In the world of blues critics, guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Mooney has long been a favorite. That's because he takes all he learned from classic Delta bluesmen like Son House and others and modernizes their stylings while adding his own unique stamp to classic Delta blues tunes. Even his original songs, often autobiographical, are steeped in the classic blues tradition. Mooney divides his time between residences in Florida and New Orleans, and usually works with a simple guitar-bass-drums trio known as Bluesiana. His vocals are powerful and inspired, and his guitar playing is often loud and electric, but so steeped in the style of House and others classic Delta bluesman, that he transcends generations in the blues idiom.
Growing up in Rochester, New York, Mooney took to the guitar as a ten-year-old and quickly became obsessed with the instrument, initially learning to play tunes by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. When he was 11, a neighbor who worked at WHAM, a Rochester radio station, gave Mooney some recordings by Scrapper Blackwell and Robert Johnson. These recordings turned his head and life around and he soon discovered other great bluesmen, including Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King, and B.B. King. Collecting, repairing, and playing National Steel resophonic guitars became his obsession. He began his professional performing career at 13, at first playing many shows with Rochester area blues guitarist Joe Beard. By his mid-teens, Mooney had worked out a few Son House tunes on his guitar, using his slide. House had moved to Rochester to "retire," but one day Beard suggested that he get Mooney over to House's residence. "Joe said to me, ‘You play so much Son House, you really ought to meet him,' so he introduced us. I was 16 at the time. Son and I would get together at his house. At his house, you couldn't play blues; we'd have to go outside or do a gig in a club somewhere. Even if his wife wasn't there, he still wouldn't play blues in the house."
Mooney left Rochester in 1973 and hitch-hiked his way across the country or hopped freight trains to get to California, Arizona, and Texas. He finally settled in New Orleans in 1976 and a year later, by the spring of 1977, he was playing the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which was then getting off the ground. Blind Pig released Mooney's debut album, Comin' Your Way in February, 1979, and he's been actively recording ever since. His other releases include Late Last Night for Bullseye/Rounder in 1980, Telephone Blues in 1984 for Powerhouse Records, and Telephone King in 1991 for the same label, run by D.C.-area blues-rock guitarist Tom Principato. His other albums include Testimony (1992, Domino), Sideways in Paradise (with Jimmy Thackery, Blind Pig, 1993); Travelin' On (1995, CrossCut); Dealing with the Devil (1995, Ruf Records) Against the Wall (1996, House of Blues); Gone to Hell (2000, Blind Pig); All I Want (2002, Blind Pig) and Big Ol' Fiya (2006, Live Music Lives). Mooney continues to tour the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Australia. Anyone who's seen him can tell you how powerful his trio concerts are. ~ Richard J. Skelly