Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Memoriam: Ralph Mooney and Marshall Grant

Ray Price: Crazy Arms


Waylon Jennings: Rainy Day Woman


Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two: Luther Played the Boogie


The names Ralph Mooney and Marshall Grant may not appear above the title on many records. But, their contributions to music were instrumental -- in both senses of the word.

Ralph Mooney co-wrote one of the greatest country songs ever, “Crazy Arms.” It’s been covered zillions of times; Ray Price and Patsy Cline own the best-known versions, and it's one of the few covers in Chuck Berry's Chess catalog. It sounds good every time, in part thanks to some of the greatest lines of despair in country music. (“This ain't no crazy dream, I know that it's real, you’re someone else’s love now.”) But Mooney is even better known as one of the all-time great country sidemen. A pioneering steel guitarist, he’s often associated with the Bakersfield sound and can be heard on the early hits of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. He also did some solo turns and made a fine duet album with James Burton. He found new fame in the 1970s as Waylon Jennings’ steel guitar player. Waylon’s band, The Waylors, lacked a standout lead guitarist. It was Mooney’s licks that propelled the arrangements. Mooney’s and Waylon’s interplay was at its finest on the 1974 hit, “Rainy Day Woman.”

Unlike Mooney, Marshall Grant didn’t leave behind distinctive solos or significant songwriting credits. But, he played an integral role in constructing the sound of Johnny Cash. He was the entire rhythm section of Cash’s original band, the Tennessee Three. (That was the group’s original name, the other two being Luther Perkins and Red Kernodle. They became the Tennessee Two when Kernodle dropped out, and went back to Three after drummer W.S. Holland joined a few years later.) Particularly on the Sun records, before Holland joined the band, it was Marshall Grant’s upright bass that provided the basis for the boom-chick-a-boom sound. The inevitable switch to electric bass dampened Grant’s sound, and his role in Cash’s shows and recordings diminished as players and singers flitted in and out of Cash’s band. He acrimoniously left Cash’s employ in the early 1980s, though the two reconciled shortly before Cash’s death. Grant died in the service of his old boss, after falling ill during rehearsal for a Cash tribute concert organized by Rosanne Cash.

Guest post by Mt Vernon Mike

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