"Show 'em the left foot that made Merle Haggard a star, Moon. Show 'em the one you used on Buck. Show 'em the one ya used on Bonnie. The most imitated steel guitar player and the best one, by far...that's the great Ralph Mooney everybody."


When Waylon Jennings spoke those words in September 1974, Ralph Mooney was already a legend. He had already played in acclaimed Western swing bands and influenced the design of Fender's pedal steels with his homemade setup. He had written "Crazy Arms," a song that became a classic in two genres in the hands of Ray Price and Jerry Lee Lewis. He had helped develop the Bakersfield sound while backing up Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and the underrated Wynn Stewart.


Even in 1974, calling him the greatest pedal steel player in the history of country music would have been an understatement of the highest order. At that time he had been with Waylon's band for four years and would continue to play with them in the studio and on the road until the early '90s, playing a major role in the outlaw country revolution and in the sound of country music's greatest vocalist.


Not to mention Corn Pickin' and Slick Slidin', his 1969 LP with the legendary guitarist James Burton. Or his great work  just last year on Marty Stuart's Ghost Train, where his playing provided the heart and soul of the entire record. Or the hundreds of hits and non-hits he played a part in during his six decades of playing music professionally. I think it's safe to say that country music as we know it would not exist if not for Ralph Mooney. 


Earlier this week, the country music world mourned the passing of the great Ferlin Husky and, unfortunately, tonight Ralph Mooney joined him. According to what I'm hearing he had been ill for about a year and passed away at his home this evening. I'll keep you posted with more information as it comes. In the meantime, please use the comments section to share your favorite recording featuring Mooney or tell us your memories of him.





***UPDATE #1***


Over at Saving Country Music, The Triggerman has written an excellent piece on Mooney where he called him one of the three greatest musicians in country music history (I would agree) and had this to say:


"Ralph Mooney’s strings ring eternal with the most infinite beauty, his life’s work reverberates in our souls with zero diminish till kingdom come. When our society downfalls from selfishness, over-consumptive hedonism, and a wanton unappreciation of art, and the archeologists of the future sift through our ashes to find something, anything worth preserving and paying forward, they will find the sound of Ralph Mooney’s steel guitar, and make sure it is heard by the future to stir the souls of mankind forever." 


***UPDATE #2***


Jeremy Mackinder, the bass player for Whitey Morgan and the 78s, sent me a beautiful tribute to Mooney that I would like to share with you:


"To me, the most unique thing about country music is the pedal steel guitar. All kinds of instruments have been used, but, the ringing tone of a pedal steel defines what country music is.


You hear it, and you know what you’re listening to.  It’s rarely used in any other style of music, and if it is, it’s only on a song or two on an album that the artist wanted to show their country influence on.  Fiddle is kinda the same way, but, it also runs through bluegrass.  Pedal steel is country music and country music alone.


So, to have such a defining instrument run throughout the genre, to be given the title of “The Best There Ever Was” defines that person as one of the most important people in country music ever.  That man was Ralph Mooney.


Mooney passed yesterday.  From what I’ve read he’d been ill for quite some time.  Saddest thing is, there wasn’t much to read today. I found a few articles, but only from the usual suspects.  Nothing in Google searches.  Nothing on CMT’s page (as of 10:30 Monday morning)…checked a bunch of “country” radio stations websites just to confirm my belief.  Nothing.


I could run you down a list of what he’d recorded on, who he’d played with, what he’d accomplished.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you don’t need me to.  You wouldn’t have found this if Ralph Mooney hadn’t been an influence on your life, whether consciously or subconsciously.  He was a side man and so not knowing his name doesn’t make you ignorant, but not knowing his playing and his sound definitely would bring into question your status as a country music fan.


It’s a sad day.  His impact on my life will ring forever.  Country music has saved my life, and for that, I could never thank Ralph Mooney enough.  Turn up some Waylon or some Merle, turn it up LOUD—and listen with great respect to the Best That Ever Was, Ralph Mooney."


***UPDATE #3***


A public service will take place for for Mooney on Wednesday at 10 AM at Pleasantview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas (located I-20 at Kelly-Elliot exit, South side of I-20 between Arlington and Kennedale). 

Views: 1393

Comment by TwangNation.com on March 20, 2011 at 8:55pm
Great reflection on Husky's passing. RIP to a great one.
Comment by Bill Frater on March 21, 2011 at 12:27am
Nice work Adam... this is the first mention I could find on the web after reading Shooter's tweet about Mooney's passing!
Comment by Victoria Folkerts on March 21, 2011 at 7:17am
He will be missed! But I bet he will fit right in that heavenly band!
Comment by paul grubbs on March 22, 2011 at 4:28am
Hillbilly heaven has the greatest steel player. I can see Waylon smiling from ear to ear!
Comment by Bob Chew on March 22, 2011 at 4:42am
Ralph Mooney was the greatest no doubt . The stuff he did with Buck was magic !
Comment by PJ Steelman on March 22, 2011 at 4:43am

Even when I was a kid, before I understood what a pedal steel was, I knew who Ralph was.  Later on when I got my first Stringmaster, it was Moon that I first tried to emulate.   It is odd that I had a couple of Waylon DVD's in the player late last week before I took  off. 


Thanks for a lifetime of great music Ralph, may you Rest In Peace.

Comment by Ronald Virgil Essex on March 22, 2011 at 5:25am
I have sang many a song with Ralph playing his Fender 1000 Steel he and Leo made up back in the 50's when he was in Wynn Stewart's band in Bell Gardens, California at Sherry's Barn. He alway's made my songs sound so much better by playing his type of home made steel guitar.He took the three pedals from an old Model "T" Ford and hooked them up to his Fender Steel and that gave Leo Fender the idea of the pedal steel. Carl West was another great steel guitar man back in those days too. Virgil Essex AKA:Jerry Dallas susieq_6@hpcisp.com
Comment by terry roberts on March 23, 2011 at 8:05am
IS there a place where you can get an exact track list of what songs he played on beforer Waylon? I'd like to put a cd set together of the exact songs he played on for Merle/Buck/Wynn, etc...email me at tjwildone64@aol.com if anyone has something..ALSO i thinks its a CRIME that Shooter never recorded ONE song w/him...instead he wasted everyones time putting out that SH-T album last year and wasted time he could have used for this....LATER
Comment by Adam Sheets on March 23, 2011 at 12:15pm

Terry, I wish I could help you out with that, but unfortunately I can't. I do know that it was the earliest stuff with Buck and the mid-'60s period with Merle.


As far as Shooter goes, though, he's a friend of mine and I know as a matter of fact that he has a ton of respect for the music of his father and his father's band. With that said, he wants to be his own artist and not simply a tribute act. He actually read your comment and wanted me to let you know that he has released a statement praising Mooney for singlehandedly changing country music. That said, Mooney was retired and had pretty much quit playing entirely for a number of years and Shooter says that, while he would have loved to work with him, he had virtually no contact with him at all after about age 9, other than a few phone calls. He also paid tribute to Mooney back in 2005 in his "Steady at the Wheel" music video. Look it up on YouTube and check out the shirt he's wearing.

Comment by Kurt Mahoney on March 23, 2011 at 7:05pm

Well Spoken, Adam-one of the things that drives me nuts about the 'internet world' we live in, is people feeling they can say whatever they want-attack whoever they want-with no sense of responsibility, or in most cases, knowledge of the person they choose to rant about.

Damn shame we lost him, but at least he lived a full life, and left the world a treasure trove of music and memories...

We also lost Pinetop Perkins this week-another seminal 'sideman' who left an indelible impression on anyone who worked with him, or listens to the blues.

PS Tell Shooter Kurt said 'hey'..I'm the guy who shot the video of his Hootenanny gig last summer-sent it-hope he got it!




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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.