Iowa Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame to induct Murren
The Iowa Rock n’ Roll Music Association Hall of Fame Class of 2023 will include Southwest Iowa’s own John Murren.
Murren, was born in Red Oak and grew up in Elliott, where he still lives. Murren is one of two nominees in the promoter category. Murren has been serving as a music promoter for the past 25 years. Prior to his 25-year career in music promotion, Murren said he worked a regular day job as an examiner for the State of Iowa.
“I was a grain warehouse examiner, and I’ve worked in every county in the state in that role. I also worked in Kansas City and Omaha, to a variety of little towns that had elevators,” Murren said.
In most of the towns, the only place to eat was at the local bar, which proved to be valuable when he started doing music promotion while maintaining his auditor role.
“I’d walk in, and see a stage, and ask them if they booked bands. If the answer was yes, I’d give them a promo kit. I was working four 10-hour days, so I was able to do a fair amount of promotion on the road and during weekends. I carried them around with me and got a lot of results with that. Later on, I worked in three places in Sioux City on a revolving basis, and I worked at numerous places in Omaha,” commented Murren.
Murren had no prior history in music, and said it was actually his son, John Murren II, who was with the band Hurricane Annie, that started his journey into music promotion.
“I bought them some equipment, and they were doing shows at Kelly’s in Clarinda. I went down one day to see how they sounded, and I wasn’t thrilled. The guy running sound wasn’t that experienced, and so I told them that I’d get pro-quality equipment, book them shows, and run the whole thing, and they agreed,” Murren explained.
From promoting that band, Murren said more doors opened and other opportunities came his way.
“Other bands would come on their off nights to see Hurricane Annie, and they’d like the show, and the lights, and it just evolved into working for these other bands. They’d call me up and I’d go do a show for them. Personally, I can’t play any instrument, and I can’t sing, so I just learned how to be a promoter and a soundman on the fly, and got better and better. Being a promoter also involves a lot of telephone calls,” Murren stated.
For the past several years, Murren said things have slowed down a little due to closures from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID was hard on bars and live music. The ones that made it through COVID don’t have the money to hire bands anymore. The places that had live music didn’t make it through. Anyone remaining has overhead exceeding its income, and they have to get back to even or better before they can have a band. I got in probably at the peak, and have ridden it all the way through, playing at all the good places in Omaha,” Murren explained. “It’s starting to recover, but I don’t think it will ever reach the level it was before COVID.”
Murren added he’s done music promotion in roughly 168 towns, working as a soundman and/or booker with Rumor Has It, Taxi Driver, Captain Obvious, Farmer Ted, Hurricane Annie, and Skinny Webb. Some of the bands Murren booked opened for nationals such as Eddie Money, Rick Derringer, Vixen, Molly Hatchet, and Quiet Riot.
Part of the soundwork includes a lot of heavy lifting, and while he started off by himself, he now works with a partner.
“There was a kid named James Schlup. We all call him Jimmy James. He started working for me when he was 17 years old. He’s been helping me for 17 years. First it was just grunt labor, and then he started learning the set-up, and now he can do it all. He mixes once in a while. He’s a musician too, and can play the bass guitar and regular guitar.”
One interesting tidbit about running sound, Murren said, was that in concerts that involve multiple bands, the sound is different for each performance.
“The third band can only play at a certain decibel level. The second band can play at a higher decibel level, but when the headliner gets up there, that’s when things really get rocking,” stated Murren.
Murren praised one of the singers he worked with for helping him secure the nomination to the Hall of Fame.
“The singer went to see Bill Hillman in Shenandoah. He’s on the board. He went to bat for us, and pitched it, sold it, and they took it,” Murren said. “I didn’t get into this for accolades, I did it to help my son out. Based on the level I’m at, I’d say being nominated to the Iowa Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is probably the top of the mountain for me. Financially. I’ll never make back what I’ve got in my equipment, but you can’t put a price on being able to do it, and getting praise from people that talk about how great everything sounded, and that we didn’t overplay the room. It’s turned into something I really love.”
Murren, who is 77 now, said Schlup’s efforts, as well as others, are the main reason he’s been able to keep going.
“Being 77, there are some issues, and now he can run everything and I can sit by and watch him. If I think something needs changed, I’ll tell him, and he’ll change it, and I think sometimes when I’m not looking he’ll change it back. But Jimmy James has definitely helped contribute to the longevity of my career as a promoter, and having people appreciate you certainly helps keep me going as well. Jimmy James can do everything but drive the pickup, and I enjoy doing the booking. It’s been good to me,” advised Murren.
Murren also issued praise to prior inductee Kirk “Skinny” Webb, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I’ve worked with him, and he’s an incredible guitar player. He’s kind of a hired gun now, and plays with different bands every night and all over different areas,” commented Murren.
Murren will be joined at the Hall of Fame ceremony by his son, John Murren II, and his wife, Julie Murren, as well as his grandson, Jack Murren.
The Iowa Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023 induction will take place during labor day weekend this year. On Aug. 31, A Rock The Roof concert will be held. On Sept. 1, a special concert will be held in the Roof Garden with 1964 – The Tribute, who are being inducted. Sept. 2 will feature the opening ceremony and guitar marching band, autograph party, Iowa Rocks talent contest, and an inductee meet and greet. The weekend culminates on Sept. 3 with the induction ceremony and concert.
For more details or ticket information, visit iowarocknroll.com.