Rod Moag: The Pickin'-Singin' Professor


Information - Image - Rod Moag's first publicity photo.
This promotional photo Of Rod and Charley Elwell, The Pickin'
Partners, was sold over their Saturday morning radio show on WBTA Batavia,
NY in 1957. The price was 25¢ plus 10¢ for mailing.

Information on Rod Moag

Contact Rod via email

Plaque reads: Malayalavedhi Honors Prof Rodney Moag for his distinctive contribution to Malayalam Language and American Country Music, 2007

 

LISTEN TO ROD MOAG AND BILL MALONE ON WEEKEND EDITION

Rod Moag and Bill Malone recorded an interview for NPR (National Public Radio) for airing on their Saturday morning news show on August 12, 2006, Weekend Edition. The focus of the segment will be their 2005 album, Remember Me, Rod Moag and Bill Malone Play the Music of the Bailes Brothers. The album has been nominated for "Recorded Event of the Year" in the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) poll.

The award is described by the IBMA as:

IBMA BALLOT: CATEGORY #9: RECORDED EVENT OF THE YEAR
This award is for a recorded album performance on which 50% or more of the songs represent special collaboration between two or more featured artists (individuals or groups) who do not regularly record together and who are known primarily for their contributions and public performances separate from one another. These acts must have performed together, as a unit, on a musical recording released during the eligibility period with each separate act receiving special billing on the record label and/or songs on which they are featured. (Award to featured acts. producer and label.)

Bill and Rod are up against some very stiff competition here as the other eight albums nominated for this award feature nationally known fulltime professional bluegrass performersRicky Skaggs, Larry Sparks, Doc Watson, and Earl Scruggs to name a few. Bill and Rod feel especially honored to be nominated by the IBMA awards committee since, unlike the professionals, they are little known performers on their own independent shoestring label who do not tour.

Rod and Bill will be interviewed by NPR's Weekend Edition host and published author, Scott Simon. The program is carried on NPR stations from 7-9 am on Saturday mornings. Many stations repeat the two-hour broadcast immediately after the first airing. Consult your local NPR stations for exact times. The Bill and Rod segment could be bumped by a major news event, but keep your fingers crossed that they will make it on air.

The program will be aired in Austin on KUT-FM 90.5 at 7am, local time. An archive of the show will be available on the NPR Weekend Edition website.

Jump to Rod Moag's Biography

Jump to Rod Moag's Who's Who

Jump to Rod Moag's New Career as Music Historian and Scholar

Jump to Monroe's Mandolin Inducted into Hall of Fame


Biography

Rod Moag is a country music personality, entertainer, and author who in real life is Dr. Rodney F. Moag, until 2004 Associate Professor of South Asian languages in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Since his retirement after 36 years of university teaching Rod has been able to devote more time to his varied musical activities.

Versatility marks both sides of Rod's dual life. Musically, he covers a range of activities from: multi-instrumentalist, record producer, songwriter, arranger, deejay, and more recently music historian. Rod's university activities have been no less varied. Besides teaching Hindi and Malayalam - two languages from India - he speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German and some Russian, and taught seminars in the areas of linguistics, communication, and the South Asian Diaspora, as well as holding various administrative duties from graduate advisor to department chair. Before his retirement, his department, dean, and finally the Board of Regents conferred on him the title of Associate Professor Emeritus, an honor reserved only for certain retiring faculty members.

Rod’s 2005 album is his fifth release since settling in Texas, and his first duet project, a collaboration with fellow retired professor and native Texan Bill Malone. Bill C. Malone is the acknowledged dean of country music historians owing to his several books, most notably Country Music USA, first published in 1968. Their joint album, Remember Me: Bill Malone and Rod Moag Play the Music of the Bailes Brothers, is Bill’s first, and Rod’s eighth commercial recording. Yes, some of Rod’s output was on vinyl. Go to the Discography Page for images, sample tracks, and reviews.

All of Rod’s recordings are characterized by three things: 1) instrumental support from top, often nationally known, sidemen and women; 2) the Pickin’-Singin’ Professor fills a variety of roles; and 3) the album package features extensive documentation. The most notable examples are Ah-Haa! Goes Grass and A Salute to the Heroes of Texas Swing.

With 20 guests, including Bob Wills' niece, Dayna, and a 24-page booklet packed with photos and information, Ah-Haa! Goes Grass: A Bluegrass Tribute to Bob Wills has to be one of the most ambitious projects to come from a private label. Rod not only produced the album and wrote the liner notes, but also did lead and harmony vocals handled all of the guitar and most of the mandolin work, plus filling in where needed on dobro, harmony fiddles and viola. One reviewer said, “The combination of marvellous playing with Moag's engaging personality and drive puts this up with Haggard and The Pine Valley Cosmonauts near the top of the 100 Best Bob Wills Tribute Albums.” A complete account of the critical acclaim from national publications can be seen on the Reviews Page.

His 2003 album, A Salute to the Heroes of Texas Swing, went over the top as far as ambitious projects go, breaking all records for a private label release. The 15 tracks involved an incredible combined roster of nine lead vocalists and 46 musicians, many of them true pioneers in Western Swing. Floyd Tillman, age 87 at the time, sang two songs just two years before his passing. Former Texas Playboys, Johnny Gimble, Herb Remington, and Johnny Cuviello are featured on several tracks, and Ray Benson of Asleep At the Wheel is heard on one track doing both vocals and lead and rhythm guitar. Each track pays tribute to one of the pioneers of Texas swing music and features either the actual pioneer or a credible representative such as a blood relative or a musical disciple. Rod was particular to include two women pioneers in the roster of honorees, Texas Ruby and Laura Lee McBride, ably represented by Dayna Wills and Janet Lynn respectively. A 24-page booklet comes with this CD, containing bios and photos of the honorees and other main participants. This has been Rod’s best selling project to date. See quotes about it on the Reviews Page. Fellow deejay Doug Collins stated: “… the Governor of Texas should require a copy in every Texan's home.” Producer of live Western swing shows, Dennis Williams, declared: “It is a great service to music historians and fans alike."

In addition to bluegrass and western swing, Rod delights in holding forth in classic country, rockabilly, blues, pop standards, and even Irish ballads. He was perhaps most stylistically diverse when playing with his former Austin band, Texas a la Moag. In addition to the above genres, Rod applied his language skills in this group to occasionally perform Cajun tunes, Mexican songs and Italian numbers.

AWARDS: Rod Moag has garnered several noteworthy awards since launching his career in Austin. In 1995 his solo album, The Pickin’-Singin’ Professor, garnered a fourstar award from the Austin Chronicle. That same year he won the Jimmy Rodgers yodeling Contest at the Texas Heritage Music Festival in Kerrville, TX singing his own Yodel Lullaby, the final track on this album. He had previously taken second place in both guitar and mandolin contests at the 1994 Round Rock Bluegrass Festival. Rod was twice voted "Human Being of the Year" in the Music City Texas Poll, and received Honorable Mention in the category of 1995 "Artist of the Year" in the same publication.

In January of 1995, Rod began doing the weekly two-hour deejay show which has made him a fixture on the Austin country radio dial. The Country, Swing, and Rockabilly Jamboree, heard on Austin's community radio station KOOP-FM, received an award in the Austin Chronicle's "Best of Austin" media category during its first year of broadcasting. The show has continued to gather print media praise for the Austin Chronicle of Feb. 2, 2001 referred to it as “…the best radio show in Austin.” The program can be heard on the web at: KOOP.org from 9-11 a.m. Central Time each Thursday.

Later in the 90s, a TV feature on Rod's schizophrenic life of country musician and college professor appeared on the sindicated show, Texas Country Reporter, originally shown in 22 markets in and around Texas. The feature filmed on a single day showed Rod at the radio station in the morning, in the classroom at noon, and at an evening gig. Reruns of this show are still seen on the Agricultural Channel on certain cable systems.

In 2000, Rod began singing on bluegrass programs in East Texas with Shirley Smith. Using pickup bands for a time, they soon saw the need to establish their own group. Rod Moag and Texas Grass was formed in 2002 to record an all-gospel album and to play bluegrass festivals. The album, recorded in East Texas, was acclaimed by Bluegrass Unlimited thus: “Throughout Come And Dine, there is a relaxed homespun feeling that still manages to sparkle with excitement.” Rod and the band were furthered honored by being invited to give a 90-minute program on “What is Bluegrass and Where Does it Come From,” at the Georgetown Bluegrass Festival in 2002. The group’s history and current activities are available on a separate page on this site.

THE EARLY YEARS: Born in 1936, the story of Rod Moag's musical development is much like that of many country performers, except that the rural area he grew up in is in Western New York State, not Appalachia. From earliest childhood he was fascinated with radio and country music. He learned country songs by tuning in to local country performers and to major stars on the National Barn Dance and the Grand Ole Opry. He first learned bluegrass from listening to Bill Monroe on the Opry in the mid 40s, and later from regional acts on the Wheeling Jamboree, and the Old Dominion Barn Dance. At the same time he was learning Texas swing from 78s by Bob Wills, and Al Dexter. Receiving an old guitar at age eleven, he won his first amateur contest after playing just two months, then began adding mandolin, dobro, and later fiddle to his battery of instruments.

The New York State School for the Blind which Rod entered just before his fifth birthday provided sound musical as well as academic training. He took three years of piano lessons beginning at age 8, which gave him an early understanding of the notes and their relationships, and how chords were formed. From sixth grade on he sang in the choir, played in the school orchestra, the dance band, and had his own country and bluegrass group called the Oldtime Hay Balers. After graduation it was the typical aspiring artist story for the mid 50s: factory job, weekend live radio show, and local club dates.

Finding stardom elusive, Rod entered Syracuse University in 1957 to study broadcasting and foreign languages. In 1960, he spent a semester in Italy and played with a local pop band there. Country remained his first love, however, and after Italy he joined a country group entertaining at military bases around Munich Germany. Always one to capitalize on any opportunity, Rod also did a two-week tour of the Soviet Union as a member of a group of 130 Italian tourists.

His studies took an unexpected turn when he got back to Syracuse from Europe. Rod became close pals with some students from India, and applied for a fellowship to study the languages of that country in graduate school. A year later, he interrupted his M.A. studies at the University of Wisconsin, to spend two years in India, studying and, of course, entertaining friends and at public functions with his country songs.

Returning to Wisconsin to continue graduate study, Rod worked as sideman for a couple of local country singers, then became a founding member of The Bluegrass Hoppers. Their nationally distributed vinyl album was released in 1967. The title song for the album, The Country’s Come to Town, was written during Rod’s earlier stay in India. The group’s professionalism was recognized by being invited to film an hour-long TV special at WHA-TV in Madison which later made the rounds of NET (National Educational Television) stations throughout the nation. Rod did most of the arranging for the group, also composing one of the instrumentals for their album which received a three-star rating from Bluegrass Unlimited. During the same time, Rod independently released a single of two original country songs cut in Nashville with backup by Kitty Wells' band and Jerry Rivers, fiddler in Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys. Music then had to take a back seat for a couple years while Rod made the transition from student to professor.

Life as a fulltime professor took Rod first to the University of Missouri, next to the Fiji Islands as Visiting Fulbright Professor, and then to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Though these years were also filled with raising a family, Rod's dual life continued. On the professional side, he authored two language textbooks and many professional articles. In Missouri he played bluegrass festivals as a solo act and cut two duets with Rusty Marshall on a compilation album of Missouri bluegrass acts. While in Fiji, he performed on various benefits and university variety shows, played in tourist clubs, and even entertained the prime minister and his cabinet on one occasion. In Michigan Rod did a weekly live "Country Classroom" show over public station WEMU in Ypsilanti, and occasionally played with some of the Detroit area bluegrass bands. What he has done after settling in Austin in 1988 is just the latest chapter in a lifelong story of carrying out an academic career to support his music habit.

LOOKING FORWARD: With over half a century of performing experience, several successful CDs, and retired from university teaching, the Pickin'-Singin' Professor is booking festival and other dates, both with his duet partner on the latest CD, Bill Malone, and with his band Texas Grass. he has done international gigs while traveling for study and research abroad, but has long held a dream of doing a tour in Europe or elsewhere. After all, what other artist could perform several genres of country music authentically, and greet fans in their own language in countries from
the Iberian peninsula to India?

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Rod Moag's Who's Who

Rod Moag may be the only smalltime country and bluegrass performer/deejay who is listed in several of the prestigious Who's Who books. His listings are mainly on the strength of his academic career, but his musical activities are also included in his bio appearing in the various publications. Here's the list:

Who's Who Among America's Teachers
Marquis Who's Who in America
Marquis Who's Who in the World
International Who's Who
Marquis Who's Who in the South and Southwest

Rod is most proud of his listing for the past several years in Who's Who Among America's Teachers, for it was a nomination by one of his University of Texas students that put him there. The student must have a B average or better, and the teacher they nominate must have "made a real difference in your life."

Since 1998 Rod has been listed in each annual edition of Marquis Who's Who in America. Continued listing in following years is not automatic. Each year the committee decides whether or not to include the listing in the next year's edition. Rod has already been selected for inclusion in the 60th "Diamond Edition" to be published in 2006. His bio for that edition appears below.

Marquis Who's Who has a family of publications, and some of those listed in the main Who's Who in America are recommended for listing in other publications. Soon after his original selection, Rod was chosen for listing in their regional publication Who's Who in the South and Southwest. This year, for the first time, Rod has been selected for appearance in the 23rd edition of Marquis Who's Who In The World, "one of 50,000 business and professional leaders across the globe chosen for this honor."

In 2004 Rod was offered a three-year membership in the International Who's Who. The oldest of the several Who's Who publications," their publicity declares, "Since its inception in 1928, the International WHO'S WHO Historical Society has been documenting the accomplishments of prominent individuals in business, academia, public service and other walks of life." Not bad for a hillbilly professor, eh!

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Rod Moag's New Career as Music Historian and Scholar

Shortly after retiring from the University of Texas in August, 2004, Rod's lengthy article, "The History of Early Bluegrass in Texas" was published in The Journal of Texas Music History, Vol. 4, No. 2, a scholarly journal published semiannually by the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas State). This was Rod's first major publication as a music historian, though he is well-known for the historical background that he has been providing for the past ten years on radio concerning performers and musical trends in country, Western swing, and rockabilly music on his popular Thursday morning program (see the radio page on this site). Rod chose to write about bluegrass in Texas since nothing had been published on this subject. In preparing the article he interviewed some 40 pioneers who had been active in the Texas bluegrass scene from 1950-1984, and dipped into the newsletters of various bluegrass clubs around the state. The article itself is not available on line, but some photos and sketches of early bands can be viewed at the web site Rod has set up at:
www.Texasbluegrasshistory.org

With his article in print, Rod sent in a proposal to present a paper at the first-ever academic conference on bluegrass music held at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY. His abstract was accepted. The Bluegrass Symposium took place on September 8-10, 2005 and was organized by Dr. Erika Brady of the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology at WKU. The conference was attended by scholars from all parts of the US and beyond, including three presenters from Japan. A full list of presenters and their topics can be viewed at: www.wku.edu/folkstudies/bgconference

Rod spent a few days in Nashville after the Bluegrass Symposium where he visited gigs of The Western Swingers and the Time Jumpers, Nashville's two practicing Western swing bands. In addition his old friend and former Bluegrass Hoppers' fiddler, Earl Spielman, took him to the by-invitation-only ceremony in which Bill Monroe's mandolin was placed on permanent exhibit in the Country Music Hall of Fame (see article below.) He has written a report on this function, which can be seen elsewhere on this site.

A number of people have urged Rod to turn his article on Texas bluegrass history into a book. Nothing is definite yet, but it could happen. Rod has ideas for other writing projects as well on his favorite kinds of Texas music. If you know of anyone who will give him money to carry out these pipedreams, contact him.

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Monroe's Mandolin Inducted into Hall of Fame

By Rod Moag

On September 13 of 2005, a unique and very touching ceremony took place at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville on the occasion of Bill Monroe's 94th birth anniversary. Through the good graces of a Nashville friend, this reporter was one of a crowd of some 400 special invitees who witnessed the induction of Bill Monroe's Gibson F5 mandolin into the HOF's permanent collection. Rickie Skaggs played the mandolin as he and Kentucky Thunder opened the program performing "Mother's Not Dead."

Speeches by various dignitaries of the Country Music Association followed, including remarks by current president Vince Gill and 30-year Grand Ole Opry director Bud Wendel. The mandolin was described by all as "Monroe's musical partner," highlighting the role which the mandolin played in establishing what we know today as the classic bluegrass sound. James Monroe, from whom the instrument was purchased, also spoke and affirmed that his father's wish was for his mandolin to rest in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Part of the arrangement for acquisition specified that terms of the agreement not be made public. Monroe last played the mandolin on the Opry on March 15, 1996, a few months before his passing on September 9 of that year.

Acquisition of Monroe's musical partner was arranged by filanthropist Bob McClain, who had also earlier arranged for Mother Maybelle Carter's famous Gibson guitar to be added to the HOF's collection. Various speakers recounted bits of the history of the mandolin-serial number 73987 signed by Lloyd Loar on July 9, 1923--purchased from a Miami Florida barber shop in 1945, the year that Monroe put together his classic band comprised of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts. They recounted how Monroe had become upset with the Gibson company and scratched the Gibson name off the peghead, how the mandolin had been smashed to bits with a fireplace poker by an irate woman then meticulously reassembled by a master luthier, how Gibson had later restored the mandolin following Monroe's reconciliation with the company. Skaggs, still playing Monroe's mandolin, provided several further classic numbers, with the Grasscals invited to join them to close the show with Uncle Pen. Immediately following the ceremony the mandolin was placed on permanent exhibit in a sealed glass case on the third floor of the HOF.

Also in the Hall of Fame for the next year is a "spotlight exhibit" on Earl Scruggs, sole survivor of the classic Monroe band of 1945-48, who was also in attendance at the ceremony. The exhibit features Earl's first banjo, costumes, other instruments and memorabilia. It's wonderful to see that the Country Music Association is giving such prominent recognition to some of our bluegrass stars.

This reporter had the Monroe mandolin in his own hands in 1955 when he met Monroe for the first time. A short four years later, the mandolin was hung around the neck of then six-year-old Ricky Skaggs during a Monroe performance at a school in Eastern Kentucky. Who knows how many hands have touched this fabled mandolin through the five decades that it was Monroe's musical partner.

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