“The wind blew some luck in my direction….I caught it in my hands today…”
I always turn up the volume when “Moonlight Feels Right” comes on the radio.
“I finally made a tricky French connection…you winked and gave me your okay…”
It was a major hit in the summer of 1976. In the thirty-eight years since, I’ve heard it thousands of times. Somehow, to this day, from the very first note, it makes me smile. Even in the cold of winter. But “Moonlight Feels Right” is a summer song, no doubt about that. It conjures up images of long days, warm nights and suntan lotion (that’s what we used back then, we didn’t know any better).
“We’ll lay back and observe the constellations…and watch the moon smiling bright…”
Who writes a song like this? Who plays that amazing marimba solo? The group is/was Starbuck. The record label was Private Stock. Not RCA, not Capitol, not Columbia. Why does this one Southern song, distributed by a tiny label with little or no publicity, endure almost forty years after it was recorded? I began my search for the answers.
A decade or so ago, the man who wrote and sang this “one-hit wonder” wouldn’t have been easy to find. Now, in our Google-infested, YouTube-fueled find-everything-now era, it took maybe three clicks. Bruce Blackman is the man behind the song, the keyboard and the mustache. The Greenville, Mississippi native also formed the band, produced the record, and owns most of the publishing rights. All these decades later, in the summer of 2014 and now based in Atlanta, he tells me, “I am one of the luckiest people alive. That one song has made me a comfortable living, and I still love it today.”
“You say you came to Baltimore from Ole Miss….class of ’74 gold ring…the eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss…to make the tide rise again…”
I’ve always heard the best songs are the result of one’s life experience, and in Bruce’s case, every word rings true, then and now. He said, “My inspiration for writing the song came from a beautiful girl from Greenville, Mississippi. I was playing poker in a dorm room at Delta State and noticed a newspaper photo hanging on the wall of young women in a beauty pageant. One of the girls was so beautiful I didn’t even believe it could be possible. I found out what college she was attending and I registered there for the sole purpose of trying to meet her. I did meet her and asked her out 3 times. The third time she accepted and that’s when “the wind blew some luck in my direction”.
He continued, “The song then became a light fictional fantasy about what I hoped would happen. We’re still married 46 years later, and she’s just as beautiful as ever.” The proof’s in the picture, with Bruce, Peggy, and their daughter Sarah, also a singer.
The song that’s now as familiar as lightning bugs in July was not originally intended to be a summertime staple. “We actually released it in late 1975,” Bruce said. “But nobody noticed.” By this time, Bruce had played in various bands, and released several records. He was in his late 20s, and had tasted a little success and a lot of failure. Radio deejays opened the “Moonlight” record envelope, saw an unfamiliar label and a no-name group, and put it in the giveaway stack. Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John and dozens of disco groups were getting the airplay, so Bruce and band-mate Bo Wagner hit the road. “We went to every radio station that had a tower in the back yard, just asking them to take three minutes to listen to our song.” Occasionally they would find a believer, a radio guy who heard a hit in this moonlight song. But in order to hit it big, it needed momentum, spreading from one town to the next, and the next. Weeks went by, then months, and there was no momentum.
“We’ll see the sun come up on Sunday morning…and watch it fade the moon away….”
Finally in the spring of 1976, the president of Private Stock received a fateful phone call. “This is Michael St. John from WERC in Birmingham,” the caller said. “You ought to get this Starbuck song out, because it is taking off. Our listeners want to know why they can’t find it in the stores.” This got the label’s attention. If they love it in Birmingham, they’d love it in Atlanta. And Nashville. And Charlotte. Suddenly, Bruce Blackman had a hit record on his hands. Not an overnight success by any measure, but the groundwork had been laid. Deejays and listeners were demanding it. St. John, now at Fun 92.7 in northeast Alabama told me, “That song literally heated up. The hotter it got outside, the more people wanted to hear it. It is truly a summertime hit.”
“I guess you know I’m giving you a warning….’cause me and moon are itchin’ to play….”
The record label woke up and ordered an album from the group, which was rushed into production. A follow-up single, “Everybody Be Dancing” didn’t match the success of “Moonlight,” despite catchy lyrics and a funky groove. “David Soul of the Starsky & Hutch TV show put out a single at the very same time, and the label president said he had to promote one or the other. Well, we lost that battle,” Bruce said.
All these years later, Bruce Blackman has no regrets. “People ask me if I resent being called a one-hit wonder. No sir, stop and think about it. Most singers can’t get a record deal, and if they do, they don’t score a hit. I’ve got this little song that has given me a great life. I heard it in Home Depot the other day. It’s fun to see people singing along to my song. I’ve never hollered out, ‘Hey that’s me!’ but I’m glad they like it.”
“I guarantee you, it’s on the radio somewhere in the world right now, it never stops,” Bruce said. “Every now and then someone will find out it’s my song, and they’ll tell me, ‘You’re responsible for my birth!’ I like taking credit for that!”
There are touching stories too. Bruce said, “Peggy and I went to our doctor recently. The doctor walked in the exam room and she was crying. It scared me because she had been in Peggy’s exam room for about 30 minutes and I thought she was about to give me some bad news. Instead, she told me this story:
“I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I’ve been in Maryland with my sister for several weeks. She had leukemia and I wanted to be at the hospital with her. About 15 minutes before she died she asked me if we could do something to make her feel good and she wanted me to sing Moonlight Feels Right with her since it was her favorite song. I held her hand and we sang the song and were still singing it when she passed away. I just want to thank you, Bruce, for helping my sister and how much it meant to both of us. She passed away with a smile on her face. Thank you for writing that beautiful song.” “I can’t even talk about that without crying,” Bruce said.
“I’ll take you on a trip beside the ocean….and drop the top on Chesapeake Bay….ain’t nothing like the sky to dose a potion….the moon’ll send you on your way…”
The original group reunited in the summer of 2013 for an outdoor show at Chastain Park in Atlanta, and it was as if time stood still.
There’s Bruce, looking and sounding great, and Bo Wagner, now a doctor in California, doing that marimba solo flawlessly. “We still have fun, and it shows,” Bruce said. He’s releasing a new album in September, “Moonlight Feels Right 2014,” with a few new songs, and a new spin on some oldies, including the title track. “This version has a totally different feel,” he said. “There’s be no sense in doing it again without a little freshening up.”
“I’m still writing songs and producing for other artists,” Bruce said. “I’ve got to write songs, whether anybody hears them or not, it’s what I do.” And if “Moonlight Feels Right” turns out to be the song he’ll always be known for, that’s just fine according to Bruce. “I hope they put it on my tombstone,” he said. “That song has made a lot of people happy, I see it in their faces every time I sing it. For a songwriter, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
“Moonlight….feels right…..moonlight…..feels right…..”
To request a free 3-song preview CD of Bruce’s new album, click here. I got mine the very next day, and this song, “Doing Nothing,” is my favorite. Check it out: