Charles Shaar Murray: the greatest music journalist in Britain

Charles Shaar Murray: “The rock critics’ rock critic.”

According to Rock’s Back Pages, Charles Shaar Murray is “the rock critics’ rock critic” (Q Magazine), “front-line cultural warrior” and “original gunslinger” (Independent on Sunday). CSM is the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award-winning author of Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix And Postwar Pop (Canongate), and Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century (Canongate), later short-listed for the same award. Highlights of the first two decades of his journalism, criticism and vulgar abuse were collected in Shots From The Hip (Penguin and now an ebook from Aaaargh! Press). He’s been appearing regularly in print for over four decades, and has long been recognised as one of the most admired stylists in British pop-cultural journalism.

He made his print debut in 1970, participating in the notorious ‘Schoolkids’ Issue of OZ magazine. By 1972, he was a staff writer, eventually becoming Associate Editor, on NME for most of the 1970s. He also subsequently contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Independent On Sunday, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The [London] Evening Standard, New Statesman, Literary Review, Prospect, Rolling Stone, Vogue, The Face, Arena, Q, Mojo (as a founding contributor to both of the last two), The Word, The Big Issue, MacUser, Guitarist, Guitar Player, Guitar World, Classic Rock, Classic Rock Presents The Blues … and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Over the years, Murray has interviewed many cultural icons including, among others, Miles Davis, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Bob Marley, Pete Townshend, Joe Strummer (and the rest of The Clash), Johnny Rotten (and the rest of the Pistols), George Harrison, JG Ballard, Alan Moore, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, William Gibson, Patti Smith, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Michael Moorcock, Elton John, The Ramones, Muddy Waters, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Bobby Bland, Spike Lee, Stan Lee and Christopher Lee. (He’s still waiting to complete the latter set by interviewing Ang Lee and Stewart Lee, and regrets never having had the opportunity to interview Bruce Lee.)

He’s also written and presented BBC radio shows on Lenny Bruce, Frank Zappa, Jaco Pastorius, Moondog and the history of jazz guitar; worked both in front of and behind the camera for the Dancing In The Streets and Seven Ages Of Rock TV series, and supplied quality punditry to innumerable radio and TV shows, including frequent appearances on Channel 4 News, BBC2 Newsnight and BBC World Service radio and TV.

Despite having played guitar and harmonica since his teens, he didn’t get serious about performing until the punk era, headlining the London club circuit and opening shows for (among others) The Clash, The Boomtown Rats, The Damned, Wilko Johnson, Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe’s Rockpile, The Pirates and Joe Jackson as frontman for Blast Furnace & The Heatwaves. He currently sings and plays guitar alongside harmonica maestro Buffalo Bill Smith for London blues band Crosstown Lightnin’, has written songs and played live with singer/songwriter Peter Conway, jammed on harmonica with Wilko Johnson at the launch of Julien Temple’s Dr Feelgood documentary Oil City Confidential and recently participated in a Blast Furnace reunion show … playing an hour-long set with his old rockin’ homies after thirty-plus years apart and nine hours of rehearsal.

His first novel, The Hellhound Sample, was published by HeadPress in  2011. He currently writes, performs, talks and broadcasts from a variety of platforms, teaches his acclaimed Hothouse Project writing course in Journalism as Craft and Art and continues to uphold the countercultural values of his youth.

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“The best and near enough the last of his incendiary generation of English music-writers, Charlie Murray’s fuse-wire frame represents a living branch of counter-cultural history, bushy with hipster erudition and an insightful compassion that is practically his trademark. From his origins as a subversive High Court school-kid, through his tenure at the NME during its most exhilarating era to his brilliantly-wrought and crackling studies of Hendrix and Hooker and his vinyl-noir fictions, he’s provided the endlessly smart, informed and funny commentary for two or three generations of young would-be bohemians trying to penetrate the tinsel undergrowth of pop in search of a functioning underground. A genuinely sweet man who has written with heart, clarity and energy about legends to the point where he’s become one, and one of the few individuals older than thirty who has earned the inalienable right to wear a leather jacket, Charles Shaar Murray is an ornament of his profession and his epoch. Cool as a Bose-Einstein condensate.”
Alan Moore

“front-line cultural warrior” and “original gunslinger” Independent on Sunday

“The Johnny Cash of rock journalism” Phil Campbell – Motorhead

“A master of the comic one-liner”
Mark Ellen

“Charles Shaar Murray was always the best read”
Tony Visconti

“The New Musical Express was one of the big things in my life … there was outrageous writing by Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent and, later, Julie Burchill — what they were writing was unbelievable! The NME was so important for lonely suburban kids. It was a lifeline” Danny Boyle

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