all with ease and with joy. Tom believed that his music was his connection to the Eternal.

Fellow musician Cyrus Clarke describes his own experience parting ways musically with Tom. “One day, Tom told me he had to stop playing music with me. At first, I thought maybe my personal hygiene or bad attitude was responsible; this hadn’t ever happened to me before. But in the next sentence, he told me that he just needed to spend all of his time with his own music. I can’t describe how much I respected him for that; it’s a tough decision I’ve had to make for myself as well. I always knew that Tom was the real deal, but that sealed it for me. I was standing in front of a great artist who believed in himself and would do anything to develop that creativity that he held in his soul.”

Tom was driven to not only perfect his own skills but to share the gift of music with others. For almost 40 years, Tom taught students music — starting in 1985 at Jensen Music and then later his own spot: Guitarman Studios. He worked in just about every music store in Santa Barbara, collecting and keeping students who followed him to different teaching locations for years until they left for college, many remaining close family friends. Some of his own nephews, struck by inspiration, became musicians in their own right. There was a wide array of generations and ages of students and their families he encouraged to play guitar and ukulele. -Etta Murray and Linda Murray

I was a member of the Stiff Pickle Orchestra with Tom. I knew him as a devoted husband, father, grandfather, music teacher, mentor, entrepreneur, an exceptional singer/songwriter/slide-guitar-player with a musical passion, and a longtime friend. His was a friendship that always encouraged creativity on our musical journey.

On behalf of Tom Murray, I would like to thank all who helped develop the Stiff Pickle Orchestra (SPO) “juke joint” blues sound: Alex Marshal (a k a Frank Frank), Mark Anthony, Barney Drake, Art Larsen, Dennis Berger, Jill Avery, Ej’e Lynn-Jacobs, SPO soundman Richard Johnson, and recording engineers Mark Anthony, Paul E. Rubin, Elliott at Hidden City Studio and 11 South Studios. The other side of our SPO journey would be the many clubs, restaurants, taprooms, and organizations who believed in Stiff Pickle and whom we thank, in part: Barb and the crew at The Brewhouse, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Taprooms, Pearl Social Santa Barbara, Carr Winery, the M. Special Brewing Company, Longoria Winery & Tasting Room, and our fans, The Pickletts.

On September 26, 2010, the Stiff Pickle Orchestra won first place in the Santa Barbara Blues Society “Battle of the Blues Bands” acoustic division. The Blues Society sent us to Memphis for the 27th Annual International Blues Challenge in late January 2011. Tom said over and over again that his proudest musical moments came from the recognitions we received from the Blues Society and the times they asked us to open for several of their big shows. 

Once again, thank all of you for believing in Tom Murray and the Stiff Pickle Orchestra. -Rod Rolle

Finally, in Tom’s words: “I’m The One Who’s Your Friend.”

I heard your singing angels
Crying last night
Saying meeting your maker
It’s gonna be alright

Cause I’ll be at the station to meet you
When your train pulls in
And they’ll be no mistakin’ me
Cause I’m the one who’s your friend

Now that we’re near the end

So fasten your seatbelt
And jump right in
It’s up around the corner
Just around the bend

And I’ll be at the station to meet you
When your train pulls in
And they’ll be no mistakin’ me
Cause I’m the one who’s your friend

Now that we’re near the end

No need to pack a bag
Cause there’s nothing you need
You came here all alone
Your treasure you leave

And I’ll be at the station to meet you
When your train pulls in
And there’ll be no mistakin’ me
Because I’m the one
Who’s your friend

Now that we’re near the end

After a two-year battle with stage IV prostate cancer, Tom passed away on May 16, 2022. He is survived by his wife, Linda; children, Katie, Etta, Oliver, and Iris; granddaughter, Lilith; mother, Marilyn Murray; and sisters, Pam Bateman, Colleen Million, and Kim Sheetz. 


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