Roadhouse Album Review: “Moon and the Stars” is a heavenly tribute to the piano wizardry of Moon Mullican

Various Artists — “Moon and the Stars” — Valcour Records

I have to confess that the music of honky-tonk piano wizard Aubrey “Moon” Mullican had not been on my playlist radar until I heard a preview of this excellent tribute album on the radio (yes, you heard that right – radio!).

Specifically, I heard it on my favorite (and pretty much only) radio show, The Rhythm Revival, hosted by the prodigiously musically knowledgeable Rev. Billy C. Wirtz on WMNF in Tampa, Fla.

The Rev was playing songs from this album a few months back, and singing the praises on Mullican, a honky-tonk / hillbilly / bluesy piano magician who, among many other things, was an inspiration for Jerry Lee Lewis.

Well, piano pounders of all stripes have always been a personal weakness. Mullican’s keyboard genius turned out to be no exception.

Mullican (1909-1967) played Western swing, rowdy honky-tonk, Cajun, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, sentimental ballads — sometimes all in one song. He described his eclectic style as “East Texas sock,” (he was born in Polk County), that could “make goddamn beer bottles jump on the tables!” His piano leads the way, but the songs are filled with fiddles, guitars, some accordion, and apparently whatever sound he wanted.

Billy Grammer, a country guitarist who recorded with Mullican, explained that “western swing is nothing but big-band music played on stringed instruments instead of horns.” His music is said to be a bridge between western swing and rockabilly.

Mullican’s song and style and songwriting were more than prolific, they were influential with country/rockers like Lewis and rockers like Chuck Berry (think “Maybelline”). He should have earned a co-writing credit for Hank Williams’ 1952 hit “Jambalaya.” His spirited recordings were seemingly endless — check out this list.

Which kind of brings us to this lively, well-polished gem of a session — more completely titled “Johnny Nicholas Presents Moon and the Stars: A Tribute to Moon Mullican,” — co-producers Joel Savoy (Pine Leaf Boys founder, Savoy Family Cajun Band) and Johnny Nicholas (Big Walter Horton, Asleep at the Wheel) created this double album with group of veterans and lesser-known artists. Nicholas said he became a fan of Mullican’s work in the early 1970s through referrals from Commander Cody and Asleep at the Wheel members.

The sterling vocal cast includes Nicholas, Marcia Ball, Linda Gail Lewis, Augie Meyers, Peter Rowan, Steve Riley, Earl P Ball, Los Texmaniacs, Floyd Domino, and Danny Levin, plus younger artists like Katie Shore, Tif Lamson, Emily Gimble and Kelli Jones. The backing band sparkles with Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Rusty Blake, Chris Maresh, Greg Piccolo, Joel Savoy and Trey Boudreaux.

I’m not gonna comment on every song (there are 20!). But it’s worth noting some standout cuts:

Linda Gail Lewis takes a tough vocal turn on the swinging “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” and it’s more than worth noting that she is Jerry Lee’s younger sister. Jerry Lee recorded a country-style version in 1958, and Linda Gail cut another on 2015’s “Heartbreak Highway.” Nicholas backs her here with appropriate country-style guitar.

“Pipeliner Blues,” deftly handled by Augie Meyers on vocal, is another Mullican classic. The instrumental “Moonshine Polka” featuring Josh Baca on accordion is yet another facet of the Mullican style. “Seven Nights to Rock” lets Steve Riley on vocals and accordion does just what the title suggests. “Good Deal Lucille” offers some raucous piano plus vocals from Earl P Ball. Marcia Ball livens “Good Times Gonna Roll Again” with her piano and vocals. “Leavin’ You With a Worried Mind” is some pure country from Emily Gimble on piano and vocals with a little bluesy harp from Nicholas.

All of this barely scratches the surface of the many talents of Moon Mullican, his singing, songwriting and piano playing. Listen to this excellent album, look up Mullican himself, and listen to the man who made it all possible. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you’ll have one helluva good time.

“I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” by Linda Gail Lewis on piano and vocals

Here’s the real deal: Moon Mullican with “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone”

Here is the tracklist. Vol 1 is 1-10, Vol 2 is 11-20:

  1. Good Deal Lucille (J.D. Miller, Al Terry, Bob Theriot)
    Earl P Ball- Piano and Vocal
    Kelli Jones- Tambourine
  2. When Love Dies (Redd Stewart)
    Kelli Jones and Tif Lamson- Vocals
  3. Moonshine Polka (Lou Wayne)
    Max Baca- Bajo Sexto
    Josh Baca- Accordion
    Noel Hernandez- Bass
    Chris Rivera-Drums
  4. I’m Waiting for Ships That Never Come In (Abe Olman, Jack Yellen)
    Peter Rowan- Vocal
    Danny Levin- Piano
    Greg Piccolo- Saxophone
  5. Big Big City (Jerry Foster, Bill Rice)
    Johnny Nicholas- Vocals and Resonator Guitar
  6. I’ll Sail My Ship Alone (L. Mann, M. Burns, H. Bernard, H. Thurston)
    Linda Gail Lewis- Piano and Vocals
    Johnny Nicholas- Electric Guitar
    Trey Boudreaux- Bass
  7. You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry (Terry Shand, Bob Merrill)
    Johnny Nicholas- Vocal and Piano
    Katie Shore and Danny Levin- Fiddles
  8. There’s a Little Bit of Heaven (Moon Mullican, Lou Wayne)
    Katie Shore- Fiddle and Vocals
  9. So Long (Moon Mullican)
    Kelli Jones- Vocal
    Noel Hernandez- Bass
    Joel Savoy- Acoustic Guitar and Percussion
  10. Make Friends (Ed McGraw)
    Johnny Nicholas- Vocal and Piano
    Danny Levin- Piano
  11. Good Times Are Gonna Roll Again (Moon Mullican, Tommy Hill)
    Marcia Ball- Piano and Vocal
    Johnny Nicholas and Katie Shore- Harmony Vocals
    Kelli Jones- Tambourine
    Alex Goodrich- Sousaphone
  12. Leavin You With a Worried Mind (Moon Mullican, Arthur Smith)
    Emily Gimble- Piano and Vocal
    Mike Archer- Bass
    Johnny Nicholas- Harmonica
  13. What Have I Done (Lou Wayne, Morry Burns aka Moon Mullican)
    Katie Shore- Fiddle and Vocals
  14. I was sort of wondering (Moon Mullican, Dusty Ward, Bill Kearns)
    Tif Lamson- Vocal
    Johnny Nicholas- Piano and Vocal
    Kelli Jones- Acoustic Guitar
    Trey Boudreaux- Bass
  15. All I Need is You (Newt Richardson)
    Johnny Nicholas- Vocal and Piano
  16. Pipeliner Blues (Moon Mullican)
    Augie Meyers- Vocal
  17. Downstream (Redd Stewart, Sunny Dull)
    Peter Rowan- Vocals
    Katie Shore- Fiddle and vocals
    Kelli Jones- Vocals
    Joel Savoy- Electric Guitar
    Kelli Jones- Tambourine
  18. Seven Nights to Rock (Buck Trail, Henry Glover, Louis Innis)
    Steve Riley- Accordion and Vocals
    Johnny Nicholas- Piano
    Trey Boudreaux- Bass
    Tif Lamson, Katie Shore, Johnny Nicholas- Gang Vocals
    Joel Savoy- Electric Guitar
  19. Bottom of the Glass (Dick Flood, Eddie Hill)
    Tif Lamson- Vocal
    Kelli Jones- Acoustic Guitar
  20. Don’t Ever Take My Picture Down (Lou Wayne, Morry Burns aka Moon Mullican)
    Johnny Nicholas- Piano and Vocal


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