Moondog Biography

Louis Thomas Hardin, 26 May 1916, Marysville, Kansas, USA, d. 8 September 1999, Münster, Germany. This idiosyncratic composer lost his sight at the age of 16 following an accident with a dynamite cap. He was introduced to classical music at the Iowa School for the Blind, studying violin, viola and piano. Hardin moved to New York in 1943, attending rehearsals of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, but by the mid-40s he had opted for a life as a ‘street musician’. He took the name Moondog in 1947 and established a pitch on the city’s fabled Times Square. Such was his fame, Hardin successfully retained this sobriquet after issuing legal proceedings against disc jockey Alan Freed, who had claimed the ‘Moondog’ name for his radio show. In a manner similar to fellow maverick Harry Partch, Moondog constructed his own instruments, claiming conventional scales could not reproduce the sounds heard in his head. This was immediately apparent on his first release, On The Streets Of New York (1953), a 45 rpm EP issued by Epic and London/American.

Percussive devices, named the ‘oo’ and ‘trimba’, were at the fore of albums recorded for the Prestige Records label, notably More Moondog and The Story Of Moondog, although a distinctive jazz influence could also be detected. Further releases ensued, including Moondog And His Honking Geese, which the composer financed and distributed. Hardin also arranged an album of Mother Goose songs for singer Julie Andrews. During the 60s Moondog continued to perform and beg on the city’s streets, but his unconventional lifestyle and appearance - he wrapped himself in army surplus blankets and wore a Viking-styled helmet - found succour in the emergent counter-culture. He performed with anti-establishment comedian Lenny Bruce and eccentric singer Tiny Tim, while several groups, including Big Brother And the Holding Company and the Insect Trust, recorded his distinctive musical rounds. In 1969, Jim Guercio, producer of the highly successful band Chicago, introduced Moondog to CBS Records.

Buoyed by a full orchestra, Moondog encapsulated 20 years of compositions, showing musical references to such diverse figures as Stravinsky and Charlie Parker, the latter of whom often conversed with Moondog. One particular selection, ‘The Witch Of Endor’, is now regarded as one of his finest pieces. Moondog 2 was a collection of rounds, inspired by the recognition afforded the composer by the hip cognoscenti. In 1974 Moondog undertook a tour of Germany where he opted to settle. ‘I am a European at heart’, he later stated. A further series of albums maintained his unique musical vision. Although he ceased recording for over 20 years, interest in this fascinating individual continued to flourish, and he performed at London’s Meltdown festival in 1995. Two years later Atlantic Records released an album recorded with nine saxophonists and a stellar cast of British musicians, including Danny Thompson and Peter Hammill.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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