[Interview] Glen "Doc" Murdock of Mother's Finest

When I was 16-years-old in 1978 I moved to small town Georgia from San Antonio, Texas.  There I was, some city kid suddenly sitting in rural Georgia thinking that I was like “IT.” Those rural Georgia kids didn’t know shit. They rarely went to concerts and didn’t even know half of the bands that I knew.

I had been to concerts where Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Muddy Waters, ZZ Top, Rush, and many others performed. Auditoriums where the smoke hung thick in the air and cops walked past all the tokers and merely shrugged; as long as you were cool, they were cool. It was the age of stadium concerts that cost $6.50 and albums cost $7.00. It was a time for music that will forever be unequaled.

San Antonio, thanks to a guy named Joe Anthony who ran KISS KMAC radio, was a Mecca in the 70s for up and coming rock bands, and I prided myself on owning their albums and having seen many of them in concert: Moxy, Budgie, Garfield, Mahogany Rush. But now here I  was in Georgia riding dirt roads with some greasy teenage boy who was driving a barely running ’67 Chevy. But the car had a cassette player.  The boy picked a cassette up from the dash, shoved it in the player, and told me to hold on to my ears.  That’s how I discovered Mother’s Finest, and he was right; I had to hold onto my ears because Mother’s Finest’s music took rock to an entirely new level. I went out three days later and bought their album, Another Mother Further. Maybe these Georgia kids did know a thing or two.

Since then I have re-bought that album and other Mother’s Finest albums like Mother Factor and Looks Could Kill in several formats: LP. cassette, CD, mp3. Mother’s Finest, to this day, is rock with no boundaries.  They don’t just push the musical envelope; they tear that mother completely apart and scatter the pieces to the wind and dare anyone to throw them back.

I’m much older now than 1978 and age has brought a certain cockiness. Three weeks ago I contacted Mother’s Finest’s manager and asked if I could interview the band before their March concerts in Athens, Savannah, and Macon, Georgia.  To my astonishment she put me in touch with Glenn “Doc” Murdock, one of the founders and vocalists, along with his wife Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy, of Mother’s Finest. What followed was a look behind the scenes of Mother’s Finest and a conversation with Glenn “Doc” Murdock that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, I’ll be in a nursing home someday drooling on my adult bib telling everyone, “I interviewed Glenn “Doc” Murdock.  Now bring me my Ensure, dammit!”

I must confess to one embarrassing incident of the interview: after I told Glenn goodbye I clicked off my recorder, jumped in the air, fist pumped, and let loose an ear piercing fangirl squeal. It wasn’t until I heard Glen Murdock’s voice over the speaker phone ask, “Hey, Joyce, did you hear what she just did?” that I realized I hadn’t hung up the phone. So much for cool.   

I’m talking with Glen Doc Murdock one of the founding members, along with Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy, of the rock band Mother’s Finest. Hello, Mr. Murdock, thank you so much for speaking with me. As a long time fan I have a lot of questions, but first how has Mother’s Finest evolved as a band since the first album in 1972?

Murdock: Good question and because of the age of the band, we have different outlooks on whether we should evolve or if we should just stay where we are which is old school. And that’s something we deal with more than trying to find out where we’re at right now and maybe even a little bit confused about the direction we should take. But saying that, we, Joyce and I especially, we just can’t stand still. We just can’t say that we’re going to do the old stuff and that’s going to be good enough. We like making new music. We’re always evolving.  We can’t sit still. That’s boring.

I can tell that by watching you guys perform on stage. There’s not a second that something isn’t happening on that stage. And you brought up new work. I was just listening to the Goody 2 Shows and the Filthy Beast album and I have to ask. Who is Goody 2 Shoes and who is the Filthy Beast?

(laughs) Joyce would say she’s Goody 2 Shoes and we are the Filthy Beasts. It defines what the group is, how we are. When I say Filthy Beast, I mean the guys, and especially with her dynamic and having to be in a band with all guys, she has to be sort of Goody 2 Shoes to keep us focused and keep us where we are.

One song on the latest album Goody 2 Shoes and the Filthy Beast is I Don’t Mind. That song  has a bit of a salsa feel. Who came up with that?

The intent is to always do what we like. Mo (guitarist Gary “Moses Mo” Moore) wrote the song. I helped him a little bit, the lyrics, and that’s what it sounded like. He found the loop and he went with it, and of course when we produced the thing we just went with it. And the last part, which is my favorite part, where it goes ta da da ta da da, it reminds me of a Stevie Wonder type thing with a bit Santana and we went with that. And that’s one I want to remix someday too.

Joyce has been a role model for a lot of young women, especially the 70s and 80s when women were finally getting out of the house, into careers, and taking some control over their lives and futures. And we had someone like Joyce to look up to. There weren’t a lot of women in rock and roll back then. We went to Mother’s Finest concerts and there’s this woman on stage who was so strong and focused.

Yes, she’s a force. It’s difficult trying to keep up with her. It’s a job within itself. I feel privileged to have worked with and known her for a majority of my life.  We were talking about it this morning. It’s great, and there’s just one word to describe what you’re saying; fantastic. Even if I were out in the audience I can’t describe how I feel watching her on stage, night after night. YOU (the audience) see her once in awhile, but she’s like that at every show.  And she does it with the same spirit that she’s always had. I don’t think her spirit has diminished even just a little bit, as a matter of fact even more so. And yes, it’s amazing. After all these years and she’s still able to maintain. And we know all the secrets (laughs).

There’s a song on Goody 2 Shoes where she sings “Where do you get off trying to tell me what to do?” I think I’m going to have that made into a bumper sticker (laughs).

Yeah, that’s the Me Too part of it. Talking about the power of women and she’s always talked about that, as a matter of fact. There’s another song we’ve started doing again called Power and it says all those things, and we said, “Let’s do that again” because now it’s time.

There is one thing I’m so excited about as a Mother’s Finest fan. I’ve gone to D.C. quite often to visit and play tourist, but I’ve never been able to get into the Smithsonian’s African American History Museum because you have to get tickets months in advance, but Mothers Finest is represented in that museum. That has got to be such an honor. You guys are there with Etta James, Ma Rainey, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters. How did the museum contact the band about this and what was your reaction?  

D.C. has always been sort of a special place to us, to be quite honest. Twenty years ago we played Howard University and I can’t even remember the names of all the other places we played in D.C., but they were steadfast as Mother’s Finest fans. There was a woman who was actually  in the Obama administration who would come out to the shows, and another woman I remember was in the Secret Service of all things. One of these was a woman that demanded that Mother’s Finest had to be included in the museum. She’s been a friend for a long time. I mean a very long time, but she just made it happen. She said, “I’m going to make it happen. You guys deserve it and you need to be there.” I asked her, “Why do you think we need to be there?’  She said just so people can ask, not just about the immensely successful ones like James Brown and Little Richard and all those people, but about the ones who had to struggle.

The ones who had to set their sights and how they figured out how they wanted to do their music and made no compromises. And we’re satisfied where we’re at right now. It’s still a struggle. We don’t mind it because that’s how life’s supposed to be. I mean, it’s not supposed to be lackadaisical and laid back. It’s supposed to be on fire. And we accept that. And we’re happy about being included in the museum and I hope you do get a chance to go see that. We have to update it too. It was a great honor for us.

You can’t fit Mother’s Finest into any certain genre. Do you think by not being able to fit the band into a genre box artistically that that is what has kept the band grounded and given you guys more freedom to experiment musically?

 Of course, it’s freedom. We got to be free to make the music we want, but that was always our attitude.  It might have been a hindrance in some cases, and I can tell you that it definitely was, because when you can’t be fit into a box it can become confusing to the industry, especially back  when we were doing our thing, you had to be in a certain category, you know?  You couldn’t be running around willy nilly unless you were a huge force like English music, and it came out that many groups were doing the same thing. They were changing and experimenting. But we were in a whole genre by ourselves.

But people were afraid we were going to change what other bands were and that they might try doing the same type of music we were playing, way outside the box,. That meant that the industry wasn’t pushing us as hard as they could have. They made a lot of promises, but we traveled the line too much and we were torn between black music and white music and you know now, uh, retro music and modern music, but for some reason we liked being there. It’s comfortable for us. It’s what we do.

I wish they would get rid of the labels and it just be music, you know? That’s what I like about Mother’s Finest. One song could be heavy metal and rocking and the next one has more funk in it and you never know what to expect from Mother’s Finest and that has kept me interested in the band all these years.

Are any of the band members from Georgia?

We made Georgia our home. We made Atlanta our home, but we’re from Chicago, Kettering, Ohio which is close to Dayton. Miami, Florida. B.B. (Barry “B.B Queen” Borden) is from Tennessee and Michael is from Durham and then we have Winston Salem. We’re from all over the place.

What was it that pulled you to Atlanta?

Atlanta was just the coolest place to be. Joyce and I went to Dayton, Ohio because we had left Chicago and went to Dayton with the intent of staying. We felt like we couldn’t go back to Chicago and then things just happened. We just follow our path. That’s all. And then we decided we were going to take a ride all the way down to Miami where we knew some people who wanted to start a band. When we got there they weren’t really pleased. Somebody had told them we were white, you know, and then we showed up and we were black and we’re going,  “Oh well.” (laughs) We were kind of stuck down there and Mo was up in Ohio and we called him and said, “We gotta start a band” and he said, “I’ll be right down.” He jumped into his hoopty, and it was a hoopty for real, and he came down there.

So then we had another guy, a drummer from Dayton, and Mo (Gary “Moses Mo” Moore, but we didn’t have a bass player so Wyzard  (Jerry Seay) was living down there and we were trying to get his brother to play with us but then his brother had just came from Vietnam and he didn’t want to start a band; he wanted to start a family. But Wyzard’s brother turned us on to Wyzard and that was it. That was the nucleus: Joyce and I and Wyzard and Mo and  a guy named Douglas.

Then Douglas had to join the service. He got drafted and had to leave. Then we met our then manager, Hugh Rogers. Hugh was from Atlanta, Georgia and he said y’all need to come to Atlanta because this is where you’re going to be able to sorta get on, and he was right. There was Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wet Willie, and all the clubs were opening up and everybody came through there. Anybody you could name back then came through Richards or the Electric Ballroom.  So, we found it to be the most comfortable place for us.  

I was leery, I’m from Chicago see, Joyce is not from Chicago, I was scared to come south to tell you the truth. Back then, but I had no problems whatsoever.  I fell in love with the place as soon as we got here. So we just sort of put down roots, you know, put down our roots here in Atlanta. We had to go to California for awhile, when some of us started going solo a bit, but then we came right back here. It’s really the best place for us.

Here’s a question I ask myself a lot. If you could go back in time to 1972 what industry music advice or any advice would you give yourself?

That’s a good question. It would just be the little things. Learn how to play piano, because I’ve never been a musician. I tried but I’ve always been just the stone wagon and the singer. Same thing with Joyce. We always just let the guys make the music. I wouldn’t have changed, like chunking it onto one thing and staying there.  And the music business, you know? What happened is that through the internet things changed drastically as far as music is concerned.

A better answer to the question would be, I don’t know, I forget how old I was in ’72, but if I could be the same age today as back then I would be killing it because those boundaries are not there, the racism is not as common as it was back then, in my head especially.  There’s a lot more freedom now. Freedom in music. Easier to cross the line and the color thing, as far as people are concerned. I would just tell my younger self to just hang in there.

So, more or less, that it’s going to be okay?

Yeah, it’s going to be fine. I wouldn’t change too much just because of what I have right now. I wouldn’t advise me to change. I’m satisfied with my life and if I had messed with it too much I might not have ended up where I am today, which is very satisfactory.

That’s a great answer. I need to learn to live by that.   I’m looking forward to seeing Mothers Finest perform in Macon March 16th. And you guys are doing a gig in Savannah on March 14 and one on March 15 in Athens before heading out on a European tour.

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