Mega-funky bottom man tells FBPO about his Philly roots, the big move to LA and landing the “Tonight Show” gig
Derrick Lee Murdock (a/k/a “Dock”) began playing the bass at age 17 and soon found himself performing in clubs in and around his hometown of Philadelphia. In 1994, Derrick moved to Los Angeles to tour and perform with Sheena Easton, catapulting his career to new heights.
Derrick has performed and/or toured with a wide variety of musical acts, including the Jazz Crusaders, Dr. Dre, Rose Royce, the Dazz Band, Andre Crouch, B.B. King, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole, Patty Austin, Tom Scott, Jeff Lorber, Cedric the Entertainer, Bobby Caldwell, Aaron Neville, Angela Bofill, David Benoit, Hugh Masekela, Eric Marienthal, Deniece Williams, Chuck Berry, Peter Frampton, Huey Lewis and many others. From 2005 to 2010, Derrick held down the bass chair for The Tonight Show band with Jay Leno, along side bandleader Kevin Eubanks.
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing.
DM: I was born and raised in West Philadelphia. From an early age, my parents would always have music playing on the stereo after my father came home from work. He would always turn the bass up with hardly any treble, so wherever I was in the house, I heard mega bass and I just loved it!
After dinner, my parents would retire upstairs to chill and they would let me listen to music with headphones on for hours. From grade school till my junior year in high school, I was listening to a lot of R&B, soul, rock, pop and Latin music, not aware that I was developing my ear and sense of timing. During my last year of high school, I was introduced to fusion music, so by the time I went to college, ear training was a breeze and my timing was impeccable. After a year and-a-half of college, I left and took private upright lessons from Al Stuffer and then with Craig Thomas at the School of Performing Arts.
FBPO: How did you become a bass player? You got kind of a late start with the instrument, didn’t you?
DM: Yes! My first year in high school, my parents took me to see James Brown one week and Sly & the Family Stone a couple weeks later. I heard Bernard Odum and Larry Graham live for the first time and I was so blown away and inspired, I told my father I wanted to play bass. So the next week he bought me my first Heit bass and Vox amp and he built my first 2-15 cabinet, as he was quite the craftsman. I played it for a month or two, then put it down when I got into art and football.
The summer after my junior year, we moved to Abington, Pennsylvania, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It was there I met three guys by the names of Tony Smith, Tommy Campbell and Greg Blount. Tony and Greg were bass players and Tommy was a drummer. They were amazing players, so ahead of their time for their age. They inspired me tremendously to start playing bass again at the age of 17, especially Tony Smith. He had – and still has – a very unique way of playing bass. We would shed for hours after school and he was generous enough to share his technique with me. To this day, I still have not been able to master it, but over the years I was able to incorporate it into a lot of different genres.
FBPO: Who were your influences as a young student of bass?
DM: Bernard Odum, Bootsy, Francis Rocco Prestia, Kool, Larry Graham, Geddy Lee, Jimi Hendrix, Fudgie Kae Solomon, Chris Squire, James Jamerson, Tony Smith, Jef Lee Johnson, Kevin Eubanks, Tommy Campbell, Darryl Brown, Michael Pedicin Jr. and Lequeint “Duke” Jobe. Later on, I was influenced by Stanley Clarke, Jaco, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, Paul Jackson, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Rufus Reid, Jimmy Garrison, Charles Mingus, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson, Ray Brown… I could go on and on. As the years went by, I became influenced by everything from the ocean in Atlantic City to the sunset over the New York harbor!
FBPO: Philadelphia has such a rich musical heritage. How do you think growing up there influenced you musically?
DM: Philadelphia has a rich musical heritage indeed! There were so many role models to look up to there. I lived in New York for a while as well and was fortunate to experience everything it had to offer, musically and culturally. I also lived in Atlantic City for some time, as I worked in all the casinos, playing lounges and some shows in all different genres of music. At one point I was driving from Atlantic City to New York and back to Philly to do gigs. These three cities influenced me immensely.
FBPO: At what point did your career begin to take off?
DM: When I moved to LA.
FBPO: That must have been quite an adjustment after having lived in Philly for so long.
DM: Actually, I didn’t have a hard time adjusting at all. And the weather was great! The only thing I had a hard time with was that earthquake back in ’94. That was pretty intense and almost had me packing my bags to go back east!
My first major gig in LA was with Sheena Easton, which I auditioned for when I was still living back in Philly. After doing a few gigs with her overseas, we did a gig back in Atlantic City and, after we were done, the crew was kind enough to let me move the rest of my belongings I had in storage to LA on the truck that transported the stage, props and our gear, etc. After everything was loaded, I treated everybody to beers!
FBPO: Getting established as a musician in LA is pretty tough, to say the least. How did people find out about you?
DM: Word of mouth! Plus, I was blessed to already have the Sheena gig when I moved here and my girlfriend at the time was gigging with Rose Royce and got me an audition with them. I was working with both those groups for three years. To this day, I’m grateful that those two jobs never conflicted.
I was also playing in a lot of local clubs and doing sessions. Every week I was meeting somebody new that would turn me on to another gig situation. For example, I was playing at a local club and ran into a friend of mine from back east by the name of Johnny Friday, who, at the time, was playing drums with Tom Scott. We had a fun time playing that night. Then a week later, he called me to play on Tom’s gig and I ended up doing that off and on for two years.
In 1995, I met bassist extraordinaire and great friend Mel Brown, one of the pioneers of online recording and the use of the profile CD as a means of self-promotion. Mel showed me how to put that CD together and in a month’s time I was getting calls like crazy!
FBPO: How did you land the Tonight Show gig?
DM: I ran into Kevin Eubanks in Vegas when he was performing with his band at Caesars Palace. After his set, we got to talking and he told me he might need a sub because his bass player at that time had some prior commitments. A month later, he called me to do a couple of hits and a few months after that he called me for The Tonight Show, which we did five nights a week while continuing to tour the states with his band on the weekends.
FBPO: You had a pretty good run with that band. You must have at least one really good Tonight Show story you can share!
DM: [Laughs] There are so many cool stories that come to mind. Actually I have a Jay Leno story I was laughing about the other day. One time I was on a diet and decided to have a “splurge” day. So I went to this place called Philly’s Best, a cheesesteak spot in Burbank. I went there that night a couple of hours after the show and ordered a cheesesteak, fries and a Cherry Coke.
So I’m sitting there chilling, having a “zen” moment, and as I was putting the sandwich in my mouth to take another healthy bite, a car pulls up and it’s Jay with his assistant. I guess they were coming from his garage. Jay catches me with my mouth wide open and points to me and starts laughing because he knew I was on a diet and yells out, “Aha! Caught you!”
So he orders a cheesesteak with double meat and I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, he must really be hungry!” So he joins me at my table and when he finally got his sandwich, he inhales that thing in a matter of minutes. I just looked at him in disbelief and said, “I can’t believe how fast you just ate that sandwich!” I still had half of mine left. And he says, “That’s nothing. Check this out!” and proceeds to order another one with double meat and inhaled that one as well. I couldn’t stop laughing. I never saw anybody eat two double meats that fast ever!
FBPO: I’ve noticed that you play Sadowsky basses. When did you first discover Sadowsky?
DM: Back in the early ’90s, when he started making more 5-strings. I started seeing and hearing them a lot when I used to work in Atlantic City and New York and I remember loving the way they sounded.
FBPO: With your stature as a bass player, I’m sure you could play any kind of bass you want. What is it you like so much about Sadowsky?
DM: Every Sadowsky I own is made from such a good grade of wood. When I first played the Metro I have now, I was blown away. It was perfect! The action was just right, the neck felt great, it was so easy to play and the sound was amazing. And I hadn’t even plugged it in yet! [Laughs] And when I did, I was blown away by all the cool tone variations . Presently, I’m using it a lot with the Roland GR-55 guitar/bass synthesizer with the GK-3B Divided Bass Pickup and the innovative GruvGear FretWrap for playing live and in the studio.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busy these days?
DM: Presently, I’m working with the great Frank Gambale and one of my all-time favorite groups from the ’70s, Mandrill. They were famous for merging funk, Latin and World Music. I’ve also been doing sessions through the Internet and working on my CD project.
FBPO: What about the future? What else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?
DM: Score a couple of movies, produce more CDs, including my own, and get into some record executive duties.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
DM: An airline pilot!
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