In the 60s and 70s, I loved visiting New York City. I’d wander through the streets, going to museums and generally just enjoying the atmosphere. Once, I remember spotting a strange figure: a man wearing a horned helmet and long cloak and carrying a spear. Since I was working at my radio station, where we got plenty of LPs and music news, I immediate realized who it was: Moondog.
He was born as Louis Thomas Hardin and developed an early interest in music. When he lost his sight at age 16, he still continued his studies and moved to New York in 1943, befriending some legendary classical and jazz performers, and becoming a street musician. He had an apartment, but he spent his days on a corner on Sixth Avenue, supporting himself by busking and selling pamphlets of poetry and his philosophy of music.
His songs gained the attention of his musician friends and he started to record in 1953. The albums were on small labels and did not make a big splash, but in 1969, superstar producer James William Guercio* decided to record him the way he deserved to be heard. The album, Moondog, brought him to the attention of as (somewhat) wider audience.
Moondog’s music was not a bunch of simple tunes. He ranged widely from classical to jazz, inspired by the sounds of the city. The melodies build and intertwine in sophisticated ways. The first album was completely instrumental, but definitely fine music.
The album garnered critical success, though was only a modest success. Still, a second album was put out featuring vocal tracks by his daughter, June Hardin.
Moondog was primarily a composer, but he did play music, usually on several instruments he invented himself.
Though never a star, Moondog was well regarded by other musicians, who occasionally would record his work or make mention of him in their own. His biggest connect to rock music was a successful lawsuit against Alan Freed, who called his early rock and roll radio show “Moondog Matinee” and played one of Moondog’s early compositions as his theme song. Freed lost and had to stop using the name.
He moved to Germany in 1974 and continued to compose until his death in 1999.
*Best known as the producer for Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears