Ralph Mooney, Legendary Steel Guitarist, Dies at 82
Steel guitar icon Ralph Mooney passed away on Sunday, March 20, according to the Los Angeles Times. Mooney died at his home in Kennedale, Texas. His wife, Wanda, said that Mooney died of complications that arose from cancer. Mooney was 82-years-old.
Mooney rose to country music stardom for his superior pedal steel guitar skills, and he even helped in pioneering an entirely new California-style of country music, dubbed 'Bakersfield country.' Over his career, Mooney lended his rich, twangy string-plucking to the signature sounds of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart, Wanda Jackson and more.
Mooney's most famous gig came with his 20-year membership of Waylon Jennings' band. Jennings asked Mooney to join his band in 1970, and Jennings' longtime friend and band member Richie Albright recalled that moment in the 2006 box set, 'Waylon -- Nashville Rebel.' Alrbight stated, "Waylon always said, 'Hell, there's only one steel guitar player, and it's Ralph Mooney.'"
Jennings' son, musician Shooter Jennings, also commented on Monday, March 21, saying, "He was a pioneer and a visionary. He coveted his instrument and ultimately improved it. I feel he was one of the last keys to the old 'outlaw' sound and now it's gone forever. Thanks God for those albums."
Although Mooney was well known for his collaborations with other artists, he also had some solo success. In 1956, Mooney co-wrote the No. 1 hit track 'Crazy Arms,' which was recorded by Ray Price. The iconic song was re-recorded by artists such as Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Patty Loveless, the Jerry Garcia Band and many more. Mooney once humorously said, "I would starve to death if it wasn't for those royalty checks."
Mooney was also a star before Jennings even recruited him, being named Guitarist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 1966. Over the span of 15 years, Mooney received six more nominations in that category. He was also inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, which is housed in St. Louis, in 1983, and his plaque still hangs there today, reading, "So uniquely original that he remains unduplicated."
Even in his ailing health, Mooney continued to record music. In 2010, he was featured on four tracks off of Marty Stuart's Grammy-winning album 'Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions.' Stuart, who was a close friend of Mooney's, commented on Monday, saying, "He was my all-time country music hero as far as musicians go. When I was making the 'Ghost Train' record, I took it to California with me. I was listening to it as I was driving down Victory Boulevard, and when I heard him play I started crying, because it was always my dream of going to California and hearing my music sound like that."
Mooney is survived by his wife; his son, Richard; his daughter, Linda Yates; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Rest in peace, Ralph Mooney.
Watch Ralph Mooney Perform Willie Nelson's 'Won't You Ride in My Little Red Wagon'