Steel guitar great Ralph Mooney, the co-writer of the country standard “Crazy Arms,” died Sunday, March 20, at his home in Arlington, Texas.
Mooney was noted for his distinctive playing behind such superstars as Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. He can be heard on such early 1960s Owens hits as “Under Your Spell Again” and “Foolin’ Around” and on such late 1960s Haggard classics as “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Strangers” and “Swinging Doors.”
He spent more than two decades in Waylon Jennings’ band The Waylors, beginning in 1970. He made significant musical contributions to such classic Jennings “outlaw” albums as Dreaming My Dreams, Honky Tonk Heroes, Ladies Love Outlaws, Lonesome Orn’ry and Mean, Are You Ready for the Country, Waylon Live, I’ve Always Been Crazy and This Time. He can also be heard on the 1978 Waylon Jennings / Willie Nelson hit duet “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
Mooney also recorded with Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Wanda Jackson, Wynn Stewart (“It’s Such a Pretty World Today”), Donna Fargo, Jessi Colter, Tommy Collins, Earl Scruggs, Hoyt Axton and many others.
He also recorded an instrumental album of his own. Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’ (with guitarist James Burton) was issued by Capitol Records in 1968.
The instrumentalist was a native of Oklahoma who began his professional playing career in California in the 1940s. He and Chuck Seals co-wrote “Crazy Arms,” which became a massive No. 1 hit for Ray Price in 1956.
“Crazy Arms” has subsequently been recorded by hundreds of others, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Ernest Tubb, The Sons of the Pioneers, Linda Ronstadt, Bobby Bare, Chuck Berry, Patsy Cline, Webb Pierce, Duane Eddy, The Andrews Sisters, BR5-49, Patti Page, Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, The Sir Douglas Quintet, Trini Lopez, Patty Loveless, Bing Crosby, Conway Twitty, Van Morrison and Gram Parsons, as well as Waylon Jennings. Marion Worth revived the classic on the charts in 1963, and Willie Nelson re-popularized it on the country hit parade again in 1979.
One of Ralph Mooney’s last recording sessions was for Marty Stuart’s 2010 Ghost Train CD. On it, he delivered an instrumental version of “Crazy Arms.” Mooney and Stuart co-wrote “Little Heartbreaker (The Likes of You)” for the album.
Ralph Mooney died of cancer at age 82. He will be buried today [Wednesday, March 23] in Arlington, Texas.
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