Julie Murphy Wells is well known throughout our area as being the female voice and lead vocalist of the Virginia folk foursome Eddie From Ohio, which for two decades has been regularly named Best Contemporary Folk Group by the Washington Area Music Association.
The band began in 1991 when James Madison University graduates Robbie Schaefer, Eddie Hartness and Michael Clem found the voice they were looking for in Wells (herself a Virginia Tech grad), and began playing covers in neighborhood bars, including a regular seven-year Tuesday night residency at Bad Habits Grille in Arlington.
Although the Vienna native always loved the music the band plays, deep down she always had a secret desire to do something different.
“Back in 1994, I decided to put together a solo album because I had a few originals and wanted to get them out,” Wells said. “I added some covers that I liked to sing, one being ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ by Gershwin.”
Her record producer could tell right away that Wells had the voice and love of old standards and pushed her to do a little more.
“I feel like I was born in the wrong timeframe. I always thought I would love to be one of those women in the ’40s, like Billie Holiday — and do a show wearing a big, long dress,” she said. “In 1995, I put together my first ‘sophisticated lady show’ with a four-piece combo and did some shows and recorded two and put an album out.”
In 1994 Wells launched her solo career with “No Rules” and followed it up two years later with “Sophisticated Lady,” which featured classic jazz and cabaret covers.
She continued to play with Eddie From Ohio, but life sort of got in the way of her solo career. She got married, had two kids and became a breast cancer survivor. The band showed its closeness by shaving their head along with their friend, and with her family, helped her get through the tough time.
“I basically took a 10 year hiatus,” she said. “I met a neighbor who played piano and we instantly clicked and it got revived. Now, I’m able to perform every once in a while, usually about a show a year.”
That one show for Wells in 2012 will be on Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Barns at Wolf Trap. The singer says that she will be singing some Cole Porter, Gershwin and Broadway tunes.
“These are songs much closer to my true heart,” Wells said. “Playing in the Barns is amazing as it’s such a great room. I am definitely looking forward to the night.”
These days, Wells lives in Arlington with her family and works at a school in Vienna, serving as a teacher’s assistant in a special ed class.
“For 22 years I have had control of my own schedule and I knew I needed to get back to something and love going the calendar year with my kids,” she said. “Quite a few people are familiar with Eddie From Ohio and tell me they have us on their iPod. It’s different and there’s never a dull moment. Now, I am directing traffic one day and singing at the Barns the next.”
As for Eddie From Ohio, the band still performs together about a dozen times a year and were particularly busy this past summer.
“We went to Europe and were hosted by the Ambassador to Switzerland, who is Don Beyer of Don Beyer Volvo,” Wells said. “He’s a huge Eddie From Ohio fan and has been seeing us for years and hosts a huge July 4 party there, so we went and played a few shows. It was really neat and incredible to play there.”
The band is planning on some gigs for next summer — including a return to Wolf Trap, which they play every other year — and Wells doesn’t see a time when it will ever stop.
“We all feel Eddie From Ohio will go on and on,” she said. “We certainly enjoy getting together and doing the shows. It’s still fresh and fun and it’s a real joy.”