Whistlin’ Alex Moore was an eccentric Texas pianist whose career stretched from the early 20s into the late 80s. His archaic playing style incorporated elements of ragtime, barrelhouse and ‘stride’ patterns, and his talent for endless improvisation, spur-of-the-moment diversions and wild, Thelonius Monk-like spatterings of ‘blue-notes’ spoke of an inventive man whose main job was to play piano for hours on end! He augmented his slightly nasal vocal tone with a distinctive, melodic whistle that became his trademark and gave him his Blues name. In his later years he became a popular Festival performer who was still playing regularly in his native Dallas into his 90th year.
Born in 1899, Alexander Herman Moore learned piano as a teenager, but he was one of the generation who were drafted into WWI in 1916. On his return to Dallas he earned a living playing the clubs, parties and ‘chock-houses’ around the Froggy Bottom and Central Tracks areas. He was spotted by the Columbia Records field-recording unit in 1929, and the six tracks they cut were all released, but the discs didn’t sell well despite intriguing titles like ‘Blue Bloomer Blues’ and ‘They May Not Be My Toes’. The economic depression killed that early recording career until 1937, when he cut some tracks for Decca, but it proved to be another false start as Alex was seen as little more than a curiosity. He seems to have found plenty of live work around Texas, and sometimes worked as a carter or a hotel porter, but in 1947 he cut 10 more tracks at the KLIF radio station in Dallas. This session was commissioned by his employer, the owner of the Southern Steak House where Alex was a dishwasher, but they remained unreleased until 1989. Alex had some sessions with RPM/Kent in 1951, where he cut a handful of tracks with guitarist ‘Smokey’ Hogg, but only one single was released.
1929 recording of ‘Blue Bloomer Blues’;
The Folk/Blues revival was in full swing the next time Alex came to public attention in 1960, when British musicologist Paul Oliver found Alex sitting in a bar about 100 yards from the house he was born in. Paul and Chris Strachwitz finally found a piano in-tune enough to record with at a local music-teacher’s house, and the results were issued as the album ‘Alex Moore’ on the Arhoolie label. A dozen more tracks from the same sessions, including some spoken reminiscences about Alex’s ‘chock-house’ days, were later released from Arhoolie’s archive. The distinctive whistle, some fine playing and those rambling stories about his younger days made Alex a favourite on the Festival circuit, and extended his audience outside Texas for the first time. He joined the American Blues Festival on their Europe tour in 1969, and recorded ‘Across the Atlantic Ocean’ at the Albert Hall in London, which featured on the annual Festival album for that year. On the same tour, he cut a live album in Stuttgart, Germany, which was also released by Arhoolie.
Alex plays for a European audience:
Whistlin' Alex Moore Discography
There are very few examples of early piano Blues as good as this. Alex spent his life improvising around his Blues riffs, and he puts a lot of soul into that whistle too!
COMPLETE RECORDED WORKS
From then on, Alex played mainly at his regular haunts and didn’t record more than the odd track until Rounder Records came up with ‘Wiggle Tail’ in 1988. Recorded at The Prohibition Room in Dallas, this live set captured Alex in his natural environment and his playing is still strong but, as might be expected at 89, his voice had seen better days. This enigmatic man, with his whistle, his stories and his archaic playing that opened a door to some old-style piano Blues
, passed away from a heart attack the following January.