Artist / Band / Musician
Louis Thomas Hardin was born on May 26th 1916 in Marysville, Kansas. His father was an Episcopal Minister. They later moved to Fort Bridger, Wyoming where his father was to run two ranches and open a trading post. His schooling took place in a log cabin in Burnt Fork, Wyoming and later at Long Tree. He took to percussion at an early age and his father took to see an Arapaho Sun Dance in which the young Hardin played a tom-tom sitting on Chief Yellow Calf's lap. He later went on to play tom-tom and flute with the Blackfoots at a Sun Dance. The American Indians had a profound effect on the young Hardin. He said that his concept of Jazz was "more Native American Indian orientated"
He attended Hurley High School and in 1929 he lost his sight when a dynamite cap exploded. He then attended The Iowa School For The Blind where he studied music learning to play the violin, viola, piano and organ and finishing High School. It was here that he took private tuition under Burnet Tuthill who was then head of the Memphis Conservatory. In 1933 he went to The Missouri School For The Blind where he studied Braille. Until 1942 he lived in Batesville, Arkansas and in 1942 he achieved a scholarship with help from Virginia Sledge to study in Memphis. He says though that he mostly taught himself ear training and music skills and theory from a book in Braille.
In 1943 he arrived in New York making ends meet by working as a model for art students. He became friends with the conductor Arthur Rodzinski after he attended rehearsals at Carnegie Hall. Rodzinski wanted to perform some of Moondogs music but by the time something was ready Rodzinski had died. Unfortunately his unusual style of dress, the famous Viking helmet and such, did not go down well with Rodzinski's successor and he was forced to leave. His appearance was he said a stand against the fashion industry manipulating the market by forcing changes in fashion trends year after year. He said ' I do not dress the way I do to attract attention, I attract attention because I dress the way I do'. He only gave up the Viking outfits when he moved to Germany on the advice of his manager Ilona Sommer. In an 1989 interview he said "I still love horned helmets and swords and spears". He met Anna Naila at this time and were married in 1947. The marriage ended when Moondog decided to leave New York.
Hardin started using the name Moondog in 1947 in honour of a dog, Lindy, "who used to howl at the moon more than any dog I knew". In the 1950's he sued Alan Freed the disc jockey to stop him using the name Moondog. Freed used to play 'Moondog Symphony' as his theme song. On Thanksgiving Day in 1954 Freed gave up using the name on air and changed the name of his show to 'Rock and Roll Show'.
Hardin took to the streets to earn a living. Because he wrote his music out in Braille he had to find money to get it transcribed. He would perform music and poetry to passers by for anything they would give him. He seemed to have performed at various places including the corner of 6th Avenue and 54th Street, Times Square, 52nd to 54th Street area and around the old Madison square Garden in Manhattan.
He says he started on the street in September 1949 and tells of the story of playing in a doorway on 6th Avenue when a man said to him 'I like the way you play. You're sitting in my doorway and I have a music shop here. I make records and I would like to record you'. Thus he made his first recordings. He says he made 3 or 4 78's starting in 1950 for the Spanish Music Centre owned by Gabriel Oller. He continued in this way for may years making 78's and albums for labels like Prestige and Epic.
He met many musicians during his time on the streets including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Bellson and Phillip Glass. Glass took Moondog in for about 3 months in 1969. He claimed that Glass and Steve Reich called him the 'founder of minimalism' but he said that he was not and would not accept the title. He wrote 'Lament I (Bird's Lament) in honour of Charlie Parker, on hearing of his death.
In 1967 Big Brother and The Holding Company with Janis Joplin recorded his 'All is Loneliness'. This seems to have been the start Columbia getting interested in him. In 1969 Jim Guerico, who was then the producer of the band Chicago, introduced him to Columbia/CBS and for the first time Moondog was able to record 20 years of his work with a full orchestra. Moondog 2 followed this in 1971, a collection of madrigals. During this time he became a minor celebrity appearing on such shows as The Today Show and The Tonight Show, writing music for commercials and radio and having one of his compositions used on the soundtrack of the Jack Nicholson film 'Drive, He said'
By 1974 he had disappeared from the street. People thought that he had died. In fact an American promoter asked him to go to Europe to do a concert. So he came over to Europe in January of 1974. Not surprisingly he ended up on the street again after the concerts in a town called Recklinghasen, near Cologne in Germany. This time it was a lady who took him under her wing. She was called Ilona Sommer. Her father let him stay with them and they supported him in his later years. She became his transciber for his music and also his publisher and manager. During his time in Germany he seems to have recorded between 5 and over a dozen albums depending on which report you read. Very few of which seem to be available. The best known is his 'Big Band' album released on his own Trimba label.
In 1989 he returned to America to 'conduct' the Brooklyn Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. New York Time critic Allan Kozinn describes his conducting style as unusual, he says he was "uncomfortable with being an authority figure, so he sits on the side of the orchestra and provides the beat on a bass drum or tympani" Although Moondog himself says of conducting "I just beat my hand on my chest. The musicians seems to prefer it, they know where the beat stops, when your hand touches your chest". He went back to Germany and never returned to America. In 1995 he came to London for a series on the South Bank organised by Elvis Costello. It was only his second appearance in the U.K. He appeared in a series of concerts called 'Meltdown'. His concert combined John Harle's London Saxophonic together with London Brass. London Saxophonic had already released an album of his works called 'Sax pax for a pax'
He died on 8th September 1999 in hospital in Munster, Germany, aged 83 of a heart attack. Ilona Sommer says he was listening to Camille Saint Saens when he died.
During his life he appears to have written over 300 madrigals, scores for brass and string orchestras, organ and piano pieces and over 80 symphonies. Very little of this was ever recorded or performed.
Permission & photo credit to:Solon Bannos & Daughter.Thanks
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