Photo: Provided by Shirley Murdock
Shirley Murdock, the soulful songstress from Toledo, Ohio, is best known for her hit single “As We Lay” and singing the background vocals on the classic love ballad “Computer Love” by Zapp & Roger. Her journey into superstardom will be televised for the world to see tonight at 9 p.m. on TV One’s “Unsung.” However, before debut albums, hit singles, and a legendary voice that captivated audiences nationwide, Murdock was singing in her church choir and working various jobs to make ends meet.
“I worked for JC Penny’s. I worked for a local jewelry company called Osterman Jewelers and at Toledo hospital in the dietary department,” Murdock said. “I moved to Columbus, Ohio for a little while because I was working full-time at a ministry with a crusade team called The End Time Revival Evangelistic Crusade (T.E.T.R.E.C.). After working in Columbus, Ohio, Murdock moved back home due to her father being laid off from work. However, Murdock continued to sing in the church’s choir and recording revivals in various cities.
“One of my cousins worked for Trotman Enterprises and took a tape back for Roger Troutman to hear, and that’s how he heard me sing,” Murdock said. Roger asked if Murdock wanted to make records with the group Zapp, but she wasn’t too familiar with him or the group at the time. “I’m like, ‘who’s Roger? What’s a Zapp?’ Not that I had my head buried in the sand; I heard music on the radio, but I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the mainstream artists,” Murdock said.
Zapp was already established releasing their album Zapp in 1980 and hitting the Top 20 on the pop charts with their single “More Bounce to the Ounce.” While Zapp had an electric-techno sound mixed with a groove, Murdock wanted to stick with gospel music, often turning down offers that didn’t fit the dream she envisioned as a little girl or in her own words, ”coming out of her mother’s womb singing and living her dream.”
“My sister and I drove to Dayton from Toledo to talk to Roger and Larry Troutman. I told him, ‘Hey, I want to sing gospel.’ They didn’t have any connections to the area, so I told him ‘thank you, but no thank you,’” Murdock said. “He left the door open and said, ‘if you ever want to give this a try, I’ll help you.’”
After praying on the idea, Murdock gave Roger a call and said: “Hey, I’m ready.” After shooting the deal to different record companies, Murdock landed with Elektra Records and the rest was history. This would be the beginning of her friendship with the Troutman brothers. Murdock began heavily recording and touring with the group. In 1985, she recorded “Computer Love” with Roger and worked on the song in a rehearsal hall.
“He got the song started because he was feeling like people might have been kind of tired of hearing the talkbox sound,” Murdock said. After a conversation with her now husband, Dale DeGroat, who was Roger’s music director and keyboard player, DeGroat suggested Roger try a ballot or love song. Due to his unique sound, DeGroat said it would sound like a computer falling in love.
“My husband started that track and Roger put that wonderful hook on there. One day Charlie Wilson came into the studio and started singing right behind everything Roger would do,” Murdock said. “Charlie did it, and Roger would do it. If he said computer love, Charlie would say computer love and digital love, but there were no verses, so Roger and I went into the rehearsal hall and started working on those verses,” Murdock added.
For Murdock, “Computer Love” encouraged her to continue writing and it was the first hit record she had an opportunity to be a part of. Murdock had no idea that “Computer Love” would become a classic. At the time, Murdock explained that she and her fellow artists were trying to make good music that the public would like. Murdock does admit though that the song has become a life of its own.
“‘Computer Love’ had a baby, so Roger and I are the mom and dad of ‘Computer Love,’ then we got grandkids because so many rap artists sampled it, so it’s still living,” Murdock explained.
Complimenting Roger on his many talents, Murdock said the singer and producer were excellent to work with. She credited him for believing in the gifts God gave her.
That very same year, Murdock released her self-titled debut album. On her debut album, Murdock released the ballad “As We Lay” produced by Roger. While some looked at the record as a celebration of infidelity, Murdock wants the world to know that the song was not written by her or for her.
The song was written by Larry and Billy Beck of the Ohio Players. Murdock said the song was to capture the mass’s attention, and it surely did. The slow and tender ballad made it to the R&B Top Ten and peaked at #23 in 1986.
“‘As We Lay’ is a sad song about regret because there are big consequences attached to every decision that you make in life. So whether it’s five minutes of fun, there are consequences,” Murdock explained for the meaning of the record. “We need to think about not making decisions based upon a temporary situation. You need to think about that thing beyond the moment,” she added.
In 1988, Murdock released her second album with Elektra Records titled A Woman’s Point of View. For the Ohio native, Murdock said she had the opportunity to grow as a writer. She thanked Roger for allowing her to breathe and freely express herself on the album. Murdock also credits her musical influences such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight.
“I could pull up those influences from my hard drive. If you listen, you’ll hear Aretha show up; you’ll hear Gladys show up, you’ll hear Stevie show up. I was open to listening to new things because if we stop learning, we stop growing,” Murdock said. The singer also learned how to become more comfortable recording in the studio thanks to Roger asking her to move from Toledo to Dayton to work with him more often.
“I became a little more proficient in the studio from the first album to the second album, and I continued to grow ever since,” Murdock said. However, after her album Let There Be Love, things started to dwindle with Elektra Records and so Murdock, and her label mutually agreed that it was time to part ways. For Murdock, the singer wanted to do something different. Something she wanted to do since she was a child; sing gospel.
“I met Bishop TD Jakes. I was sitting on my praise and worship team, still doing R&B, and he came to preach for our church anniversary. Out of that came the opportunity to minister at various women conferences,” Murdock said. “So that relationship grew, and he said ‘I started a label and here’s your chance, but you can’t do both gospel and R&B,’” Murdock added.
After praying about it, Murdock went to Roger and asked him his thoughts. Not surprised, Roger went through some hoops and got Murdock released from the label in December of 1998. From there, Murdock started recording gospel under TD Jakes’ label Capitol Christian Music Group and then later went to Tyscot Records, one of the oldest black-owned record companies in the country.
Still grateful for Elektra in establishing her career, Murdock and Roger remained close friends. Sadly, that solid friendship ended a year later when Larry and Roger died in a murder-suicide outside a studio on April 25, 1999, in Dayton, Ohio. When asked her initial reaction to hear about the death of her dear friends, Murdock said, “It was one of the most horrible days of my life, and I lost my mother six months before that. There are no words.”
Murdock also felt grief for their mother who had to bury two of her sons at the same time. “Larry was like a surrogate father. Roger was like my big brother; he was my mentor,” Murdock said. “He was just awesome and to lose them; it was a tragedy but not only a tragedy for me; their mother losing two of her sons.” After the death of her two friends, Murdock said that a piece of Roger went to his family and her husband.
“My husband never played harmonica ever. He picked up the harmonica and started playing just like Roger. Roger’s baby brother, Thomas, started playing the guitar and it’s like everybody had a piece of Roger,” Murdock said. Murdock herself continued to tour with Urban Play, worked with Tyler Perry during his play days and even ministered at women conferences.
The Troutman brothers influence continued to live on through Murdock as she ventured off into new paths. “I’m still chewing off of the wisdom that I received from both of them. I get a chance to share some of those things on the episode of ‘Unsung,’” Murdock said.
Murdock continued to remember what she learned from Roger and about herself from being in the music industry. Leaning on her faith to keep her grounded, Murdock said Roger taught her to be successful in this business; she must know the difference between wanting a hit record or a long-lasting career.
“You have to build it, but the best piece of advice he gave me is to do a great record and do a great live performance,” Murdock said. “Because of that great piece of advice from Roger, I have such a wonderful fan base from both gospel and R&B.” Watching the industry change over her 30-year music career, Murdock said that aspiring musicians must continue to dream big and take every opportunity that is presented before them.
As for her story to be told on “Unsung,” Murdock said that people would get the full story of her life in her own words. “You’ll get the ups and downs, the tragedies. You’ll get the triumph,” she said. “You’ll get how I was able to overcome some of the tragedies. Every door that opened for me has been because it’s been the favor of God.”