RPM met with Murray Porter before his recent Vancouver gig at The Sutton Hotel and talked about songs as teachers, BB King under the covers and the origin of the Blues.
RPM: I’m excited to be here. Let’s start by representing, Indigenous style.
Murray: My name is Murray Porter, I’m from Six Nations Reserve, I’m Mohawk Turtle Clan. That’s where I grew up, for the first forty five years of my life and I’ve been in Vancouver for five years, playing my music around the west side of town, and it’s been really great. I’m loving it. People have been very receptive to me, very welcoming.
RPM: On the Fresh Coast of Turtle Island. How does Indigenous culture inspire your music creation process?
Murray: You know, music is a personal thing, songwriting is a personal thing. At the heart of my being, I’m Native, that’s the first thing. I’m a musician second, but beneath it all I’m Native. That in itself has to rub off on what you write, and the way you think, and the way you feel, and how you put ideas down on paper. In my language, in my culture, we didn’t have written language, it was all storytelling, legends passed down orally. So that’s what songwriting is, it’s an oral thing. You’re passing down your song. And I like to do it also in a way to kind of educate people to the way we see things. When Columbus came here, we never thought we were being discovered, we thought we were being killed. So we had to show them how we see the world. Some of my songs are about that – education. About teaching them the issues that affect us and how what they do affects us, and how what their forefathers did affects future generations. That’s my take on things.
RPM: Growing up, what were your major musical influences?
Murray: When I grew up, my parents listened to a lot of country and western - like a lot of Native communities country was a big thing. So I listened to George Jones and Merle Haggard and guys like that. In my teen years – because Six Nations is only about 45 minutes from Toronto, an hour from Buffalo New York and two hours from Detroit – a lot of urban stuff was happening in the area. I could hear a station from Chicago on the AM radio under the covers. I heard BB King “The Thrill is Gone” and I was like wow man what is that kind of music? And the guy said “this is the blues” and I thought blues? Wow, I love that music. So from that moment, BB King was the guy that set me on the path to the blues.
RPM: You talk about Six Nations and their cultural influence and I read that Robbie Robertson said you’re a blues master man.
Murray: (laughs) Robbie’s from Six Nations as well. We’ve got a lot of talent coming out of that little place there. Derek Miller has one two Juno awards for his music. So it’s a small place – our reserve only has about 10,000 people on it, that’s the extent of it. And it’s very small geographically, so we’re kind of bunched together a little bit. It turned out to be a great thing. Robbie Robertson was an influence. And I’m sure I influenced Derek somewhat because I knew him when he was a kid so that kind of tradition goes down through the ages. The next people are going to follow Derek. It always takes someone to open the door for the rest of us.
RPM: Yes Six Nations is putting a lot of stuff out right now. When I see Derek, he stands like Robbie Robertson.
Murray: It’s the old Mohawk stoicism. It’s a lot of pride – you’re proud of who you are, you’re proud of yourself, you’re happy to be doing the thing you love the most. I love playing music. That’s what I love to do when I’m not doing anything. And to get paid to do it is amazing.
RPM: That’s important now for younger Indigenous artists to be able to have that, to give them pride.
Murray: When I come to play these things, I don’t tell them I’m Native. It has no bearing on it. It’s all about the music. When they find out later, they’re very intrigued and want to ask me questions and stuff like that. But, I think we all need to be proud. For any young kids who want to get into any type of music, I would say learn an instrument. Even if you want to be a hip hopper or do rhyming, you should learn an instrument - it will really help you on your career if you do. A few good chords on the guitar, or the piano, something, it helps your overall musicianship so you can understand what you’re talking about.
RPM: Notes to young rappers – you heard it from Murray Porter himself. Better musicians, not just better rappers.
Murray: Rap is all about music, that’s where it all began. Learn your chops, that’s all I can say.
RPM: You got any favourite reading materials you would point people too?
Murray: For me, I read a lot about music, the blues. So many of the original blues players had Native blood. Down in New Orleans, the Mardi Gras Indians are a half black half Native tribe of Indians down there - they started the whole Mardi Gras Festival.
People are starting to realize what influence our people had on the blues. When the slaves would escape the plantation, they’d go into the woods and they had no idea how to survive so they’d get into the Native camps and they had drums. The slave owners had taken away their drums, to take away their culture. The Native people had drums, and the whole call and response thing that we use in our music as well, it’s the same thing as in the spirituals they sang in the fields picking cotton. We should be knowledgeable about what our people have done for music in general.
RPM: Anything else you want to say to the world of Indigenous music culture?
Murray: Keep happening. Keep strong. Without the next generation, the music would die off. Without the next generation there won’t be any more Native music unless someone keeps doing it. So keep doing it!