The year 1976 marked two very special occasions in American history: the country’s bicentennial and when 15-year-old Edward Regan Murphy would make a monumental discovery.
Alone, in his Roosevelt, Long Island bedroom, he spun a record onto his stereo and walked back over to the mirror. He held the stance. Elvis Presley’s voice filled the room, blending with Murphy’s as they crooned together. Frustrated, Murphy stopped singing halfway through. As he watched the needle groove over the vinyl, he had an epiphany.
Murphy arranged for a group of musician friends to get together after school. The boys played Elvis songs for about 10 minutes, then they glided into some funky Rufus licks. Initially, Murphy wanted a form a band to back him up during his comedy routines. Instead, it unleashed his real passion and love for music.
Eddie Murphy is one of the most popular men on the planet. After leaving Saturday Night Live, his movies — including Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hrs., Shrek, Bowfinger, and The Nutty Professor — have grossed over $6.6 billion. But few people would recognize him at home, wandering his house softly playing guitar, finding the musical hooks in Andre Boccelli’s “Rigaletto,” and spending hours on end in the music studio in his home.
This is the Eddie Murphy we found when we sat down with him to talk about his new reggae song “Oh Jah Jah,” what went wrong with that Beverly Hills Cop TV show, whether he’d ever do stand-up again, and returning to Saturday Night Live for the first time since he left in 1984.
What drew you back to music?
I never stopped recording and writing. I stopped putting stuff out, but the misconception is that I stopped making music. People keep saying “So why are you making music again after 20 years?” And I’m like, “What? I make music everyday!”
Why start your first band at age 15?
We were a bunch of black kids playing Elvis, then we started to jam into Chaka Khan. [Sings] “You’ve got the love…”. Somewhere, somebody’s got me and my shitty band on tape singing “Love me.” But we were in there trying to get it done. I initially got the band together to do music for my impressions, and it turned into a real little band for two, three years.
Will you release a reggae album?
I said I would put out an album. It would be different songs. Listen to the song I did with Snoop. Listen to “Red Light,” then “Oh Jah Jah,” then “Promise You Won’t Break My Heart,” which is a ballad, then a new age gospel song “Temporary” [on Vevo] and you’ll get the range of what I mean.
Are you going to be doing any singing on the SNL 40th Anniversary show?
No. I would imagine it’s just a bunch of clips from the last 40 years. I don’t know if they’re going to have guest sketches. I think it’s all just a look back over the last 40 years. They might have a musical guest sing something, but I can’t imagine. Everyone, the cast that has been involved with the show, [will be] in the audience; I think it’s that kind of deal.
How did you meet Rick James?
I met him when he came to Saturday Night Live as a musical guest. “Super Freak” was his hit record. I met him, we hung out. He thought I was funny because of Mr. Robinson saying “Bitch” on TV.
I read that you would do stand up again if you could combine it with music?
If I was able to be on stage again, I would want to be able to do everything that I can do on stage. I’d go out, get a band really tight, play my music for an hour, then the curtain will close and I’d do an hour of stand-up. That’s my ultimate fantasy. That’s where I see myself, one day, hopefully. There were just a hundred comics when I started doing stand-up, now there’s a hundred thousand of them. So I gotta be different. I gotta have a ball doing what I’m doing up there, too. If people want to see my stand up, they’re gonna have to sit through my fucking songs. [Laughs.]
Are you still hungry for the stage?
I stopped doing stand up when I was 29 or 28. It never goes away…that [thirst for] live performance. There’s nothing like that connection of turning out a great show and feeling connected to an audience. If you feel that, it never goes away. It’s better than being in a movie or anything.
Word is Beverly Hills Cop 4 is set to shoot in March…
I don’t think it’s gonna happen in March, but it is gonna be in Detroit. And before it happens, they’ve got to get that script right. That movie has to be right. The third Beverly Hills Cop was garbage. Those movies, when I travel overseas, people say [in a foreign accent] “Hey, Beverly Hills Cop! Axel Foley!” They call me that shit. All the movies I’ve done, and they call me that. If we do that movie, it has to be right. Not just thrown together to get a big check. I don’t need anymore of those.
How was your experience on the Beverly Hills Cop TV pilot?
I was gonna be in the pilot, and they thought I should be recurring. I’m not gonna do Beverly Hills Cop on TV. I remember when they tested it — they had this little knob that you turn if you like it or you don’t like it. So when Axel shows up in the pilot, some people turned the knob so much, they broke it. So the network decided “if he isn’t recurring, then this isn’t gonna happen.” So it didn’t happen.
Did it air?
I don’t know. I just remember seeing it in the editing room. I remember this executive, when we were doing some promo stuff; he came in and said “Hey, can you do ‘the laugh’ [mimicks his own laugh] and then say ‘I’m back?’” I said, “That’s a horrible idea. They’ll think I’ve lost my mind! Eddie Murphy done gone crazy. He’s done that stupid laugh again and said he’s back.”
What else are you working on?
I just finished a movie two weeks ago with the guy who directed Driving Miss Daisy, Bruce Beresford, called Cook. It’s really serious and sad. I play a cook who is also a musician. It’s about a guy who is hired to cook for this single mom who has a terminal disease. She’s supposed to be dying in six months, so he takes care of her and her daughter for six months, and what happens is she fights, and lives for six years. My character gets pulled into this family, this tragedy. It’s a true story and a really, really cool tearjerker.
How did it enter your orbit?
I hadn’t done a movie in almost five years. I was takin’ a break from movies. This Cook script is a little, tiny movie with a good director, something I never did before. And you just cry when you read the script. By page 10, I was just sitting in a chair crying. I was like, “Oh wow! I gotta do this movie.”
Was it heavy to take on such a dramatic role?
I’ve had serious stuff in movies before, but not where the whole thing was serious. It was something different. The director is just a real dude. He’s a real director and just wanted to make this great movie.
Maybe you’ll get an Oscar.
I don’t know about that stuff. It felt really good. It felt like we were really doing something really special.
What else is on the horizon?
I’m working on this animated film called Bodacious. It’s about a champion rodeo bull whose son is the heir apparent. His father is like the greatest rodeo bull in the history and like broke everybody’s face and neck. He’s the king of the rodeo and it’s a story about an over achieving dad who wants his son to be just like him, and [the son] who wants to do his own thing. It’s from the animal’s perspective.
How did you create that concept?
I was watching the rodeo. I was like “This shit is crazy!” Bodacious was actually a real bull back in the ’80s. Bodacious was fucking people up! In the rodeo, if there’s a bull you can’t ride ‘em, it’s like a superstar bull. It’s the one sport where the animal gets to break a person apart. It’s like the animal’s revenge. If he breaks somebody into a thousand pieces, he gets to go out in the pasture, people get rich off him, they put him out to stud, and they get to breed him. I saw some of the preliminary drawings two weeks ago; it’s not going to be out for two, three years. I’m doing it with Paramount. It’s going to be really special.
Are you just producing?
I’m producing and I’ll be the voice of Bodacious. We had to go buy the rights from the people that owned the original Bodacious. It was this old southern lady and she was like, “We saw another [animated] movie that came out with bulls, and they didn’t have any balls. Bulls have balls!” That was her one prerequisite: That if we did this movie, the bulls have balls. I don’t know…this is a family film. This little old lady is gonna be like “Where are the balls in this cartoon?!”
When do you find time to make music with your busy schedule?
I’m going into the studio today and working on a reggae song, but I’m not putting out a reggae album. [Laughs] We put “Oh Jah Jah” on iTunes last Tuesday and it got well received, so we got all reggae crazy and were like “Hey man, that other track that we didn’t finish, let’s finish a track called “One Of These Nights.”
Top three favorite songs of all time. Go.
The Beatles, “Hey Jude.” It’s hard to pick a favorite Beatles song. I love Paul’s melodies, but I like John’s cynicism. The Beatles are my favorite.
Bob Marley, “Stir It Up.” It’s a super sexy song. You know that’s a seduction song to Rita, right? “Stir it up” is supposed to be your hips stirring it up. There’s the lyrics: “I’ll push the wood and blaze the fire, I’ll satisfy your hearts desire. Yes, I’ll stir it, girl, every minute, all you got to do baby, is keep it in it. Stir it up.” It’s just this sexy track and you might not even realize what he’s sayin’. It’s sexy rasta shit.
Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On.” There’s a couple of them, but gotta go with this one.
Each one of The Beatles is incredible. They all had that star shit. Just four dudes. You know the most incredible thing about The Beatles? Their whole run is only six years. They came out in ’63 and broke up in 1969 and the world is still vibrating from their music.
Have you met any of the Beatles?
I met Ringo when he hosted Saturday Night Live. I hung out with Paul a couple times. He was doing a fundraiser for the high school that he went to and he reached out to people to make donations. I met him that way. I asked him if he would sing on my song, [“Yeah,”] and he says [In Paul’s voice] “Yeah, sure!” We went out to London to his farm and kinda hit it off with him. We went to see him in the States a couple of times. My most surreal evening is having dinner with Paul McCartney and me driving, having [him] in the back seat [in McCartney’s voice] “Hey, where are we going?” I was like “Where are we going? I’m fucking trippin’!” No security, no nothin’: Just me, our wives and McCartney driving around. It’s like the whole night just turned into a blur.
He’s one of your heroes…
The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, and Richard Pryor, anybody in that group right there turns me into goofy fan.
Were you friends with Richard Pryor?
No, not friends. Richard was much older than me. Richard did stuff…I never did the stuff that Richard was doing, like substance abuse and he was an older dude, so we never hung out socially. As a comedian, he was the ultimate. I worship him.
Did you have a relationship with Bill Cosby?
I never knew him socially. I just kinda know him from the business.
What’s your take on the recent allegations against him?
I don’t have an opinion. I just think it’s all very sad.
What’s your favorite Elvis song? You know what’s interesting about Elvis songs? I don’t know if I like the song, I just like Elvis. If anyone else was singing that song “Polk Salad Annie,” I’d be like “get the fuck outta here with that ‘Polk Salad Annie.’” You know it’s a trip that they call Elvis “The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll”? I think Elvis is a country artist. He started out in rock ‘n’ roll, but his whole career with the white jump suits, that’s country. He’s “The King of Country.” Rockers are nothing like Elvis. “The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” is Mick Jagger. That’s who’s been around the longest, got all the hits, is in the baddest rock band ever. I saw Jagger a year ago, and he hasn’t lost a fucking step. Seventy-two, on stage, and turning it out.
Would you go on tour with just your music?
In the early days I used to do all that stuff. When I was touring stand up, it was big as any rock band. It was a big giant tour. So I’ve been a part of all of that. I did that. I’m sure, if I had gone into music, I would have been travelling around and doing it all [anyway]. If music was the main thing I was known for, I would have been this dude with a band who is real funny. [Laughs] That little banter that people have between songs, they’d say, “He always crackin’ jokes, I wish he’d play a song! I’m here to hear “Oh Jah Jah,” I don’t want to hear no impressions!”
If you could do your career different would you have launched as a musician?
I am a musician. I’m just known for being funny.