Originally a drummer who started playing bass in 1967, Murray formed his first band with school friends in 1967 (Slap Happy and the Dum-Dums). His musical tastes were heavily influenced by the mid-1960s 'blues boom' bands and musicians, especially Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, and later by Motown legend James Jamerson and Tim Bogert of Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and Beck, Bogert & Appice. Murray moved to bass shortly before studying graphic design at the London College of Printing.
During 1973, Neil briefly played in Gilgamesh, a jazz-fusion band led by Alan Gowen. After his departure from Gilgamesh, Murray toured the USA with Junior Hanson, following a recommendation from Jeff Beck's bass player Clive Chaman. Hanson later became a member of Bob Marley & The Wailers under the name Junior Marvin. Neil spent early 1974 supporting the album he recorded with them, Magic Dragon.
Murray's next gig came again through a recommendation from Clive Chaman, touring with Cozy Powell's Hammer in 1974 and 1975. The line-up included keyboardist Don Airey and guitarist Bernie Marsden.
After Cozy Powell decided to fold Hammer, Murray and Airey joined a revamped version of the British jazz rock band Colosseum, named Colosseum II. The band's leader, drummer Jon Hiseman, had evolved the band's sound by eliminating the saxophone in preference for a rockier sound courtesy of Gary Moore's guitar.
This line-up of Colosseum II lasted for the first 1976 album Strange New Flesh (a title thought up by Murray). Strange New Flesh was a little less intellectual than most of the jazz rock coming out of the UK. It did not have the blackness of bands like Weather Report, but offered more accessible melodies and rock power than the more "intellectual" Canterbury fusion scene presented at the time. Following months of touring Europe and the UK, Murray and vocalist Mike Starrs were fired, due to pressure from the record label Bronze Records, who soon after dropped Colosseum II altogether.
After Colosseum II, in 1976 Neil teamed up again with ex-Gilgamesh keyboardist Alan Gowen in National Health with whom he recorded a self-titled album in 1977. Prior to recording that album, the band played with drummer Bill Bruford of Yes/King Crimson fame, who was followed by ex-Hatfield & the North drummer Pip Pyle. Murray got the chance to work with Bruford again, playing on the rehearsals for Bruford's 1978 Feels Good to Me debut solo album, standing in for Jeff Berlin who was the actual bassist with the band (the LP cover read 'Thanks to Neil Murray: A bass player when I needed one'). Murray also deputised for Berlin on Bruford's Old Grey Whistle Test appearance in 1978. During this performance he sports a long sleeve T-shirt saying 'More Bass', predating Saturday Night Live's "More Cowbell" by more than 20 years.
National Health's complex music and the lack of commercial success prompted Murray to investigate other musical avenues planted in the world of bands like Cream, Jeff Beck or John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. After playing with Bernie Marsden in Cozy Powell's Hammer, Murray had played on a couple of tracks on Babe Ruth's 1975 album Stealing Home, prior to Marsden joining two members of Deep Purple in Paice Ashton Lord.
In late 1977, ex-Deep Purple singer David Coverdale was auditioning drummers for his new band Whitesnake, which featured guitarists Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden. Marsden invited Murray to help out with the process which led to him landing the gig together with drummer Dave Dowle. Deep Purple's Jon Lord joined in the summer of 1978 and, after recording Lovehunter in 1979, Dowle was replaced by Ian Paice (ex-Deep Purple).
From 1978 until late 1986, Murray helped make Whitesnake one of the most popular bands in Europe and Japan, and later America. He recorded with Whitesnake ten albums: Live at Hammersmith (1978), Snakebite (1978), Trouble (1978), Love Hunter (1979), Ready an' Willing (1980), Live...In the Heart of the City (1980), Come an' Get It (1981), Saints & Sinners (1982), Slide It In (1984), and Whitesnake / 1987 (1987). Murray's melodic basslines, influenced by Jack Bruce, Andy Fraser and even Jaco Pastorius, stand out from the rock bass-playing of the time.
He did numerous tours in the UK, Europe, Japan and played at Reading Festival in 1979 and 1980 and the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington, England in 1981. However, tours of the US opening for Jethro Tull in 1980 and Judas Priest in 1981 were not enough to match the band's success elsewhere.
In early 1982, after tense Saints & Sinners recording sessions, Coverdale decided on a complete shake-up of the band, management, publishing, and recording contracts. There was a period of uncertainty as to who would be in the 'new' Whitesnake, though Cozy Powell was definitely coming in to replace Ian Paice. Around this time, Paice and Murray had recorded Gary Moore's 1982 Corridors of Power album, and Paice had decided to join Moore. Murray followed suit, and was replaced by Colin Hodgkinson. Coverdale reshuffled the band as Bernie Marsden departed, replaced by Mel Galley, but Micky Moody and Jon Lord returned to the fold after initial uncertainty.
Soon after his departure, Murray briefly formed an outfit called Badlands (not to be confused with the American band featuring Jake E. Lee) behind Uriah Heep's John Sloman on vocals and future Thin Lizzy's John Sykes on guitars. The band recorded some demos, played London's Marquee Club and shopped for a record deal, to no avail. The band's music was hard rock and fitted the gap between a melodic band like Thin Lizzy, a blues influenced outfit like Whitesnake and a more straight-ahead AC/DC.
In 1982, Neil Murray and Ian Paice both joined Gary Moore for a very successful two years. Murray and Paice recorded three albums with Moore: Corridors of Power (1982), Victims of the Future (1983) and Rockin' Every Night – Live in Japan (1983).
The period 1979–1982 also saw Murray participating in a number of solo albums from Bernie Marsden, Graham Bonnet, Cozy Powell,
Forcefield and Jon Lord, sometimes playing with drummer Simon Phillips, which led in 1981 to Murray playing with a trio of superstars – Jeff Beck, Sting and Eric Clapton – at two of the
Secret Policeman's Other Ball series of four concerts at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. This event was filmed and recorded; Murray is to be heard on "Crossroads" with Beck, Clapton and Simon Phillips even though the album sleeve does not contain any individual credits.
In late 1983, Whitesnake went through one of its many line-ups changes. Micky Moody and Colin Hodgkinson were no longer part of the band. They already had recorded a new album Slide It In (1984). At that time, Coverdale hooked up with A&R guru John Kalodner and signed with Geffen Records. After failed attempts at hiring Adrian Vandenberg and Mama's Boys' Pat McManus, Coverdale welcomed John Sykes (Tygers of Pan Tang, Thin Lizzy) to the band. Sykes brought a lot of fresh ideas, technical ability and an appropriate image to project the band on MTV. Murray was asked back and he and Sykes re-recorded a lot of the guitar and all of the bass parts for Slide It In, resulting in two available vinyl versions: one for Europe featuring Moody and Hodgkinson and a US remix version with Sykes and Murray. The US version was remixed by American Grammy-winning record producer and sound engineer Keith Olsen (Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Sammy Hagar, Pat Benatar) to give it a more radio friendly sound.
1984 was occupied with touring, headlining in the UK and Europe; however, Mel Galley injured his arm, resulting in him having to leave the band and John Sykes taking care of all guitar duties on the road after a couple of months. In the summer, Jon Lord left the band for the Deep Purple reunion thus making Whitesnake a four-piece outfit (Coverdale, Murray, Sykes, Powell) with off-stage keyboard player Richard Bailey (ex-Magnum). Support slots in the USA with Dio then Quiet Riot (at the height of their brief success) helped to bring Whitesnake to a much wider audience.
The album and tour, culminating with an appearance at the 1985 Rock in Rio Festival in front of 150,000 people, marked the end of an era for the band. Disagreements over financial matters led to Cozy Powell leaving the band for Emerson, Lake & Powell. Aynsley Dunbar (ex-Frank Zappa, Journey, Jefferson Starship) was in place for the recording of what was to be Whitesnake's most successful album.
The making of Whitesnake / 1987 (1987) was fraught with delays, illness and difficulties. Murray's status as an official member of Whitesnake was unclear and although Coverdale had given all members permission to get involved in other projects, there was not enough money to keep Murray and Dunbar on a retainer until the album was completed.
Murray continued doing sessions for several artists (Phenomena amongst others) and recorded with a band project put together by music impresario Jonathan King called Gogmagog, featuring former Iron Maiden singer Paul Di'Anno, future Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers (ex-Ian Gillan), ex-Def Leppard guitarist Pete Willis and another ex-Iron Maiden member Clive Burr on drums. The band released an EP I Will Be There to general apathy.
Whilst still waiting for things to move in the Whitesnake camp, Murray teamed up with guitarists Bernie Marsden and Mel Galley in the short-lived MGM. The band did some live dates (including the Reading Festival in 1987), but never really took off. A year after recording the backing tracks for Whitesnake / 1987 (1987), with work proceeding at a very slow and expensive pace on the album, Murray took the opportunity to redo some of the bass parts, but disagreements over leadership led to John Sykes quitting the band 16 months after recording had begun.
In early 1987, Coverdale put together a completely new version of Whitesnake in Los Angeles, and Murray was no longer part of the band. Murray had to hire lawyers to get his financial due from the huge success of Whitesnake / 1987 (1987), the album that went on to sell well over 10 million copies worldwide. To this day, Murray remains the individual who has played on the second most Whitesnake albums, behind only David Coverdale himself.
In 1987, Murray joined Japanese hard rock band Vow Wow, who had recently relocated to England, after having worked with its guitarist Kyoji Yamamoto on the second album by Phenomena. He recorded four albums with the band between 1987 and 1989, and toured the UK, Europe, and Japan. He also lived in Tokyo for a few months in 1988. Vocalist Genki Hitomi wanted to remain in Japan, so the group recorded what was supposed to be their last album titled Helter Skelter (1988), which was produced by Tony Taverner, who had previously engineered for Black Sabbath. Murray would later state that he never "really became a permanent member" of Vow Wow in order to keep his options open, partly because he was a member of MGM at the same time.
Black Sabbath, Brian May and Beyond
By 1989, with Geezer Butler's refusal to join the latest Black Sabbath line-up, Murray was asked by Cozy Powell to try out. He joined soon after the release of Headless Cross (1989) and toured with the band in support of the album. Murray stayed with the band until late 1990, recording the Tyr album and once again touring. Live, Murray was able to showcase various bass styles that had not been able to flourish in Whitesnake, ranging from Jack Bruce-type improvising to heavy metal soloing to delicate false harmonics.
After Black Sabbath reformed their 1981 "Mob Rules" lineup in 1991 with Dio, Butler and Appice for Dehumanizer, Cozy Powell and Murray started a band project and recorded songs with singer John West (Artension, Royal Hunt). Nothing came out of it until 1998 when those songs resurfaced on a tribute album released after Powell's death in April 1998.
In 1992, Murray played with Cozy Powell and Black Sabbath's Tony Martin, in a new version of Cozy Powell's Hammer that was short lived. Murray had earlier recorded most of Tony Martin's first solo album Back Where I Belong and later played at a series of concerts at Expo' 92 in Seville, Spain backing Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Brian May. He also reunited with his ex-Whitesnake pals, guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody, for some dates in the UK with their Moody Marsden Band.
In 1992, Queen's Brian May was ready to go on the road for the first time as a solo artist. Murray and Cozy Powell had done sessions for May's solo album Back to the Light (1992) and they were a natural choice for the touring band. For two years, the band toured the world, notably supporting Guns N' Roses and releasing Live at the Brixton Academy in 1993.
The core of the Brian May Band (Neil, Cozy, Spike Edney and Jamie Moses) became the basis of the SAS Band (Spike's All Stars), which continues to this day, playing sporadic live gigs with many famous guest vocalists, including Paul Rodgers, Brian May, Roger Taylor, Chaka Khan, Arthur Brown, Lionel Richie, Bob Geldof and many others. After the first year,
Steve Stroud became their main bassist, but Neil returns to play with the band every couple of years.
In late 1994, Cozy Powell and Murray returned to Black Sabbath. They recorded Forbidden (1995) and toured the US & Canada in 1995, although the tour of the UK, Europe and the Far East saw the return of Bobby Rondinelli on drums when Powell departed.
1996 and 1997 saw Murray and Cozy Powell helping to kickstart the return of the legendary Peter Green (John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac) in his
Splinter Group. Murray recorded three albums with Green and toured the UK with occasional European dates.
In 1998, Brian May released his third solo album, Another World, which Murray and Cozy Powell had once again played on, but Powell's death meant a tour with Eric Singer (KISS, Alice Cooper, Lita Ford, Black Sabbath) instead. 1998 also saw the posthumous release of Cozy Powell's Especially for You featuring vocal phenom John West (Royal Hunt, Artension, Badlands, Lynch Mob, Ten Man Push), guitarist Michael Casswell (Brian May Band), and keyboardist Lonnie Park (John West, Wrathchild America, Ten Man Push).
In 1999, Murray started working again with Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody, who had been working with British-Norwegian Whitesnake tribute band The Snakes. When Marsden and Moody eventually parted ways with their Norwegian colleagues, they changed the band name to The Company of Snakes with the vocalist Robert Hart (The Jones Gang, Bad Company, Distance, solo artist/songwriter) joined them, together with Don Airey on keyboards.
After of few years of gigging mainly in the UK and Europe, Robert Hart decided to leave to concentrate on his solo/songwriting career. The only available recording of this line-up (with Don Airey on keys and John Lingwood on drums) is on Micky Moody's solo album I Eat Them for Breakfast (2000). In 2001 Swedish singer
Stefan Berggren was recruited and The Company of Snakes released two albums: Here They Go Again (2001, the gig was recorded in Germany and Norway with temporary ex-MSG singer Gary Barden, but his vocals were erased and Stefan Berggren overdubbed) and Burst the Bubble (2002), which featured songs written by most of the band.
Despite success on the touring front, The Company of Snakes called it a day in early 2002, with the band being transformed into M3 Classic Whitesnake, dropping recent original material in favour of a purely Whitesnake set. Ex-Sabbath frontman Tony Martin was their singer initially, before being replaced by Stefan Berggren. The band has released one live album (with Tony Martin on vocals) and one live DVD (with Stefan Berggren and Rainbow/Yngwie Malmsteen/Cornerstone singer Doogie White) featuring songs from the classic Whitesnake era 1978–1982. Murray is also a member of German heavy rock band Empire with whom he has recorded three albums. The band is the brain child of guitarist
Rolf Munkes and featured Tony Martin on the Trading Souls (2003) and The Raven Ride (2006) albums.
Since April 2002, Murray has been in the band of the London musical We Will Rock You. He also performed at 2007's 'Classics in Rock' concert in Rotterdam and the first London Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp.
Michael Schenker Group
Murray played on the Michael Schenker Group album In the Midst of Beauty, which was released on 11 May 2008.