John Mooney was raised of the music of the great blues artists of the early and middle 1900s. During his youth in upstate New York, Mooney listened to the radio often, disdaining the rock and roll of his peers in favor of the blues. “Late at night I’d fish around the radio and I’d pick up these live shows from Knoxville, Tennessee,” says Mooney. “They’d be playing blues, and it seemed more real than anything else on the radio.” He started playing guitar at the age of ten. At twelve, John was performing with friends at church gatherings, coffee houses, and barn dances, and by fourteen was performing at large outdoor concerts. Part of the original impetus for his interest in music may have filtered down from his grandfather, a musician himself. “He used to play the mandolin and banjo back in the ‘20s,” says Mooney. “Every Sunday he’d come over to the house and play and everybody would dance around. He even cut a couple of 78s that I’ve heard. It was really hot stuff, a kind of reggae jazz.”
The first and most enduring influence on the development of Mooney’s music resulted from his meeting the Legendary Delta blues singer, Ed “Son” House, in Rochester, New York. Impressed by the sixteen-year-old musician’s talent, Son (who was Robert Johnson’s mentor and teacher) and John soon became friends. “It took Son a little while to warm up to me,” Mooney recalls “I’d been playing Delta stuff for a few years and we played together at a couple of house parties. I’d tune his guitar. He started getting comfortable around me and invited me over to hang out. I wasn’t aware of what the opportunity meant, but I knew there was nobody better in Delta blues.”
Over the next few years they spent a lot of time playing together, on and off stage, in and around Rochester. Though music was their common bond, House and Mooney often discussed religion and life goals. “I needed help in those departments,” says Mooney, who left home at thirteen and had a job and an apartment at fifteen. “We’d sit around the house and talk. His wife, Evie, wouldn’t let him play blues in the house, so we’d have to go outside to play guitar. In the winter, we’d sing spiritual stuff inside. Even if she wasn’t home, he never sang a blues lyric in the house.” The effect Son had on Mooney’s music is easily seen in his solo renditions of original and traditional Delta blues numbers. Mooney cites Son’s heavily rhythmic style as having a strong influence on him. In fact, the way Mooney adapts acoustic playing to a modern electric format is one of his most distinctive trademarks.
Following those years with Son House, Mooney sang his blues all over western New York and traveled from Boston to California and down to New Orleans. It was there that John met another man who was to influence his music greatly, the father of New Orleans piano, Professor Longhair.
Mooney spent much of the early ‘70s hoboing around the country with his National Steel guitar, honing his skills and evolving his increasingly distinctive style of blues. Since 1981 he has been touring with his group, Bluesiana, performing Delta funk and second line blues throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Japan. John has a musical reputation that has gained him invitations to play at numerous folk and jazz festivals across the country, including a yearly appearance at New Orleans’ legendary Jazz and Heritage Festival. He’s played with a host of musical legends, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, John Hammond, Mose Allison, and Professor Longhair. John has recorded with the likes of Junior Wells, Champion Jack Dupree and Jimmy McCracklin.
Mooney’s unique style of playing traditional blues incorporates an almost savage energy enthusiasm and sensitivity for the music he performs. There are many men who try to play in the black blues tradition, but few of them anywhere can match his startling intensity. A forceful musician, Mooney is also a commanding vocalist, a singer of liquid subtlety and big hearted tones. On stage he is vibrant, dynamic, almost frenetic. Off stage he is easygoing, mild mannered, almost shy.
Mooney recorded his debut album, Comin’ Your Way, for Blind Pig in 1979. The Boston Globe called it “an impressive debut album for Mooney, who melds country blues vocal styles with jazzy, boogie-woogie arrangements to produce a distinctive, good-time sound. It’s a good effort that should appeal to blues and rock-n-roll folks alike.” In 1983, he recorded Telephone King, also for Blind Pig and later reissued on the Powerhouse label. In 1985, John Mooney and good friend Jimmy Thackery got together to record an acoustic duet album. On Sideways in Paradise (1993), Mooney and Thackery jammed on acoustic guitars, mandocella, and mandolins at a private villa in Jamaica to record some sterling blues and ragtime. In 1990 John released Late Last Night, on Bullseye and following year Crosscut issued a live album recorded in Bremen, Germany. Domino released his album entitled Testimony in 1992. Since then, John released Against the Wall (House of Blues/Ruf Records) and Dealing with the Devil (Ruf Records), a 1998 Handy Award nominee in the Best Acoustic Blues category.
The 2000 release of Gone to Hell renews John Mooney’s affiliation with Blind Pig. Its brilliant combination of acoustic blues and Crescent City funk bears the mark of the two strongest influences on John’s music, Son House and Professor Longhair. Gone to Hell features some of John’s most accomplished songwriting to date, and the fire in his voice and guitar playing has never burned brighter.
All I Want (Blind Pig) was released in 2002. Its eleven songs capture the full range of Mooney’s moods and styles. Packaged between the upbeat title song and the plaintive “If You Love Me”, All I Want is a superb mix of New Orleans funk, playful love tunes and soulful delta blues. Mooney’s writing, strong voice, and unique playing make All I Want another fine contribution to the blues tradition.
His newest disc, Big Ol’ Fiya - with special guest Jon Cleary - has been a long time coming but Mooney has brought some profound musical styles and songwriting to his signature syncopated delta blues sound. By far his most heartfelt, intimate, soulful and incredibly intricate vocals, this is a John Mooney album that is simply like none other.