PARKERSBURG - Popular West Virginia singer Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. performed to a packed house Friday night at the Smoot Theatre in downtown Parkersburg.
Nearly 700 people filled the Smoot as it kicked off its 2014-2015 season with a return concert by Murphy, winner of the 2011 season of "America's Got Talent" on NBC.
Backed by a 14-piece band, Murphy performed a 25-song set focused primarily on classic crooners like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin, among others. He performed songs like "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," "Fly Me to the Moon," "The Way You Look Tonight" and "I've Got You Under My Skin" to an appreciative crowd.
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. performs on the Smoot Theatre stage Friday night. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
Duane Flesher, front, of Williamstown and Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., rear, pose at the piano on the Smoot Theatre stage Friday afternoon prior to Friday night’s performance. Flesher has been touring with Murphy as his pianist for two years and is also active in the Smoot House Band. (Photo by Wayne Towner)
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., right, listens to his band play Friday during a performance at the Smoot Theater. Williamstown's Duane Flesher, far left, plays piano in the band. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
Murphy was enjoying his return to the Smoot and to Parkersburg on Friday.
"It's a nice, historical place and it's always good to play those types of venues," Murphy said Friday afternoon prior to the concert. "It's an intimate setting, not too big and not too small. It's just right for the type of music that I do and the band that I bring."
During previous local visits - for concerts, CD releases and other events - Murphy said he has always received a good response from the Parkersburg area so he is always happy to come back.
"They really respond well and I just try to give them 100 percent of Landau and just a fun show," he said.
Since winning "America's Got Talent" in 2011, Murphy said he has traveled extensively to perform and work on his craft and his career.
"I've been on tour ever since 'America's Got Talent' and I'm still rolling," he said, adding upcoming performances will be taking him to Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and other locations.
"It's been everything that I want," he said of his experiences as a performer.
While Murphy has performed previously at the Smoot, the local stage was an especially familiar venue Friday night for his pianist, Duane Flesher of Williamstown. Originally from Parkersburg, Flesher has been touring extensively with Murphy for the past two years. He has also been a member of the Smoot House Band for several years.
Flesher said he initially became involved with Murphy in 2012 when a pianist was needed to travel to Germany with him for performances for U.S. troops. Since that time, he has been performing regularly with Murphy around the country in venues of every size.
Depending on those venues, Murphy's backing musicians have ranged from trios to full big bands.
"It's been great," Flesher said of the experience. "I've played for a lot of different singers in my career in bands - including the Air Force Band- and I've had more fun with this show. The guys in the band are just fantastic musicians and everybody is like a big family. We just have a ball," he said.
"This is probably the most fun I've had," Flesher said.
Beyond his touring schedule, Murphy is also working to complete his third CD for Columbia Records, which is slated for release in 2015. His previous CDs were "That's Life" in 2011 and "Christmas Made for Two" in 2013. He published his autobiography, "Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. - From Washing Cars to Hollywood Star," in 2013.
Looking ahead, Murphy said he wants to continue performing music, but would also like to expand into film and do more writing.
"It's about trying to better yourself every chance you can," he said.