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JOHNNY MOELLER

Johnny Moeller’s guitar playing is full of voodoo and lighting. The floating bent notes, delicately singing phrases, bursts of staccato picking, and ringing piano-like chords that he sculpts into vibrant solos bring all the beauty, power, and mystery of the blues to life. Yet he’s impossible to pigeonhole. Although Moeller’s the latest in a long line of six-string wizards to hail from Austin, he upholds the Texas music tradition not by imitating the licks of legendary Lone Star State players who’ve influenced him — like Albert Collins, Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Vaughan Brothers — but by being a maverick. “The truth of the matter is I’ve never really tried to emulate anybody else,” explains Moeller, who’s wrapping up a daring new solo album. “There are lots of great guitar players who inspired me, and singers and saxophone players, too. But I don’t like to limit myself to purely one style of music. I have my own thing, which is blues based, and then I like to mix in everything else I love: soul, jazz, funk and rock ‘n’ roll.” That amalgamation comes naturally to the Fort Worth native who grew up on his father’s blues and soul record collection, the classic rock he heard on radio and the albums by everybody from elegant jazz guitarist Grant Green to down ‘n’ dirty boogie architect John Lee Hooker that he bought in high school with his paychecks from the local Piggly Wiggly. But the blues is always Moeller’s compass. It’s been that way since he stumbled on an old Lightnin’ Hopkins album while he flipped through the bins at Record Town. “When I got that album home, the minute I played it I knew that was what I wanted to do,” he recounts. “It was so raw and wild and original that it totally blew my mind.” Since then Moeller’s developed into one of the genre’s most stunning and soulful six-string stylists with an uncanny ability to support heavy hitters. Although his most visible gig is backing Kim Wilson in the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Moeller’s also the Severn Records house guitarist. In that role, he’s lent artful licks to albums by stellar vocalists Darrell Nulisch and Lou Pride, harmonica ace Steve Guyger and others. He’s also been a long-time member of fellow Texan Nulisch’s band and has toured with the Severn Soul Revue backing singers Nulisch, Pride, and Tad Robinson. Moeller says the essential elements of his style — a blend of cool relaxed phrasing and greasy grooves balanced by razor-wire runs and howling tones — have been in place since the days when he landed his first professional gig backing Denton, Texas bluesman Pop Carter with a group that included his brother Jay, who is also in the Thunderbirds, and their lifelong pal Paul Size, another Austin-based guitar legend in the making. “My brother and I were visiting my father in Austin one summer and we went to Antone’s to see Little Charlie and the Nightcats, who we love. My brother told Clifford I played guitar, and before I knew it he was telling the band, ‘Hey, let’s get this kid up there.’ It was surreal, but Clifford was big-hearted. He helped so many musicians in Austin, from giving them gigs to flat-out paying their rent.” Moeller says his upcoming album represents an important step in his evolution. “It’s really an outgrowth of my learning how to be a better frontman,” he explains. “I’m blossoming as a singer, songwriter, and leader. Part of that’s just what I feel I need to do as an artist, and part of that’s inspired by working with the bandleaders I’ve worked with — especially Kim, who really knows how to run a show on stage.” The new Johnny Moeller Band album he’s been recording in bursts for the past four years is more fine-tuned than his previous two releases, 1996’s The Return of the Funky Worm and 2001’s Johnny Blues Aggregation. Those discs were off-the-cuff affairs, built around in-studio jams and produced by the Dallas Blues Society. “This album’s come together at a slower pace because I’ve really been concentrating on the songwriting and arranging, and not just rushing into the studio when I’m off the road,” says Moeller. “I also sing lead on four numbers, which is a whole ’nother world for me, but one I’m becoming more and more comfortable with. The CD’s got boogaloos and dirty blues, and half is originals including some funky instrumentals. The vibe of some of the songs is ‘James Brown meets Frankie Lee Sims’.”Funky Worm and Aggregation alums Jay Moeller and Paul Size appear, plus their fellow Texas bluesman Sean Pittman and the legendary Austin blues siren Lou Ann Barton. Miss Lou Ann’s lush voice pilots a version of Earl King’s “Everybody’s Got to Cry Sometime.” Moeller also leads a swampy boogaloo stomp through King’s classic “Trick Bag.” “On this album and in my live sets these days it feels like I’m really finding myself,” Moeller says. “So even I’m curious about what I’m going to do next.”

 
BLOOGALOO!
SEVERN CD 0049