Though highly revered within hillbilly and rockabilly circles, the name of Lattie Moore is practically unknown outside auction lists. Even there’s a tad mysterious, Eddie Bond’s « Juke Joint Johnnie », Jerry Reed’s « If The Good Lord’s Willing » and George Jones’ « Out Of Control » have been reissued on CD but they were probably more familiar than Lattie’s versions even before they were readily available. Yet, arguably, Lattie’s records are more rewarding. His experience-laced vocals have far more expression than Jerry Reed’s or the affectless Eddie Bond and the countrypolitan elements which often diluted George Jone’s 60’s music are almost entirely absent.
Lattie’s voice is absolutely perfect in a coarse, grainy, ragged sort of way and there’s the odd device like a half yodel when he sings about doleful effects of drink. Country traditionalists go for the light, twangy vocals on hillbilly songs like « Don’t Trade The Old For The New ». Rockabilly enthusiasts bid big bucks for Lattie’s very scarce records on Arc and Starday. Lattie, however, admits to singing about drink more than anything else.
Lattie Harrison Moore was born in Scottsville, Kentucky, on October 17, 1924. He was named after Lattie Graves, the family doctor who delivered him. He grew up learning to play guitar, mandolin and bass. Only 65 miles of Nashville, Lattie listened to the Grand Ole Opry. He was impressed by Roy Acuff, and later, Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams.
In 1944 Lattie hichhilked 200 miles North to Indianapolis, a city of greater opportunity for the professionnally-minded musician. A brief stint in the Navy interrupted his intentions but on discharge he worked nighclubs and some of Indiana’s large jamboree parks. In December 1944 he married. They raised 4 children, and recently (in 2000) they celebrated 55 years’ togetherness.
If ever a record disappeared into collector Holy Graildom, it was Lattie Moore’s first. No one has ever seen a copy ! It was called « Hideaway heart » c/w « Married Troubles » and cut in 1951 at the home-built studio of Tate Boland, the Arrow’s label owner. The same year Lattie joined the Mid-Western Jamboree held at Turner’s Hall and broadcast over WIBC, from the Indiana capital. Correction. A copy of the Arrow record has been sold for $ 115 on ebay in 2012.
In 1952 Moore travelled to Nashville with a view to recording for Bullet, the local grandaddy of independant labels. He discovered that Bullet wasn’t signing anyone new but was pointed by John Dunn, who handled Bullet’s pressing plant, in the direction of the Speed label, a smaller company in which Dunn also had interest. Story of Lattie Moore’s Nashville debut was given by Dunn’s partner : « In the summer of 1952, I met Lattie Moore as I walked out of the Ernest Tubb record shop on lower Broadway. He was a writer and guitarist who wanted to make a record and he sung right there in the busy sidewalk for me to listen. The song was called « Juke Joint Johnny ». I thought it was so good I gave him a contract and cut it that very afternoon. We went to a makeshift studio on Union Street. No one in the band knew the song except Lattie and his lead player, so to fill up the sound I told the engineer to bring the drums in as loud as possible to fill ut the sound of the piano. The song hit the jukeboxes fast and good. I think this was about the first rock’n’roll record out of Nashville, and in these early days we didn’t know it. »
Speed, a name inspired by the changeover from 78 to 45rpm, issued a second single, « Baby, I’ll Soon Be Gone ». it echoed Hank Williams’ honky-tonk singing, a sound which would come to dominate Lattie’s vocal style. Bobby Philips, an overweight guitarist from Indianapolis, played steel on both Speed singles. Dunn and his partner were keen on keeping Lattie on Speed even offering him an interest in the company. But Sydney Nathan of King Records soon came a-calling.
Lattie Moore cut 25 tracks for King over two periods : 1953-1956 and 1959-1963. The musicians on earliest recordings, made at the label’s own studio on Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati, included Zeke Turner (electric lead guitar), Don Helms, veteran member of Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys (steel), Tommy Jackson (fiddle) and Zeb Turner (rhythm guitar). They had as firm a grasp on the essentials of the honky-tonk genre as any musicians in Texas.
Lattie wrote many of the songs, but his name didn’t always end up in the credits.This was an era in which company bosses swapped songwriting credits for various favours and contracts included co-writers who hadn’t contributed as much as a comma. Moore said : « Nathan really got a kick out of doing that. »
King dropped Lattie after six singles. He cut a flat-out rock’n’roll version of « Juke Joint Johnny » (as « Juke Box Johnnie ») for Arc Records in December 1956. On stage, however, he mined the mother lode ; Elvis and Little Richard were as important to his repertoire as Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. In 1958 Lattie joined Starday which had moved its HQ from Beaumont,Texas to a suburb of Nashville the previous year. « Don Pierce looked me up in Indianapolis, said Lattie ; He really wanted me on Starday. We cut « Why Did You Lie To Me » in Nashville in a studio that Floyd Robinson had in part of his
house. Floyd played electric guitar
Country superstar Webb Pierce persuaded Syd Nathan to re-sign Moore in 1959. Another six singles combined A-team pickers and brilliant songs. The echo-corona’d « Cajun Doll » was recorded at a session on which Lattie produced himself. « Out Of Control » is the most melancholic description of alcoholic derangement on vinyl. Lattie wrote the song with George Jones after a show in Steubenville, Ohio. Jones’ Mercury version reached #25 C&W in August 1960, probably selling more than Lattie’s version which was popular in Cincinnati in 1963. Webb Pierce pitched « Drunk Again » to Lattie in 1960. It was recorded in Nashville with Pete Drake (steel), Mel ‘Pig’ Robbins (piano), and a catchy arrangement built around harmony vocals by Wayne Walker and Marijohn Wilkin. Coupled with Jerry Irby’s « Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin », « Drunk Again » reached #25 C&W in January 1961. A minor hit didn’t make the difference to Lattie’s career but for a while he layed classier joints supporting Johnny Cash. Follow-ups included a tough version of Jerry Reed’s « If The Good Lord’s Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise », and a quarter of songs from Ray Pennington, who wrote « Three Hearts In A Tangle ». In the 60’s the latter admitted the harmonic structures of doowop and early soul to honky-tonk ; Lattie’s voice wasn’t able to transcende these effects. « Heaven All Around Me » and « I Told You So », mawkish songs best suited to smoother singers featured a black girl trio whose cooing was a long way from hardcore country.
Leaving King for a second time, Lattie cut a good album and a single for Derbytown
and a single for WPL. Eventually Lattie returned to Scottsville and worked in law enforcement for four years. He underwent laser surgery for throat cancer in 1986 and recovered from a quadruple heart bypass in 1999. Now, he says, he’s fine, and keeps fit walking 30 minutes every evening.
Biography based on Bill Millar‘s notes (Sepember 200o) for Westside (UK) WESF 109 CD « Lattie Moore – I’m not broke but I’m badly bent« . Photos from various sources or personal collection.
OBIT. Jane, the daughter of Lattie Moore, sent me a comment on June 13th, 2010. Her Father was gone the very same day to Hillbilly Heaven (unknown cause). Rest in peace, Lattie. You gave us all over the world so much pleasure with your music and your songs. We will never forget you.