Murali Coryell spent years shunning his legacy.
With an affinity for languages, he toyed with the idea of becoming a translator or an academic.
Anything, he thought, but to become a musician and toil in the shadow of his father’s greatness. Because Larry Coryell is a veritable legend, a founder of jazz-fusion guitar who counted Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Buddy Guy and others as contemporaries and friends.
It proved to be an inescapable legacy for Murali Coryell — and something he ultimately came to firmly embrace.
“It was incredibly burdensome and pressured,” he said this week. “I remember being so stressed out with the pressures of all that and feeling like potentially you’re a failure if you don’t do this.”
“But it was when I fell in love with the blues and decided like, ‘You know what? This is something that, regardless of whether I succeed or don’t succeed, I have to do this.’ It wasn’t this impossible thing.”
Murali Coryell has found his own niche in music. A talented blues guitarist in his own right, he is also gifted with a soulful voice he says was inspired by Motown vocalists like WilsonPickett, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
He’ll put those talents on display on Saturday, when he takes the stage at the Towne Crier Cafe in Pawling. The show comes 10 days before the scheduled release of Sugar Lips, his latest album and sixth overall since 1995.
“It just represents artistic growth,” Coryell says of the record. “I really kind of went for it and took a chance and it worked. It totally paid off.”
Sugar Lips represents several departures for Coryell. He shared songwriting duties for the first time, and he threw himself into the Nashville recording scene, “ a place I didn’t know before.”
But he was so committed to the project that the took out a second mortgage on his home in the outskirts of Woodstock to fund it.
The album is also deeply personal, paying homage to his recently deceased mother with the track ‘Mother’s Day,’ while also embracing the music he grew up surrounded with. And he grew up with plenty.
Carlos Santana and former Cream bassist Jack Bruce both lived with the Coryells when he was a youngster. Jimi Hendrix once held him backstage at the Filmore East when he was a baby.
“I remember Miles Davis gave me a $100 bill for my tenth birthday,” he recalled. “I didn’t even realize quite who they all were. I just knew they were really important when I was a kid. I just knew they were really important people.”
None more so than his father, who plays on Sugar Lips, as does blues great Joe Louis Walker, a significant musical influence and mentor for the younger Coryell.
Father and son, of course, have recorded together before. Coryell’s third album, in fact, was The Coryells, a collaboration with his father and younger brother, Julian Coryell, an accomplished jazz guitarist himself.
The family’s musical pedigree dates even farther back: Carol Bruce, Coryell’s grandmother, was a noted Broadway singer and actress.
“The bar was raised very high,” Coryell said. “I looked at that and I said, ‘Okay, I have to try to do some great things here and make a mark.’ Carve your own thing.”
Now 40, Murali Coryell has become his own man, even as he remains very much his father’s son.
He credits blues music with providing the glue that brought those two concepts together — it became his “thing” within what is essentially the family business.
“For me, the trick and the key is to be able to be true to the spirit of the music while still trying to create something new,” he said. “Because if it’s not allowed to grow, then it’s just going to end up in a museum, and that’s not where it belongs. It’s living, breathing music.”
Today, he’s far removed from the young man who feared his father’s musical greatness.
And Sugar Lips, with its polish and musical maturity, could very well push Murali Coryell closer to his own burgeoning legacy.
“I feel like I just did my best work and I’m proud of everything I’ve done before,” he said. “I feel like even my best stuff is ahead of me. It just feels really, really good to do what you love.”
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