COUNTRY MUSIC SUFFERS ANOTHER LOSS
LEGENDARY HALL OF FAME STEEL GUITARIST RALPH MOONEY PASSES AT 82
Born 16 September 1928, Duncan, Oklahoma, USA. Mooney became one of country music’s finest steel guitar players and during his career he played in the bands of many stars. He also ensured that his name would be remembered as co-author with Chuck Seals of the country standard ‘Crazy Arms’.
He became interested in music as a child and after relocating to live with a sister in California, he was taught to play guitar, mandolin and fiddle. He later stated that until he was 12 he had never seen a steel guitar but soon became attracted to the instrument after hearing Leon McAuliffe’s recording of ‘Steel Guitar Rag’. Using a knife as a bar he learned to play the number on his flat top guitar. He first played in several amateur bands and for a time worked for the Douglas Aircraft Company. After appearing with local band Merle Lindsey And His Oklahoma Nightriders, he joined Skeets McDonald’s band with whom he made his first recordings. He refined his style of playing steel with the help of Texas Playboy, Jesse Ashlock and for a time played a self-built steel guitar. In 1950, while he was a regular on Squeakin’ Deacon’s popular radio show, he first met Wynn Stewart and gained session work. He played on early Buck Owens’ hits such as ‘Foolin’ Around’ and ‘Under Your Spell Again’ and also played lead guitar on Stewart’s first Capitol Records recordings.
In 1961, he moved with Stewart to Las Vegas and for two years worked there in Stewart’s club. Merle Haggard was also a band member for a time and when Haggard made his first Tally recordings, Mooney played steel guitar on them. When he returned to California, Stewart remained based in Las Vegas for a further six years, during which time he played on occasions with Stewart on his Vegas appearances and with several singers including Bobby Austin. He also worked for a time with Haggard, by that time fronting his own band, but a dislike of the heavy travelling schedule saw him leave. However, Mooney played steel guitar on several of Haggard’s hit records including ‘Sing Me Back Home’, ‘Swinging Doors’ and ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’. In the late 60s, he once again joined up with Stewart and stayed with him until Stewart’s health made him disband. In 1969, Mooney became the steel guitarist in Waylon Jennings’ band the Waylors, where he remained for over 20 years. Later he continued to make appearances at special instrumental festivals or conventions and became noted for his lectures and demonstrations of his favorite instrument.
Mooney is rated one of the important steel guitarists who restored the popularity of the instrument to country music recordings after it had almost been lost during the country pop years. He wrote several successful country songs, the most popular being ‘Crazy Arms’, that became Ray Price’s first number 1 record in 1956 and was later a Top 20 hit for both Marion Worth and Willie Nelson. Mooney once said, ‘It has been recorded by so many different people. I would starve to death if it wasn’t for those royalty checks.’ He also wrote ‘Foolin’’, a Top 4 chart hit for Johnny Rodriguez in 1983.
Although he played on numerous recording sessions with many artists, Mooney did not make too many solo recordings. A noted album with guitarist James Burton was recorded in the late 60s and examples of his talent may be found on various compilation releases. He recorded some instrumentals for Challenge Records, two notable ones being ‘Release Me’ and ‘Moonshine’, which gained single release on Challenge 59105. Both later appeared on 4 Star various artists albums namely Country Love and Tennessee Pride respectively. He may also be heard with the Waylors on the soundtrack album from the 1975 movie Mackintosh And T.J. In 1983 Mooney was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame.