When Elvis was King, Murphy ruled

The Murfreesboro Post, Erin Edgemon

Elvis at Murphy

Elvis Presley, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, The Who, The Beach Boys and Garth Brooks; all are legendary musicians who have sold millions of records.

But there’s something else that these performers have in common.

They all performed at Murphy Center on the MTSU campus during the height of their careers.

From 1973 through 1995, Murphy Center was Middle Tennessee’s premier indoor concert venue.

After the opening of the Sommet Center (then the Nashville Arena) in Nashville in 1996, Murphy Center has rarely been used as a music venue. The Sommet Center can hold up to 20,000 people for concerts, a number Murphy Center couldn’t compete with.

Founding director of MTSU Student Programming Harold Smith said Murphy Center was the largest indoor venue in the Nashville area until 1996 with a capacity of just over 12,000, and it could generate the revenues promoters and artists required at that time.

“That is pretty much what sold Murphy Center,” Smith said.

At the time, Murphy Center was at the mercy of the regional promoters who booked the concerts. During Murphy Center’s peak, a typical tour route was Louisville, MTSU and then Atlanta, or Charlotte, Knoxville, MTSU and then Memphis.

But to get on that route MTSU had to prove it had a viable venue especially when the stage crew was mostly made up of students.

“The thing that cinched it was Elvis Presley,” Smith said.

The King

Elvis, one of the best-loved performers in the world, performed five times at Murphy Center to soldout crowds.

And unlike most concerts, the rows were filled with families: grandparents, parents and children who wanted to get a glimpse of the King of Rock and Roll.

Smith remembers fans flashing pictures from the front to the back of the venue and women rushing to the stage screaming.

Tickets to the first Elvis concert on March 14, 1974 went on sale two months in advance. It sold out in one day.

Smith referred to Elvis as a “friendly kind of guy,” but he thought it was strange how worked up and excited he got before a show.

But when Elvis hit the stage following the intro to “2001: A Space Odyssey” it was magic.

“When he came out and did the ‘2001’ thing, the hair stood up on the back of my neck,” recalled Chris Shofner, an MTSU student at the time. “There was definite star power there. He put on an incredible show.”

Jere Chessor remembers his parents seeing Presley in concert.

“Like any woman at that time, my mom was just in heaven,” he said. “She was just swooning when they got home. She remarked about how gorgeous he was. She was just in heaven.”

Smith remembered the diamond rings Elvis wore on his fingers. As Presley was preparing to take the stage, Smith watched as Joe Esposito, Elvis’ road manager, wrapped fresh-colored tape over Elvis’ knuckles.

Smith learned that he did this before every show so fans couldn’t pull off his jewelry when he put his hands in the crowd.

The Who

The Who concert Nov. 25, 1975 was what put Murphy Center on the map for rock and roll concerts.

“I bought tickets the day they came on sale,” said Chessor, who skipped class at Motlow State Community College to buy tickets to the show.

He managed to buy tickets eight rows from the front.

“It was unbelievable that they would come to Murfreesboro,” Chessor said, remembering how “sparkling and new” Murphy Center was at the time.

What Chessor remembers most about the concert was lead singer Roger Daltrey’s high-energy stage performance.

“Roger Daltrey was really dynamic,” he said. “He must really have been high or something.

“It was just incredible,” Chessor added.

A review of the concert written in the 1976 MTSU yearbook, The Midlander, said the “concert had been greatly anticipated by most everyone.

“Tiny, penetrating light rays of red and green panned out across the darkened Murphy Center. Fans stood in awe waiting for something more.”

Shofner recalled that The Who was touring on the release of their seventh album “By Numbers.”

“They only did two or three shows in the states and that was one of them,” he said of the Murphy Center show. The Who were testing out the show in Murfreesboro.

Shofer said it was really unusual to have a band like The Who in a town like Murfreesboro.

“It was a hell of a show,” he said.

Other legendary shows

Everyone from Bob Hope, John Denver, Tina Turner, Journey, Styx, Billy Joel and George Strait performed at Murphy Center.

Chessor sat four rows back for the Styx concert June 29, 1983.

“You could see the sweat coming off of (frontman) Dennis DeYoung,” he said.

Chessor also recalled seeing Seals & Crofts perform Oct. 30, 1976. He saw George Strait play in the round April 7, 1995.

The Midlander from 1977 called Seals & Crofts three-hour show “a hell-rousing performance.”

Smith said Journey caused the biggest reaction of any concert on the MTSU campus when tickets first went on sale for the April 14, 1983 show.

“When we put tickets on sale at the box office, the line for tickets completely circled the top of Murphy Center twice,” he said.

That line formed five days before tickets were scheduled to go on sale.

Shofner saw Linda Ronstandt perform Oct. 18, 1975. He recalled a relatively short show, which she closed by saying “Goodnight Vanderbilt.”

Crosby, Stills & Nash performed “Teach Your Children Well” as an encore to their concert, Shofner said.

“Everyone knew the song. About halfway through the song (Crosby, Stills & Nash) basically stopped playing and the whole crowd was singing the words.

“That was an experience,” he said.

Wendy Bryant was a student at MTSU when she saw Garth Brooks perform one of the five times he played Murphy Center.

“It was actually one of the best shows that I have ever seen,” she said. “He was really energetic and he connected with everyone in the arena.”

Bryant also remembers passing up tickets to see The Judds Farewell Concert, which was broadcast on television from Murphy Center, Dec. 4, 1991.

Tammi Brumfield, who was an MTSU student at the time, remembers working as a seat filler for the The Judds Farewell.

“One of the things I remember most vividly about that show is sitting in the back of the venue behind a couple of big monitors and being amazed at how much bigger the venue looked on those screens than it did sitting inside of it,” she said.

Brumfield also remembers catching ZZ Top Sept. 18, 1991 and Rush Feb. 23, 1994.

Joey Mears, of Murfreesboro, remembers seeing Pearl Jam March 26, 1994. He had general admission floor seats.

“I fought my way up to the front and hung on to the barricade,” he said.

What Mears remembers most about the show is the double guitar smash just before the encore.

“I had hair fill of splinters,” Mears said.

Mears also saw Bon Jovi, White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails.

“One of my biggest memories (from the Nine Inch Nails show) was one of my friends came and leaned on me, and she passed out. I thought I should help her, but I didn’t want to miss any of the show.”

Erin Edgemon can be reached at 869-0812 and at eedgemon@murfreesboropost.com.

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