Update on a summer song: “Moonlight Feels Right”

I’ve been writing this blog for more than two years now, posting almost three hundred stories.  As I often tell people, “You should check out my blog! It’s read by literally TENS of people!”  Well, actually some of the stories are read by a few hundred, and others have been seen by a few thousand.  Admittedly, I sometimes wonder, “Is it worth the trouble?  These things I write: do they really touch people in any way?”

Then, I get a message like the one you’re about to read.  I wrote the story below about the classic top-40 summer hit “Moonlight Feels Right” last summer.  A year later, Murray West sent this comment:

There’s a tradition in our family regarding “moon songs.” My parents had shared a love of “Blue Moon,” and when my dad passed away, my mom would hear that song and tell me that she felt my dads presence. I laughed it off as a funny story, and one day I was on a long road trip driving at 2 am and thinking of my dad. I said out loud “Dad, if you and I were to have a moon song it would be; “Moonlight Feels Right.” I drove on and 10 minutes later “Moonlight Feels Right” came on the radio. To my dying day I will think my Dad reached out to me through the airwaves to say hello.

I’m glad my story brought back a great memory for you, Murray.  Thanks for sharing.  This is why I keep writing my stories.

In case you missed it the first time, here’s my tribute to “Moonlight Feels Right,” the man who brought it to life, and the woman who inspired the song:

 

“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-nine 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.  Why does this one Southern song, endure almost forty years after it was recorded?  I began my search for the answers.

Starbuck-Moonlight-Feels-Right-Rock-N-Roll-Rocket

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 2015 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”.

Peggy and Bruce in 1977

Peggy and Bruce in 1977



He continued, “The song then became a light fictional fantasy about what I hoped would happen.
  We’re still married 47 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.

Bruce Blackman, daughter Sarah, and his wife Peggy, who inspired "Moonlight Feels Right"

Bruce Blackman, daughter Sarah, and his wife Peggy, who inspired “Moonlight Feels Right”

The song 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.  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.  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. The rest is history.

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.

“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…..”

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

21 thoughts on “Update on a summer song: “Moonlight Feels Right”

  1. Lisa Gregory

    I have said for years the only song I want to be played at my remeberence service is Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. I now believe it will be Moonlight feels Right and Wildflowers. 🙂

    Reply
  2. peggy wortman

    David, that was a wonderful story!! Starbuck is still one of my favorite groups. I saw them once when they came to Chattanooga, can’t remember the name of the place, it was a club or something like that. anyway, they absolutely blew me away! thank you so much for that memory! you’re so very talented! love reading your posts, articles, and stories!

    Reply
  3. Murray West

    There’s a tradition in our family regarding “moon songs.” My parents had shared a love of “Blue Moon,” and when my dad passed away, my mom would hear Blue Moon and tell me that she felt my dads presence. I laughed it off as a funny story, and one day I was on a long road trip driving at 2 am and thinking of my dad. I said out loud “Dad, if you and I were to have a moon song it would be; “Moonlight Feels Right.” I drove on and 10 minutes later “Moonlight Feels Right” came on the radio. To my dying day I will think my Dad reached out to me through the airwaves to say hello. 100% true story.

    Reply
    1. David Carroll

      Murray West, sometimes I wonder if writing a blog is worth the time. Then I get a message like yours, and it motivates me to keep on writing. Thank you for sharing that with me. It means the world. David Carroll

      Reply
  4. T'Lene Tillotson

    I’m filled with warm fuzzies. Both versions are wonderful…..and ‘s Bruce’ah ha ha’ just makes it all the better.
    Thank you for telling the wonderful stories behind the song.
    No doubt Murray’s dad was reaching out to him that late night….and since. So right…..

    Reply
  5. john Yonge

    Probably not many people know this but the British band Vanity Fare also recorded this great song … and it’s pretty good! I’m not saying it’s better than the Starbuck version but an excellent cover and certainly worth a listen.

    Reply
  6. Luthor Billis

    Thank you for the wonderful article and recounting of the time you spent with Bruce Blackman. This song mirrors my life in the mid-1970’s, only the beaches were in Galveston, Texas instead of Chesapeake Bay. Warm summer nights, a bottle of wine and a blanket and a beautiful woman ~~ all under a full moon. Magic. Simply magic.

    I’m also very happy to see that Bruce carefully saved the income from the song and it provided a good life for him and his family. Many artists don’t have this foresight.

    Thank you again!

    Reply
  7. Paul Newmark

    Found this and loved the story and song. Brings me back to 15 and young love. No beach. Oklahoma. But still awesome
    Thank you!
    Paul

    Reply
  8. Floyd Campen

    Can remember sailing on the Chesapeake Bay listening to this Great Song. Takes me back to young love and youth,thanks for the great trip!

    Reply
  9. Rosemary

    I had just graduated from high school when Moonlight came out. I loved it then and still love it today. It gives you a summertime good feeling.

    Reply
  10. Bob

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this column, David. Thank you very much for providing the history and some heartwarming stories about my all-time favorite song. I found you, by the way, via a link recently posted on the Twitter feed of someone who, like me, had just started following the lead singer of Starbuck on Twitter. I first heard this song during a wonderful family vacation to Cape Cod in 1976 when I was in my teens, and every time I hear it now, it makes me smile. To your point about it being a summer song, I rarely listen to it anytime other than summer, and it’s the very first song on my summer bike-riding playlist. My kids have probably heard this hundreds of times, too, because I often play that bike playlist on the outdoor speakers when I work in the yard. They also know “Afternoon Delight” and some other 70s songs pretty well by now, too, but they know “Moonlight Feels Right” is special to their dad. I’d like to share another story, too. This past week was the anniversary of the passing of a friend who was very close to my wife and I, and like one of your readers above, I was looking for a sign that my friend knew I was thinking about her. Well, while I was listening to a classic American Top 40 from July, 1976 on iHeart Radio, Casey Kasem did a “shout out” to the new stations across the country carrying AT40 for the first time that week (remember how he used to do that?). The first one he mentioned was the station in my small town in northern Michigan! I listen to these classic AT40s quite often and haven’t heard my hometown mentioned for years. That was cool just by itself, but when the next song to come up on Casey’s countdown just happened to be my all-time favorite….”Moonlight Feels Right,” I took that as a sign from my friend, that yes, I know you’re thinking of me.

    Reply
    1. David Carroll Post author

      You know Bob, sometimes I wonder if writing these stories is a worthwhile endeavor. Then I see a post like yours, and realize: yes, it is. Thank you for sharing that, I really appreciate it. David

      Reply
      1. Bob

        Keep on blogging, David. I decided to share a video of Moonlight Feels Right on my Facebook page, too, and tonight, one of the comments on it came from none other than Bruce Blackman. He answered a question I had posed to no one in particular about who the background singers were at a concert they performed at in Atlanta. Is that cool, or what?! Both he and Bo Wagner seem like real down-to-earth guys.

        Reply
  11. Bob Dorigo Jones

    David, in case you haven’t heard the sad news yet, Bruce Blackman just posted on his Facebook page that Bo Wagner passed away this morning. As Bruce said, “Bo is gone, but his marimba solo in ‘Moonlight Feels Right’ will live on forever.” And it will always make me smile. RIP, Bo.

    Reply
  12. Vicki

    Everybody that went to Ole Miss knows this song and loves it. And sings out really loud when it gets to the line “you say you came to Baltimore from Ole Miss class of seven four” But we always thought the next line was “Go, Rebs” Too bad. Go, Rebs would make it even better.

    Reply

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