Liberace’s fur coats in the ’70s, Mr. T’s gold chains in the ’80s, my Uncle Ken’s LaserDisc player in the ’90s… All were status symbols of their respective times that showed that their owners made it. In the 2000s, rapper Kanye West popularized the “Jesus piece”—a diamond-encrusted head-of-Jesus medallion—the latest in a long line of physical manifestations of brag. With his penchant for buggery and outrageous claims, such as inventing both the question mark and leather jogging pants (I made up only one of those two), Kanye, a.k.a. Yeezus (his current album name), exceeds the outlandishness of all of those showmen of yore.
Fast-forward to the present day, and it’d be perfectly rational to assume a cross etched to a custom motorcycle might be just another fleeting symbol for being a self-proclaimed badass. But, for Melvin Murry of Peoria, Illinois, the cross graphic on the rear fender of his custom bagger isn’t some superficial, blinged-out ode to how cool he thinks he is; it’s quite literally Jesus piece—his pronouncement to the world of his faith in Jesus (not Yeezus) Christ.
Make no mistake about it; Melvin isn’t pushy about his beliefs. He bears his cross just the same as anyone else might ink their kids’ names on their flesh—just to express who he is. In Melvin’s humble, yet confident tone, he marveled to us, “I don’t know what you believe, bro, but I know that Jesus gave me the strength to build this bike. For a man like me to see something, go back home, and build it, God gave me that talent. I’m not bragging; that’s just what I did. I saw a bike, asked the owner a few questions, went back home, and built it.” What Melvin built started as a 1999 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide that he’d already customized for a childhood friend. But once he got his hands on the pink slip, Melvin—owner of Murry’s Custom Autobody in Peoria—truly made it his own. He drew on his 19 years of custom paint experience, 17 years in business, 10 other magazine-featured works, and five prestigious painter awards, including a pair of Lowrider Tour Best Candy Paint awards and a couple of Best Paint trophies from DUB magazine shows, to create his masterpiece. We’re not just talking about a pretty paint job here either; his bike was customized out of necessity.
Standing at a robust 6 feet 4 inches, Melvin wasn’t a bagger guy because, quite frankly, he looked plain goofy on them (his words). However, while stopped for gas on vacation, he spotted the aforementioned bike that gave him the inspiration to build his own.
“I saw this guy’s bike stretched and raked, and he was big like me but didn’t look goofy. I figured, hey this is something I want to do,” Melvin recalls.
Finding parts that would accommodate both Melvin’s older 1999 bike and his large physique proved to be his biggest challenge. He had to fabricate many of his own parts just to make it all come together. But once it came together, the results were fantastic. There’s the big 26-inch SMT Machining Edge front wheel cutting through asphalt like the bow of a speedboat through water. Then there’s the custom-fit slant-back bags that trail the Electra Glide like the wake behind that very same speedboat. Of course, being the master painter he is, Melvin dotes most on his fine House of Kolor Kandy Tangerine handiwork overlain with that Jesus cross of his.
Just as Kanye claims to have walked with Jesus on the streets of his native Chicago, just a mere hour and a half away, so too does Melvin journey with his Lord, except he does it bombing down the highway—perhaps I-55—into the blue horizon on his way back home to Peoria on his many-shades-of-the-sunset-toned Jesus piece.
We tell Melvin to keep up the good work.
“I try, man. That’s all I can do.”