Johnny Nicholas A Tribute to Moon Mullican, Volumes 1 & 2
A Tribute to Moon Mullican, Volumes 1 & 2
Aubrey Wilson “Moon” Mullican (1909-1967) is considered by many to have been the king of honky-tonk pianists during the 1930s and ‘40s. None other than Jerry Lee Lewis covered several of Mullican’s songs and sang his praises for the ways he bridged Texas hillbilly music to rockabilly, and on to the mainland of Gulf Coast rock and roll. Mullican’s songs reach right into the heart and electrify it, moving the body from head to toe. They’re an invitation to live the cliché, “Leave your troubles behind.” Yet far too many have no idea who Moon Mullican was.
Leave it to Johnny Nicholas to rush to the rescue with his melting pot of rhythms and know-how. A writer, singer, guitarist, pianist, and harmonica player, Nicholas began his career in the mid-1960s playing the blues in Rhode Island with Duke Robillard, and later in Chicago with Big Walter Horton, among others. He was a member of country-rock pioneers Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, and Western swing masters Asleep at the Wheel. Nicholas’ two volumes (ten songs each) of his Tribute to Moon Mullican cover all the bases necessary to present a vivid, fascinating audio bio of Mullican. These are truly heartfelt performances by a cast of seasoned, colorful, and sympathetic musicians and singers. The songs glisten with personality, and they’re anchored by an all-star Lone Star sextet that includes Austin luminaries Floyd Domino on piano and Scrappy Judd Newcomb on guitar. Asleep at the Wheel fiddler Katie Shore cooks up storms in them.
Volume 1 opens with “Good Deal Lucille,” starring the legendary Earl Poole Ball, who at 81, sings and pounds the 88’s like an 18-year-old, having himself a ball within the rollicking groove. Long, tall Marcia Ball (unrelated but equally now a legend), offers up her own radiant piano playing and vocalizing in “Good Times Gonna Roll Again” to begin Volume 2. Peter Rowan brings his five decades of bluegrass trendsetting to the mournful waltz, “I’m Waiting for Ships that Never Come In,” which also features blues sax great Greg Piccolo moaning in unison. That fully natural comingling of artistic style winds its way throughout the albums.
New Orleans’ Kelli (K.C.) Jones and Tif Lamson lead the band with spunk through some sultry, dancehall frolicking on “When Love Dies.” Tejano Grammy winners Los Texmaniacs get heady on “Moonshine Polka,” and Louisiana’s Linda Gail Lewis leads a line dance with glitter and grit on “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone.” Nicholas himself steps to the fore several times, most notably on the proud “Big, Big City” and happy-go-lucky “Make Friends,” the latter perfect for our times.
In a world full of uncertainties, count on Johnny Nicholas’ Tribute to Moon Mullican to shine brightly in a variety of lights, igniting exhilaration all the way.
Tom Clarke for MAS