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Ralph Mooney Interview

This interview by Gib Sun took place at the 2003 Oklahoma Steel Guitar Association Convention in Tulsa, OK.

Gib: You’re the guy that gave the west coast the sound. Buck Owens. Merle Haggard. What a way to start out!

Mooney: Wynn Stewart. I have about 70 different names that I have performed with written down somewhere. I can’t remember them all. There are more than that now.

Gib: You’re puttin us on. You can’t forget some of these names. Donna Fargo. Wanda Jackson. Which reminds me, you’re an Oklahoma boy yourself.

Mooney: Duncan, Oklahoma. I left when I was about 12 years old and went to California during the war, then Las Vegas, then back here again. Took 55 years to get back.

Gib: Tell us about the Buck and Merle days.

Mooney: Here’s one about Merle’s bus. We were in Minneapolis. The snow was plied up around the old bus, couldn’t drive it. Couldn’t go nowhere. We had to get a cab to get to work. I wanted to go home. The bus wouldn’t start for the driver, so I got out there and got the old bus started. I was going to drive it home. I don’t know where I was going to get the money for the gas. The bus driver ran out and stopped me.

Gib: My earliest memories of your work is Johnny and Joanie Mosby’s I’ll Leave The Front Door Open. What a great signature you put on that song!

Mooney: Johnny went to junior high school with me. Bell High School in California. He said, "If you will show me some chords on the guitar, I will make it so you can buy a real good car." Pass my credit and everything. So I showed him E, C, A, and got my first good car. A 49 Ford. Wow!

Gib: You’re also a great songwriter. How about Crazy Arms? Falling For You, Wynn Stewart?

Mooney: Merle did that one, too. Fooling by Johnny Rodrigus many years later. It was real country with fiddles and steel guitar; the way I like it.

Gib: You have such a distinctive style. Bonnie Owens. Jessi Coulter. Did you record I’m Not Lisa?

Mooney: I think I did. We played it so much on stage, I forget if we recorded it together or not. If it sounds good, I did.

Gib: Well, it did sound great! How long were you in California?

Mooney: About 20 years , I guess. In Las Vegas about 8 years, and down here for 32 years. I’m kinda gettin’ old. Ain’t got no hair.

Gib: We’ll get you some.

Mooney: My wife won’t let me.

Gib: Lloyd Green asked me to say hello to you today.

Mooney: I haven’t seen him in a while. He pulled a little trick on me. We were onstage in St. Louis giving out awards. He said. "Moon, let me sign your hat." I said, "Okay." So I handed it to him and he said. "No, I don’t think I’ll do that, sign that pretty hat." He put it back on my head. You know that old trick, tearing up trash in your hat and putting it back on your head? It fell all over the stage. So I started getting everybody to sign that hat.

Gib: I want to know about Corn Picking and Slick Sliding. Has to be a great story about that.

Mooney: That was the name of the album. Texas Waltz, Moonshine that I wrote was on there. We had lot of fun, me and Burton. We’d go over to Burton’s house ever night and figure up 4 songs for the next day. It was a lot easier that way. We did 12 , I think. It was a relax session. Of course, Burton pulled one on me. He was toten’ in Dobro, toten’ in the guitar, all kinds of guitars and stuff. He was charging them that.....What do you call it? They pay you for caring your on own guitar. He got alot of his money ahead of time.

Gib: When did you run into Waylon?

Mooney: In Las Vegas. He was playing at the Nugget downtown. I was playing there too, but a different show. Richy Albright was upstairs. He said he had one leg in them breeches, them shiny breeches the wore then, you know. H e heard me playing downstairs. He didn’t know I was there. They said he heard me playing and just fell in the floor. Got tangled up in those breeches.

Gib: How much work did you do with Willie?

Mooney: Mainly just on albums. Luckenbock. We did a few things. We did all of his picnics, lot of shows in Texas, Austin, the Texas Opry House. We did Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys. I got to go down and play with Waylon the year he died. I hadn’t seen him or talked to him in about 12 years. We play about six songs that we had recorded together, and I’m sure glad I did. He was already in a wheelchair. I sure glad I got to go down there and pick with him. He said, "How long did you pick with me, man?" I said, "47 years." He said, "What did he say, Richy?" Richy said, "47 years."

Gib" How about Hoyt Axton? I almost left him out.

Mooney: Yea, don’t forget Hoyt. We were working at the Troubadour Club in Hollywood. He sent a limonsine to take my stuff down to the studio. We did 2 or 3 songs because I didn’t have time to do a whole bunch. We were working everynight.

Gib: Tell us one on Buck.

Mooney: I went down there to recut Under His Spell. Buck wasn’t in the studio. He was up there somewhere on a microphone in a little room. I kicked off Fooling Around. He said, " Moon! Moon! Stop! Stop! You’re doing the wrong song." I said. "But, I like that one better."

Gib: Curly Chalker, one of you favorites?

Mooney: Yea! One of my favorite jazz players. I had never heard nothing like that before. I was sitting out in the audience with my mouth open. He just knocked me out. Him ad Thumbs Carlile were jamming after the curtain went down at the Nugget. I could see Curly’s feet. He was pumping them pedals. Knocked me out. He always was one of my favorite jazz players. I can’t play nothing like that. I put it in there, but it comes out hillbilly.

Gib: It don’t come out bad, it comes out you.

Mooney: Hillbilly!

Gib: With all the great history you’ve had, would you do anything different?

Mooney: I guess I did the best I could. Had lots of fun; inventing licks and stuff. Me and Roy Nichols, between shows, we would stay up there and learn new licks, share licks, and steal licks. We worked together a long time. He was the greatest. He was suppose to record the Corn Picking & Slick Sliding album with me, but he got sick. Ken Nelson got Burton to do it, and it turned out pretty good. I never did any more after that. I didn’t get any royalties, you know. I said, "What’s the use of doing that?" This year, Sony must have bought Tree Publishing. They sent me a letter said, "Send us your Social Security Number. We think we have some monies for you." Yea, I thought about $28 probably. They sent me a check in about a month, and it was $10,700 some odd dollars.

Gib: That’s a good day.

Mooney: That made me want to do another album.

Gib: Thank you again, Ralph Mooney.

Mooney: Thank you! I enjoyed it.

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