Strummin’ alum chats with radio journalist

September 26, 2013 11:00 AM

Benton Oliver

When asked how he felt upon first arriving in New Orleans as a Tulane University freshman in 1987, the now successful singer-songwriter/band frontman Alex McMurray had, perhaps, an unexpected answer: “I hated it. No, I really did; swear to God.”

Dean's Colloquium with Gwen Thompkins and Alex McMurray

Alumni Gwen Thompkins and Alex McMurray share a good laugh or two at the Dean’s Colloquium in Dixon Hall on Sept. 24. (Photo by Guillermo Cabrera-Rojo)

Clearly the musician’s feelings have changed about the city in which he’s lived, made his career and honed his craft with the help of a rich musical tradition.

The Dean’s Colloquium interview on Tuesday (Sept. 24) was conducted by Tulane alumna Gwen Thompkins, the journalist who currently hosts “Music Inside Out” broadcast on WWNO-FM, the National Public Radio affiliate.

Interestingly, the focus was not on McMurray’s current career, but more on some of the funnier episodes in his past as a professional musician. Thompkins, with admirable skill, grace and the gift of gab, led McMurray through some of his post-college jobs playing music in unexpected places.

The story that occupied much of the interview, and was the cause of much laughter, was an account of his time working as “Captain Sandy, the ambling sea-shanty singer” for Tokyo DisneySea in Japan.

McMurray’s job was to shuffle up and down a simulated New England pier, strumming his guitar and singing century-old songs designed to assist sailors with performing nautical tasks in time, such as rowing or hoisting sails.

Thompkins’ hearty laugh was especially robust as McMurray recounted how a DisneySea stage manager would try surreptitiously to follow him on his rounds, casually checking her watch to avoid his noticing her.

During his Tulane interview, McMurray also sang and played several of his many songs on the acoustic guitar, demonstrating why some critics say he’s “the most talented songwriter in New Orleans.”

The event was part of the John J. Witmeyer III Dean’s Colloquium series, which invites distinguished alumni back to campus to discuss their professions.

Benton Oliver is a senior at Tulane University majoring in communication and music.


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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000