The Master of Deviation
Hectic. When one spends several consecutive days in the company of Davis Murray-particularly when his wife, Margot, an accomplished sailor herself, takes off for a cruise of the Grenadines with some friends-the pace of life is hectic. It's most definitely not an exercise for the energy impaired.
Luckily, when we hop into his RIB the next morning and set forth from Splinter Beach, the 34-foot lobsterman-style motor launch the Murrays call home, the first stop is for caffeine at a place around the corner from his slip on the east end of St. Thomas: Lattes in Paradise.
"Davis!" cries a choir of enthusiastic coffee drinkers, in unison, as he enters the shop, where his first CD, Daydreamin', is prominently on sale.
"You know who you remind me of, Davis?" wonders a jarringly attractive woman as we await our orders. "Norm, from Cheers. Nobody else gets a greeting like that."
"He's the mayor of St. Thomas," says Danny Silber, the classically trained keyboardist and jazzman and a prominent member of the Barefoot Davis Band, back at the Sapphire Beach Marina. Silber lives there in a one-bedroom condo-the centerpiece of which is the giant grand piano plunked down right in the middle of it-just a stone's throw away from Splinter Beach's dock. Murray has decided we should take a leisurely putter through the Virgins, and while he's readying the boat, I chat with Silber about the band and their music.
"Davis just has a knack for writing clever song material," says Silber, who left New York City for the islands years ago and never looked back. "Once he surrounded himself with quality musicians, he just blossomed. It's simple music, three or four chords. But there's an art to playing simple takes well. There's no place to hide. Miles Davis said that.
"He doesn't have a smooth voice, but neither does Bob Dylan. But he's totally in the moment. It gives the band great spontaneity. With Davis, you never know when the magic will come. That's the great thing about magic, about live music. I mean, you can't say, 'All right, let's put the magic in at 9:10.'
"And the other thing about Davis-he's a great self-promoter," concludes Silber. "Shameless. Is there any other kind of self-promotion? It's a show, and that's why they call it show business. But this is one of the most fun bands I've ever been a part of."
Moments later, we're off in Murray's old beater on the day's errands, which are put on hold every time we're greeted by a grand, oceanic vista, at which point he immediately spins off the road to deeply drink it in. "You always have to keep in perspective what brought you down here in the first place," he says. "I know a lot of people who forget about that and don't take advantage of what we have here.
"I, fortunately, do."
The day is a whirlwind. We stop off at ISW, Murray's recording studio, while he lays down a guitar track over his pirate tune, "Dead Man's Grave," for an upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean compilation CD. "I like what's happening, Davis," says his producer, Dan McGuinness.
The pirate theme continues as we check in on Carteza, a converted Cheoy Lee Offshore 41 that Murray helped completely overhaul into a faux pirate ship/playground for the children of a wealthy Midwesterner who has a mansion on the island; Murray now oversees the boat. He fiddles with the cannons and takes a swing in the hammock, just another one of the kids.
Next, we're back on the water, where Murray pockets some change swinging the compass on a fast, twin-hulled interisland ferry, the trade he plied from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s on the Philadelphia waterfront after taking over his uncle's business. He reckons he's swung 10,000 compasses, and he's still knocking them off. His business card proclaims him (without a trace of irony) the "Master of Deviation."
Finally, late in the day, we drop the dock lines and steam over to Cruz Bay, on the U.S. Virgin island of St. John. We're walking up the sidewalk when, without breaking stride, Murray bends over and picks up two crisp $20 bills lying in the street. "Look, beer!" he says, and moments later the currency is exchanged for a cold case of Dominica's finest, El Presidente.
Yes, it's hectic being the master. But it's also good. Very, very good.