Five For Monday: Ralph Mooney

posted by Michael John Simmons

Five For Monday: Ralph Mooney

We were saddened to hear that Ralph Mooney, one of the masters of the pedal steel guitar, just passed away. Mooney was born in Oklahoma but he moved to California in the 1940s. Inspired by the great Leon McAuliffe, he took up the steel guitar himself and over the years developed into a top notch player. He was a staff musician with Capitol Records and played on hundreds of sessions with players like Buck Owens,  Merle Haggard, Rose Maddox, Wanda Jackson and Wynn Stewart. In honor of fabulous career we dedicate today’s Five For Monday to his memory.

Waylon Jennings “People Up In Texas”

Ralph Mooney is perhaps best known for his work with Waylon Jennings. In 1970, Mooney joined Jennings’ band and over the next 20 years or so he played his unmistaken licks for him on stage and on record. Mooney was the consummate sideman whose number one job was to make the guy in the spotlight look good so it’s hard to find clips that really show him, but this one has a good look at his impeccable technique.

Wynn Stewart “Sing a Sad Song”

I was tempted to devote all of today’s clips to Ralph Mooney’s work with Wynn Stewart. In the 1950s Wynn and Ralph created the blueprint for the twangy, raw music we have come to know and love as the Bakersfield Sound. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were both inspired by Wynn Stewart and both made some great records with Mooney. “Sing A Sad Song” was one of the many great songs composed by Stewart. I love the way Stewart introduces the solo steel by saying, “Now here’s Ralph Mooney.” Merle Haggard recorded this song in 1963. And who did Haggard ask to pedal steel on that record? Mr. Mooney, of course.

Ray Price “Crazy Arms”

Along with playing pedal steel, which I learned is a full time occupation after trying learn how to play it years ago, Ralph Mooney was pretty good songwriter. His best known song was “Crazy Arms,” which was a hit for Ray Price. Ralph doesn’t appear in this clip but I couldn’t resist the Cherokee Cowboy’s fancy suit.

James Burton Ralph Mooney “Moonshine”

Ralph Mooney only made one record with his name on the front cover, but, man, what a record! Entitled Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’ this collection of instrumental duets with legendary Telemaster James Burton is nothing full speed ahead twang on every track

Ralph Mooney “Little Red Wagon”

Ralph Mooney retired from the road in the mid-1990s but he didn’t give up playing. He was a regular visitor at various steel guitar conventions around the country. Here’s a nice clip of Ralph Mooney from a couple of years ago playing at a monthly gathering sponsored by the Texas Steel Guitar Association.