Born Merrill Everett Moore, 26 September 1923, Algona, Iowa
Singer / pianist.
Until 1966, the name Merrill Moore meant nothing to me. Back then, there was only one good rock n roll show on UK radio : the Saturday evening edition of the Mike Raven Show on Radio 390, a pirate station. On July 30, 1966, Raven played all four sides of two Merrill Moore singles that he had borrowed from someone ("Nola"/"Fly Right Boogie" and "House Of Blue Lights"/"Bell Bottom Boogie"). Wow, I thought, that's my kind of music. A name to remember.
A few months later I found second-hand copies of two of Merrill's singles ("Down the Road Apiece"/"Cooing To the Wrong Pigeon" and "Yes Indeed" /"One Way Door", Dutch pressings!) at the Waterloo Square market in Amsterdam. Proudly, I played my new acquisitions for the Dutch Rockville clan (over the phone, mostly). Almost everyone was impressed, especially by "Down the Road Apiece", with its long instrumental solo. It turned out that no one had ever heard of Merrill, not even Cees Klop, who tried (in vain) to buy the records from me. Not long afterwards, I found out, through Hugh McCallum's fanzine Haley News, that I was not the only one who had (re)discovered Moore. In England, the late Max Needham (aka Waxie Maxie) had started a one-man crusade to get Merrill's music reissued ("The Quest For Merrill Moore"). After many rejections, he finally found a taker in Jeff Kruger ("the Wembley Wizard") of Ember Records in London. The glorious result was that all A- and B-sides of Merrill's fourteen Capitol singles from 1952- 1957 were issued on two Ember LP's : "Bellyful of Blue Thunder" in 1967 and "Rough House 88" in 1968. At the time it seemed to me that every Dutch rock n roll fan was buying and playing those two LP's and I myself have played them to death. Perhaps the biggest surprise was finding out (finally!) what that great theme tune of "Schudden voor gebruik" (a rock n roll programme on Belgian radio, 1960-64) had been : it was the instrumental break of "Rock Rockola". So I had been exposed to Merrill's music for several years without knowing it.
Born and raised on a farm in Iowa, Merrill started taking piano lessons at the age of six. In high school he discovered boogie woogie, with Freddie Slack as his biggest influence. After marrying his high school sweetheart Doris in 1945, Moore moved to Tucson, Arizona, and later (1948) to San Diego, where he would stay for the rest of his life. Initially he worked as a clothes salesman, but from 1950 onwards, he was able to make a living as a musician, playing the Buckaroo Club six nights a week with his band, the Saddle Rhythm Boys. They played a mixture of Western swing and boogie woogie. Club owner Jimmy Kennedy knew Ken Nelson at Capitol and Merrill was signed to the label in 1952. During the first three years he recorded with his own band, later with studio musicians like Jimmy Bryant, Speedy West and Roy Lanham. The first three singles, "Big Bug Boogie"/ "Corrine Corina" (1952), "Red Light"/"Bartender's Blues" (1953) and most of all, "House Of Blue Lights"/"Bell Bottom Boogie" (1953) sold so well that Ken Nelson invited Merrill and his band to join a package tour. But he had signed an exclusive 7-year deal with Buckaroo Club owner Jimmy Kennedy, who refused to let Moore out of his contract. So this chance to expose him to a much wider audience was lost. However, in 1955 he managed to become a regular staff musician on Cliffie Stone's "Hometown Jamboree" television and radio programs in Los Angeles. He continued to record boogie novelties, as well as doing session piano work for Capitol artists such as Faron Young, Wanda Jackson, Sonny James, Tommy Sands and Skeets McDonald. At Ken Nelson's suggestion, Merrill recorded an LP of instrumentals in 1958, which was never released, until the tapes were saved by Bear Family in 1990. After this, he would not record for over a decade. Since 1962, Moore has played a variety of clubs, hotels and cruise ships. His European rediscovery brought him to England in 1969, where he met producer John Abbey. This led to the recording (in Hollywood) of a new album, called "Tree Top Tall", which was released on the B&C label in the UK. Unfortunately, it is far less enjoyable than the 1950s cuts. These were to be his final recordings, though Moore continued in the music business until 1998. In 2000, he finally lost a long battle with cancer, aged 76.
Although revered by rock n roll fans, Merrill Moore never saw himself as a rock artist. When he was in England in 1969, he was shocked by people who called him a rockabilly pioneer. He didn't even know the word 'rockabilly'. Interviewed by Cary Ginell in 1990, he said : "We didn't have the idea we were pioneering anything. We were just trying to make a living." Merrill disliked the early rock n roll acts : "Bill Haley did not have a good rhythm sound, in my opinion. He and others were cheapening the rhythm. They simplified it to the point where it wasn't professional anymore. Rock and roll to me was a completely different sound. The rhythm section was incomplete, it was too hard, and it didn't swing." Moore has never quite understood his popularity in Europe. Also, he was frustrated at the results of the Capitol recordings. He had very little say in the tunes that were recorded ; these were selected by Ken Nelson. "Nelson didn't understand the country sound back then. We had that heavy Bob Wills beat on the bandstand, but it didn't come across on record." Bob Wills was Merrill's biggest idol in the Western swing field, just as Freddie Slack was as a boogie woogie man. According to Moore, his recordings were only a small part of his repertoire. He wanted to emulate the versatility displayed by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. But due to the restrictions placed on him by Ken Nelson, Merrill was unable to record anything but boogie woogie tunes for Capitol.
Despite these frustrations on Merrill's part, I consider his musical legacy a great one, with "Down the Road Apiece", "Rock Rockola" and "Bell Bottom Boogie" as my personal favourites.
More info : http://www.rockabillyhall.com/MerrillMoore1.html
CD recommendations :
* P.S.: Ginell writes "... with legends such as The Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis, naming Moore as an early idol". However, in an interview that can be heard on CD 10 of the second Mercury/Bear Family box-set, Jerry insists that he had never heard of Merrill Moore.
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