The rhythm of Happy Moore

The music career of Detroit rhythm guitarist Happy Moore, who played jazz and country.

This post is inspired by a recent meeting with the late guitarist Happy Moore’s family. Moore earned mentions in the book, as well as in this website (see the Jimmy Franklin story). Many thanks to Robert, Candace and Liz for getting in touch and sharing the story.

Percussive guitar

Portrait of Happy Moore. Source: Craig Maki, courtesy Moore family
Happy Moore, ca. 1950. Source: Craig Maki, courtesy Moore family.

Before the late 1950s, the managers of the WSM Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, did not allow the use of drums in its broadcasts. Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys ignored this rule in 1944 when they made their only appearance on the show. Until rock’n’roll changed the musical environment, the use of drums in country acts across North America was a novelty, and more common in western swing bands. (In Detroit, Casey Clark was the first country bandleader to hire a drummer, in 1952.)

So what did bands do for rhythm? Bass players hit their strings on the beat. When a rhythm guitarist came into the mix, emphasizing the same beat as the bass player, this usually filled out the sound. A great rhythm guitar player, perhaps someone influenced by jazz music such as Happy Moore, could make a guitar sound like a snare drum.

Modern Mustangs

Born in 1920, Emerson “Happy” Moore inherited his nickname from his dad, and grew up near Dayton, Ohio. By age twelve, he played rhythm guitar and sang at public shows in pop bands. It wasn’t until he met lead guitarist and singer Chuck Oakes in Dayton, when Moore began his association with country music. Moore, Oakes, Jimmy Franklin, and his brother Whitey participated in the Dayton music scene during and after World War II, working nightclubs with their own quartet, as well as with bassist Jimmie Saul and his Prairie Drifters, and guitarist Roy Lanham and the Whippoorwills.

By the late 1940s, Moore and the gang were working restaurants and clubs in Detroit as the Modern Mustangs, playing and singing cowboy music, western swing, and boogie woogie. “My dad didn’t drink,” said daughter Candace. “He just loved to play music. And when he played, his face would light up, just beam with joy. His guitar playing added so much, just filled out any group’s sound.” [1]

Gold Star Cowboys at Roosevelt Lounge. Source: Craig Maki, courtesy Moore family
Danny Richards and the Gold Star Cowboys back Moon Mullican (at piano) in the Roosevelt Lounge, 1952. On stage from left: Chuck Carroll, Whitey Franklin, Happy Moore, and Danny Richards. Source: Craig Maki, courtesy Moore family.

Moore music

Happy Moore worked in Detroit, Bay City, and traveled the region as a full-time musician with Chuck Oakes, singer Danny Richards, the Franklin Brothers, and guitarist Chuck Carroll. In 1954, Moore took a day job with the Burroughs company. He continued to gig on weekends for the rest of his life.

Listen to: Tumbling Tumbleweeds – WXYZ Motor City Jamboree

Jess Childers and his Country Kings. Source: Craig Maki, courtesy Moore family
Jess Childers and his Country Kings, late 1960s. From left: Chuck Oakes, unknown man on stage, Jess Childers, and Happy Moore. Source: Craig Maki, courtesy Moore family.

Aside from Chuck Oakes’ “Hey! It’s Chuck’s Boogie” issued by Fortune Records [2], on which Moore might have played rhythm guitar, the only recording we have of Moore is with a vocal trio that included Danny Richards and Whitey Franklin doing the Sons of the Pioneers’ “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” on the WXYZ Motor City Jamboree, ca. 1954. [3]

“He was asked to move to Nashville by several people,” said his wife Liz. “Jim Reeves, Moon Mullican … but he decided to stay put.” Reeves and Mullican both entertained at Detroit’s Roosevelt Lounge (on Mack near Montcalm), where Danny Richards’ band, which included Happy Moore, played host during the early 1950s.

Moore passed away from a heart attack in April 1984. “He was on his way to a gig on the night he died,” said his son Robert.

“You couldn’t keep him away from playing music,” said wife Liz. “He was complaining about the way he felt all day, and I said, ‘Why don’t you stay home tonight?’ ‘But the guys need me,’ he said. He just loved to play music with his friends. Any time, any place.”



  1. Elizabeth, Robert, and Candace Moore interviewed Feb. 9, 2014.
  2. Around 1950, Fortune Records issued “Hey! It’s Chuck’s Boogie” backed with “Waltz Of Virginia” (Fortune 711).
  3. A home tape recording of this show features host Milton Estes, Danny Richards and his Gold Star Cowboys, singer Mary Ann Johnson, guest singers Flash Griner and Dixie Lee Walker, and headliner George Morgan with steel guitarist Don Davis in tow.

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