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|Aubrey Wilson Mullican|
March 29, 1909|
Polk County, Texas, United States
|Died||January 1, 1967
|Genres||Country and western, western swing, boogie-woogie, blues|
|Singer, pianist, songwriter|
Aubrey Wilson Mullican (March 29, 1909 - January 1, 1967), known as Moon Mullican and "King of the Hillbilly Piano Players", was an American country and western singer, songwriter, and pianist. He was associated with the hillbilly boogie style which greatly influenced rockabilly. Jerry Lee Lewis cited him as a major influence on his own singing and piano playing.
Mullican once stated, "We gotta play music that'll make them goddamn beer bottles bounce on the table".
Mullican was born to Oscar Luther Mullican (1876-1961) and his first wife, Virginia Jordan Mullican (1880-1915), near Corrigan, Polk County, Texas. They were a farming family of Scottish, Irish and Eastern European ancestry. His Scots-Irish immigrant ancestor, James Mullikin, was born in Scotland, arriving in Maryland in the 1630s from Northern Ireland. His paternal grandfather was Pvt. Wilson G. Mullican, who served in the 6th Mississippi Infantry, Confederate States Army, at the Battle of Shiloh. Mullican's parents, stepmother, and grandparents are all buried in Stryker Cemetery, Polk County, Texas.
As a child, Mullican began playing the organ, which his religious father had purchased in order to better sing hymns at church. However, Moon made friends with Joe Jones, a black sharecropper on the family farm, who introduced him to the country blues. Moon's parents did not always approve, and he was torn between religious and secular music. After making his mark as a local piano player, Mullican left home at age 16, going to Houston, where he played piano and sang in local clubs. His early career choice had been either to be a singer or a preacher, and he decided on music.
By the 1930s, Mullican had acquired his nickname "Moon". Published sources suggest it is short for "moonshine" or possibly from his all-night performances; his family says it was because he loved to play "Shoot the Moon", a variation of the dominoes game "42".
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His earliest influences were popular blues artists of the day such as Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leroy Carr, together with country musicians including Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills. In 1936, he covered Cab Calloway's "Georgia Pine" and also sang his own compositions "Ain't You Kinda Sorry" and "Swing Baby Swing" for Leon Selph's Western swing band, The Blue Ridge Playboys. He also played and recorded with Cliff Bruner's Texas Wanderers, the Sunshine Boys, and Jimmie Davis. By the end of the 1930s, he had also become a popular vocalist with a warm, deep, vocal delivery.
In the early 1940s, he returned to the Texas Wanderers as lead singer and pianist, sang on the hits "Truck Driver's Blues" and "I'll Keep On Loving You". However, after leaving the Texas Wanderers in 1942, he became a session musician playing on the songs of Floyd Tillman, Ernest Tubb, and Red Foley.
In 1945 he put together his own band, the Showboys, who quickly became one of the most popular outfits in the Texas-Louisiana area with a mix of country music, Western swing, Cajun music, and Mullican's wild piano playing and singing. Although their style was highly eclectic and included country ballads, some of their music clearly foreshadowed what would later be called rock and roll. In September 1946, Mullican cut 16 recordings as band leader, for King Records in Cincinnati. His first release, "The Lonesome Hearted Blues" b/w "It's a Sin to Love You Like I Do" sold quite well, but did not chart. His second release, "New Jole Blon" in December 1946 (later recorded by Doug Kershaw), gained him even larger recognition by reaching number 2 on the Country and Western charts. "Jole Blon" was the beginning of a long string of big hits. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1951.
Mullican was one of the highest-selling artists coming from King Records. Though not a major chart success, he was immensely popular in the southeastern United States with such gold records such as "The Leaves Mustn't Fall", "Hey Shah", "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry", "Nine Tenths of the Tennessee River", and "I Was Sorta Wonderin'".
In the mid-1950s, many artists, such as Lefty Frizzell and George Jones experimented with rock 'n' roll largely due to the decline of traditional country-and-western in the mid-1950s. Mullican's success also declined during this time, and so he recorded four rock sides with Boyd Bennett and His Rockets, including the classic "Seven Nights to Rock". However, both singles failed miserably. Before he signed to Coral in 1958, he had three other hits with King, including "Hey Shah".
In 1958 he was signed by country music producer Owen Bradley to Decca Records' subsidiary label Coral Records, and recorded more rock songs including "Moon's Rock" and "Sweet Rockin' Music". Devastated by the failure of his rock sides, Owen Bradley convinced Mullican to record his original songs in the burgeoning new style of country music, the Nashville sound. However, Bradley was frustrated with Mullican; he reportedly said himself, "There was nothing I could do with him." Mullican, whose style was largely in traditional honky tonk, found it difficult to make such a large adjustment to his style. Consequently, he was dropped from Coral in 1959.
In the early 1960s, Mullican was a largely forgotten figure nationally, but based himself in Texas and carried on gigging and recording for the Starday and Spar labels. The decade saw him record country songs like "I'll Pour the Wine" and "Love Don't Have a Guarantee", together with less notable oddities including "I Ain't No Beatle, But I Wanna Hold Your Hand". One of his last records, "Love That Might Have Been", was excellent and should have been the start of a whole new stage in the singer's career.[according to whom?] However, Mullican had a heart condition, although he continued to perform regularly. On New Year's Eve 1966, he suffered a heart attack in Beaumont, Texas, and died early in the morning on January 1, 1967. He and his wife, Eunice, who survived him (she died in 1973), had no children.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mullican influenced many other country artists. He had defined a style of country balladeering not hinted at in his 1930s work. This style of music influenced Jim Reeves (a band member for a while), Hank Williams (who named Mullican as a favorite artist), Hank Snow, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, and especially Jerry Lee Lewis, who covered many of Mullican's songs. It was in the realm of hillbilly boogie, however, that Mullican had his greatest influence. Many of his songs, such as "Pipeliners Blues", "Hey! Mister Cotton-Picker" and "Cherokee Boogie" (his biggest hit, in 1951) directly foreshadowed the style adopted by Haley and later rock'n'rollers. Mullican also influenced many others, some of whom recorded tribute CDs to mark Mullican's 100th birthday in 2009, and the Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, who recorded his song "Cherokee Boogie" on their 1973 album Comin' Right At Ya.
Moon's epitaph is the name of one of his many hits, "I'll Sail My Ship Alone".
|1947||"New Pretty Blonde (Jole Blon)"||2||21|
|"Jole Blon's Sister"||4|
|1948||"Sweeter Than the Flowers"||3||30|
|"I Left My Heart in Texas"||12|
|1949||"What Have I Done That Made You Go Away?"||15|
|1950||"I'll Sail My Ship Alone"||1||17|
|"You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry "||8|
|1951||"I Was Sorta Wonderin'"||10|
|"Cherokee Boogie (Eh-Oh-Aleena)"||7|
|1961||"Ragged But Right"||15|
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