Congratulations to England's Cherry Red label for making available this obscure Peter Pan concept album available on CD for the first time. STRANGE NIGHT VOYAGE was recorded in May 1968 and released by A&M Records as 'SP 4149.'
The compositions of John Francis "Jack" Murphy were discovered by a St. John's University classmate, Vinny Testa. Testa was an executive of Community Productions, headed by George "Shadow" Morton. He had worked with The Shangri-Las, Janis Ian and Vanilla Fudge, and this was helpful in setting up the recording deal with A&M.
Joining Murphy (keyboards & vocals) in the Merchants were David Bumgarner (rhythm guitar), John Bumgarner (vocals), John Pizow (bass), Bobby Musac (drums) and Jeff Druck (lead guitar).
According to the liner notes, psychedlic rock, strings, harmonies and driving beats were used to create a clever parallel between Peter Pan's quest for perpetual childhood and contemporary rebellion against adult "morals" (the Generation Gap) and the Vietnam War.
Released in early 1969, neither the album nor the single ("Dorothy the Fairy Queen" & "Sing Me Life") received much promotion or recognition. After playing a few gigs, the band broke up and Murphy worked as a solo artist with Testa as producer.
Verve-Forecast issued the self-titled "J.F. MURPHY" album, and his band 'J.F. Murphy and Salt,' later renamed 'J.F. Murphy and Free Flowing Salt,' recorded for ABC-Dunhill, Columbia, MGM and Elektra.
Murphy wrote songs for numerous stage musicals, including 'The Silver Dollar,' Rudolph,' 'Zelda,' 'Carmen' and 'The Count of Monte Cristo.' His score for 'The Civil War,' written with Frank Wildhorn, was nominated for a Tony Award.
He released a rock-oriented disc, 'LIVE & LEARN,' in 2003. His current production, 'Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure,' explores childhood themes again and is scheduled to debut on Broadway during 2011.
Fans of The Association, Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Turtles and other late 1960s bands who combine vocal harmonies with adventurous psychedelic instruments should find plenty to enjoy with 'STRANGE NIGHT VOYAGE.'
It's great that after 43 years this overlooked classic gets the opportunity for rediscovery.