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Being Legendary, and part of a live music resurgence

Malvernites from the Legendary Murphys discuss the band and its influences

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Despite the fact that the Long Island rock band the Legendary Murphys has been attracting crowds of over 1,500 to their Cedar Beach Hut performances this summer, band members — and Malvernites — Sandy and Tom Murphy are still blown away when strangers recognize them.

“Maybe a month ago, I walked into Nordon Pharmacy and the owner said, ‘Sandy, right? From the Legendary Murphys? Oh, I love you guys!’ she recalled. “That’s happened to me twice in the pharmacy recently.”

Over the past several years, the couple say, the band has hit new heights of popularity, spurred on by a group of talented, cohesive musicians, a play- list of more than 120 rousing classic rock songs and a resurgence of live music that Long Island hasn’t seen in more than two decades.

“Live rock music was a huge thing in the ’70s and ’80s, and then disco hit, bars started going to DJs, and then the music sunk,” said Tom, the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist. “It was kind of sad for a while.”

Sandy, who shares lead vocals and plays keyboard, agreed. “Even 10 years ago, it wasn’t a hot scene yet,” she said.

The couple attributes the resurgence to what’s happening in the lives of their audience members — mostly adults age 40 and up — who are now ready to enjoy themselves. “All of these people our age, their kids are finally grown up and out of the house,” said Tom. “It’s time to have some fun now.”

And it was fun they were definitely having earlier this month, when the band didn’t play for more than 10 minutes at the Cedar Beach Hut before the audience had their hands in the air and were singing along with the band.

Sandy said she believes the band’s audiences temporarily escape from everyday life through their music. “We long for high school days when we were in our cars, turned the radio up and heard Led Zeppelin,” she said. “It was happy time, and the music takes you right back. At this age, a lot of us are starting to lose our parents and our friends.”

Recently, Sandy found just such an escape while listening to another popular Long Island band, Uppercut. “We went to KJ Farrell’s and Uppercut started playing ‘Me and Mrs. Jones,’ and, oh, I went right back,” she said.

The Murphys, who have been married for 13 years and living in Malverne for 15, found their musical influences in Chicago, the Eagles, the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Beach Boys and much more. They share a special mutual admiration of work by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. “‘God Only Knows’ ended up being our wedding song,” Sandy said. Coincidentally, their grandmothers, who bought them their first musical instruments, also inspired both of them.

The tight musicianship of the band, the two say, is the result of all five members being like family, who would “hang together even if there wasn’t a band,” Tom said. “There’s a vibe with us that seems to work because we genuinely like each other — and people pick up on that.”

Each member brings a different musical style and taste to the group, the couple say, giving the band its edge. Lead guitarist Ralph Agresta, who toured internationally with Broadway shows, prefers Beatles music. “Ralph is like a long-lost brother,” Tom Murphy said, adding that he remembers hearing Agresta play with the band Jitterbug Jones in the 1970s. Bassist Michael Gormley brings influences from the ’80s punk scene, having performed with Talking Heads, kept company with the Ramones and Blondie and often played at CBGB, the birthplace of punk in Manhattan.

Gormley also has Malverne roots: He once ran a house-painting business in the village. “Michael probably painted three-quarters of the houses in Malverne,” Tom said, “including our neighbor’s two houses down.” He added that when he first moved to the village and was looking for a painter, his neighbor told him about Gormley, which he found rather amusing, because Gormley was coming to his house later that day for band practice.

The band’s drummer, Johnny Ottas, who lives in Vermont, makes the trip to New York each time the band has a gig, which is as often as twice a week lately. “Johnny can dynamically change our band like that,” Tom said. “He’s just one of the best drummers we’ve ever had.”

The Murphys also have high praise for their stage manager and sound engineer, Nick Nigro, and the rest of their crew.

Sandy and Tom have a fondness for the village regularly boasted about by other residents — the Holiday Lighting, the fire and police departments, the ambulance corps and Malverne’s well-known eateries. “Connolly’s — we love Connolly’s,” said Sandy. “And Uva Rossa? Good food!”

The band has nine concerts booked between now and the end of September. Several noteworthy performances include a Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day gig at Cedar Beach Hut and a charity benefit called Katie’s Koncert to benefit the Katie McBride Foundation. “I feel privileged to be able to play music,” Tom said, adding that he felt blessed to be a musician. “I really can’t see life without it.”