Stacey Murray says, “I was three years old, but I remember like it was yesterday.” She is sitting at a small table at Upstart Crow, the bookstore/coffee shop in Seaport Village. Her dark coppery skin glows in the sunshine that’s streaming through the window. She smiles and, sensing my incredulity, looks me right in the eye. “I do remember. My mother leaned down and whispered in my ear. She said, ‘Stacey don’t embarrass me.’”
Her mother, the church choir director, had dressed her little girl in a brand new dress that she had sewn for her the night before. She directed her to step to the front of the church and at the head of the congregation the very young Stacey gave her first musical performance. “I sang ‘You Are My Sunshine,’” she says.
Today Stacey Murray is one of the top soul singers in San Diego. Performing with three bands, she regularly rocks out or souls out in Pacific Beach, Seaport Village, and other Southern California locales. She was a featured vocalist for the San Diego Museum of Arts 2010 Concert Series. And with Facebook and YouTube broadcasting her talents worldwide, she has gained fans and followers in 87 countries.
Before we go any further, let me say that I perform in one of Murray’s bands and have known her for at least four years. Aside from the familiarity of working together, she’s a friend, so I will dispense with the journalistic convention of referring to her by her surname.
As I talk to Stacey at Upstart Crow, sharing our experiences of music and our time together, the coffee shop is typically quiet. A fellow who looks a lot like Julian Assange plays checkers with a young woman, while others mill about checking out the self-help books and the bestsellers. Once a month, more or less, for the last four years this quietude is broken. Drums, keyboards, bass, and electric guitar wail behind Stacey. As Stacey and the Soul Stimulators, we set up in the area bordered by the philosophy and nonfiction sections. Between Kierkegaard and Malcolm Gladwell, Stacey and the band perform some of the hits of the last 60 to 70 years, songs from the Beatles, Ray Charles, Broadway, and just about anything else with a great beat and a good lyric.
Formed during the first days of the Obama administration, the band was originally called Stacey and the Stimulus Package and was a pretty different organization back then. We played acoustic instruments: mandolin, guitar, and upright bass. And while we performed a variety of tunes, including Broadway show tunes, jazz classics, and even a rocker or two, the overall sound of the band was something along the lines of Hayseed Dixie, bluegrassy but tweaked around quite a bit.
In time the band slowly evolved. The guitar became electric. Drums replaced the mandolin, and I switched from my upright to the bass guitar. “The Soul Stimulators are a soul rockin’ band,” says Stacey. “We do all the genres of pop, from country to reggae, to jazz and blues, all with a soulful touch.” The current lineup includes Robbie Meyers on guitar, Dave Gietzen on keyboards, Tim Rutherford on Drums, and I play the bass.
Stacey was born in Cleveland, Ohio but spent most of her childhood in Locust Grove, Georgia, a burg of 5,000 souls about a half hour’s drive south of Atlanta. She sang in the church choir and the school choir. In school she excelled at music. “In my class competitions I was always number one. In chorus I always got a 100 all the time! I never got that kind of score in any other class,” she says. In junior high she branched out from church music and the school choir, joining a girl group that won several talent contests. Their signature song was “I Like” by DeBarge.
After high school, Stacey continued singing. While still in her hometown she joined an R&B band called Mind Over Matter when she was 21. She says, “This was my first experience with seasoned musicians and, though I was not with them for a very long time, it was a real good influence on me. I really admired their dedication. We practiced four days a week from seven ’til midnight.”
Her experience with recording goes back to when she joined an all-girl group named Sassy. “We won every talent competition we were in,” she says. “And it was in that band that I learned how to write songs. The other girls in the group were writing their own songs and one day one of them said to me, ‘You got music, just write it down.’ That’s all it took. I started writing my own songs, and since then I’ve probably written a couple hundred songs.”
For Stacey the melody comes first. Then the music inspires the lyric. “I keep a recorder with me, so when I come up with an idea I can just sing it into the recorder – the melody, the words, the different parts of the song,” she says. “I can hear it all. I can hear the drums, the bass, the keyboards, and I sing the parts into the recorder.” Besides writing for herself, Stacey has also produced lyrics and music for other rappers and singers.
I’ve played music off and on since I was in high school. Although I’ve been lucky enough to perform with some amazingly talented folks, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen fans so enthusiastic about a performer as they can be with Stacey. Following are a few things that folks have said in the past couple of years about Stacey and her music:
I run a music school in Germany. I am in charge of a hundred instructors. You are better than all of them.
– A visitor from Europe after listening to Stacey at the Upstart Crow
It’s been years since I’ve been happy. Tonight you have brought me such happiness.
– A recent visitor at the Upstart Crow
Well first, I love her as a person. She’s a wonderful friend. As to her singing, I’ve been all over the world. I grew up in New York and lived in Hong Kong and Stacey has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. She blows me away every time I hear her.
Well, her voice is amazing. And I love her personality. She’s fun!
Stacey is so entertaining. I always love to see what she’s going to wear. And every night she brings a different vibe.
The Soul Stimulators have existed in some form for the last four and a half years. Recently, though, Stacey has taken up the position of lead singer in a couple other bands as well. As Stacey and the Soul Review she fronts a quartet of drums, keyboards, bass, and guitar. “It’s a soul-grooving band,” says Stacey. “We perform soul, neosoul, and jazz but all done with a real groove as a backbone.”
Perhaps the newest development, Stacey is now one of the lead vocalists for the Jewel City Rock Club, a new iteration of the Greasy Petes, who have made a name for themselves over the last decade or so as one of the best bar bands in San Diego. The band performs rock, soul, and blues. Stacey has appeared with the Greasy Petes off and on for about a year. The name change was effected when she recently joined up as a regular member of the band.
Stacey’s biggest fan is her husband, Saadiq Murray. Saadiq is a jeweler and artist, and the couple own and manage their business, Hankrajewel American Jewelry Art. Saadiq and Stacey see a great deal of synergy between their business and Stacey’s music. Stacey is always decked out in jewelry that Saadiq has created for her. Stacey’s fans see the jewelry and buy the jewelry for themselves. In addition, jewelry customers have become fans of her music.
“I hope to really to grow and make more of a presence here in San Diego,” Stacey says of her three music projects. “We’ll be doing some bigger festivals and shows.” She is currently coming out with two CDs. One is a studio recording, and the other is a recording of a live performance. All the material for the studio CD is written up and waiting for production. Similarly, the live CD is in mid-production. Fans might expect to see either or both of the disks in the next month or so. Stacey will be performing with the Jewel City Rock Club at Beaumont’s on the 14th and will return to the Upstart Crow on the 21st with the Soul Stimulators.
“Whether it’s a big stage or a few people sitting in a coffee shop, I give you the same energy,” Stacey says. “After all this time, I hope that I’ve made my mother proud.”