“The Man Behind the Biggest Hit Song About an Ole Miss Girl
We'll lay back and observe the constellations and watch the moon smiling bright
I'll play the radio on Southern stations 'cause Southern belles are hell at night.
You say you came to Baltimore from Ole Miss, a class of '74 gold ring
The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss to make the tide rise again.
Moonlight Feels Right, moonlight feels right
It's a song that is too cool, calm and collected to be forgotten--the tale of a smooth talking Southern boy wooing a girl from Ole Miss. That undeniable Mississippi bent sent it to the top of the charts in 1976.
The drawl behind the song's magic came right from Greenville, MS, where Starbuck's lead singer and writer grew up and first started playing music. The subject matter is pure romance--both for the girl he wanted and the university he he was in love with.
I wanted to go to Ole Miss so bad I could taste it," says Blackman. A lot of my buddies on the football team went there--Don Street, Ben Nelken, Steve Terracin and Butin Frame.
But Blackman got a track scholarship to Miss. State. "Ole Miss did not give track scholarships," he says. "My family couldn't afford it, and I'd been an Ole Miss fan forever and wanted to go there to major in journalism.
Though he didn't get to go to Ole Miss, he did get the girl. More on that later.
It wasn't track but music that would lead Blackman to greater things.
He and two fellow Greenville boys, Charlie Ross and Johnny Walker, along with drummer Roy Whittaker, a Delta State football player, teamed with Linda Lawley as Eternity's Children, landing a resiidence gig at the Biloxi Hotel in 1967.
Within about a month, everybody was coming to the Biloxi Hotel," Blackman says. "This led us to a gig at the largest and most popular club on the MS coast, The Vapors. It seated about 1000 people.
The group soon signed a record deal with A&M records (one of the first groups on the label). They had recorded a version of "A Taste of Honey" doing all the horn parts with their voices. Blackman says, "That's what got us the deal with A&M, because Herb Alpert was so impressed with our version of his song.
The song didn't hit, and Eternity's Children got a deal with Liberty Records. Along the way, they performed Bruce's song, "Mrs. Bluebird" on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. But Blackman left the group, dissatisfied with the management deal they had with a group out of Baton Rouge/New Orleans. "We were the biggest draw there was on the Gulf Coast, but we weren't making any money. The management company took almost everything," he says. "I saw the writing on the wall and walked away from it." An attempt to reform Eternity's Children resulted in being sued: management owned the name.
Grasping for the Moonlight
Blackman and fellow Eternity's Childen members Bo Wagner and Johnny Walker reformed under the name Mississippi. They got a deal via famed producer Gary Paxton and cut an album with RCA, who informed them they already had another band using the name Mississipi. Starbuck was born, named after Burt Lancaster's character, an eternal optimist, in the film The Rain maker (that other band named Mississippi, strangely enough from Australia, happened to also change its name--to the Little River Band). Then came "Moonlight Feels Right.
The wind blew some luck in my direction, I caught it in my hands today
I finally made a tricky French connection, you winked and gave me your okay
The song was a true story," says Blackman, but he admits flexing the right amount of poetic license about the circumstances around courting the girl--who is now his wife. "She wasn't actually from Ole Miss, but she was from Greenville and she was going to school over in Mooread (Mississippi Delta Community College). I had seen her picture hanging on the wall in a dorm room at Delta State ( a photo from the Delta Democrat Times of the contestants in the Miss Washington County Pageant). I found out where she was going to school and I enrolled there to see if I could meet her. I asked her out and she agreed the third time I asked. That's when "the wind blew some luck in my direction. What sounded best in the song was to make her from Ole Miss. She, too, wanted to go to Ole Miss.
A little more poetic license and a fictional trip to Baltimore later, Blackman struck on "Moonlight Feels Right." It was the first time Blackman had sung lead, but no other voice could have done the song justice. Blackman and Wagner (he plays the immortal marimba sole in "Moonlight") went around to radio stations trying to get airplay. Using mostly their own money, the two got in two cars and separately visted around 200 stations. Finally, program director Mike St. John put the song on WERC in Birmingham, AL, and it began it's journey to the top of the charts.
Planting Seeds in the Delta
Now residing in Atlanta, Blackman stays busy in the music business with several ongoing recording projects and a new album of his own. And lately he's come full circle, reconnecting with his hometown Greenville. Last year he recorded a song, "Jim's Cafe", for his high school reunion.
I made 70 copies of the song," Blackman says. "They put them in the swag bag for the reunion, but many other people asked for a copy. Max 99.1 radio began playing it and there were several newspaper/magazine articles about it as well as a feature story on the local network TV. I told people to send me a request through Facebook and I would send them a copy. When I got home two days later, I had about 500 requests for the song. Now, it's around 5,000 requests.
Bruce's new album, "Moonlight Feels Right 2014", features 16 songs (12 new and 4 never-released vintage songs). Fans can hear/buy the album at BruceBlackman.com
- Tadd Wilkes