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Moon Mullican – Laying Pipe All Day

Moon Mullican

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His given name was Aubrey Wilson Mullican, but he would gain fame with the nickname “Moon.” There are several theories on how he received that name; the most common belief was that it was shorthand for “Moonshine.” He was billed as the King of the Hillbilly Piano Players, but Moon Mullican was a key link in the transition from Western swing music to honky-tonk and then on to rock ‘n’ roll.

Born in 1909 in East Texas, he found himself in Houston at a young age, preferring piano playing and nightclubs and beer and blues music to life on a farm. Moon started recording in the 1930s, but his original solo efforts such as “Georgia Pine” or lead vocals with The Blue Ridge Playboys on songs such as “Swing Baby Swing” are no longer available. During this same timeframe, Cliff Bruner, who had performed as a teenager in Doc Scott’s touring medicine shows (to sell the cure all Liquidine Tonic) and worked as a member of the seminal Western swing outfit Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, decided to form his own group. Moon’s outgoing personality gave him the lead vocal slot in the new band, known as Cliff Bruner’s Texas Wanderers.

In 1939, Texas Wanderer Ted Daffan (who later wrote “Born to Lose”), noticed that jukeboxes were often being fed change by truck drivers and penned the original roadway hit “Truck Driver’s Blues.” His hunch with the Commercial Driver’s License crowd was correct. With Moon singing lead, “Truck Driver’s Blues” sold over 100,000 copies in 1939. The success continued with “I’ll Keep on Loving You,” a hit both for the Texas Wanderers and Floyd Tillman in 1940 (this effort was later covered by Ray Price, Willie Nelson, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others). It was during this timeframe that Moon recorded his mirthful “Pipeliner Blues” as a solo artist. Similar to “dirty blues” records of the era such as “Keep on Churning’ (‘Til the Butter Comes)” by Wynonie Harris or “Big Ten Inch Record” by Bull Moose Jackson, Moon declares “I’m an old pipeliner, I lay my line all day/I’m an old pipeliner, I lay my line all day/I got four or five women waiting to draw my pay.” Of course, it was not a hit. These records are a slow transition from Western swing, as honky tonk arrangements begin to shape the sound. Moon’s boogie-woogie style of piano significantly contributes to the sound, but does not stay in the forefront.

 

In the early 1940s, Moon worked as a session musician and often performed with singer turned Louisiana governor Jimmie “You Are My Sunshine” Davis. When Davis began running for election, Moon organized a band to perform at political rallies. Mullican’s familiarity with Louisiana would assist him in his next chart run, after being signed to Syd Nathan’s King Records in 1946. In 1947, a “Jole Blon” sensation was sweeping America as Harry Choates, Roy Acuff, and Red Foley all had hits with the song. Not to be outdone, Moon’s version of “Jole Blon” went to #2 on the charts during that year and his song “Jole Blon’s Sister” went to #4. It is frequently written that Moon co-wrote Hank Williams “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” but received cash payment instead of a writing credit due to his unfavorable publishing arrangement with King Records. One listen to the phrasing and lyrics of “Jole Blon’s Sister” gives credence to that claim.

King Records understood the country marketplace and focused on traditional weepers, rather than the rollicking honky tonk that would have been a natural fit for Moon. It’s hard to argue with success. The maudlin “Sweeter than the Flowers” went to #3 in 1948 and “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” later covered by Jerry Lee Lewis, went to #1 in 1950. Moon also went Top 5 with “Mona Lisa” and “Goodnight Irene” in 1950, but the good times were coming to an end. 1951’s “Cherokee Boogie (Eh-Oh-Aleena),” which sounds as politically correct today as the word Redskins, took him back to his Western swing roots and went to #7 on the country charts.

As the hits dried up, Moon went to a more rhythm and blues inspired sound with “Well Oh Well,” “Rocket to the Moon,” and “Seven Nights to Rock,” – the latter tune was recorded by Nick Lowe in 1985 and featured a solo not unlike the ones Jerry Lee Lewis would be playing a few years later. Moon, who often carried a significant amount of weight and hid a balding dome under a cowboy hat, looked nothing like the pop stars of the era and his lack of sales reflected that reality. Recording sessions for Nashville in the late 1950s with Owen Bradley produced no hits. In the early ‘60s, marketed by Starday Records to look more like a crooner instead of a country star, he reached #15 with “Ragged But Right.” Unfortunately, “I Ain’t No Beatle, But I Wanna Hold Your Hand” failed to chart.

Moon Mullican, who had been drinking and pumping piano for over forty years – the man that had lead Western swing bands, written with Hank Williams, inspired Jerry Lee Lewis, and given the world “Rock ‘n’ Roll Mr. Bullfrog” – passed away on the 1st of January 1967, after a major heart attack. Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys sent a wreath shaped like a musical note to the funeral. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976. If there is a heaven, he’s laying down some serious pipe up there.

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