Moobs 'The Canary' Dingus
'Suck ... Don't Blow!'
Möbius Earl Hines (April 1st, 1940), more commonly known as Moobs "The Canary" Dingus, is an American jazz saxophonist, composer and singer (with Bavarian Austrian lineage) who has become one of the pivotal and most significant figures in jazz music. His career has spanned six decades, from the 1950s to the present day, and throughout different eras in jazz.
Coming to prominence in the 1950s as an "inventive" saxophonist and cornet player, Moobs was a founding influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. With his instantly recognizable gravelly voice, Moobs was also an incredible singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes.
Renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as much as for his saxophone-playing, Moobs' reputation extends well beyond jazz music. Widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general, on the radio he was often mistaken as being African-American. One of the first truly popular Caucasian entertainers to "cross over" into what was a heavily-populated African-American genre of music, he soon discovered his skin color was secondary to his music; in an America that was extremely racially divided.
Moobs was born into a poor family in Gainsville, Florida, but grew up in Boca Raton, Florida. He spent his youth in poverty, in a rough neighborhood known as "the Wharf", which was part of the Walkerville legal prostitution district. His father, Coleman Hines (March 13th, 1922), abandoned the family when Moobs was an infant, took up with another woman, and was in and out of jail thereafter. [He is currently still incarcerated at Florida State Prison, Fl Dept. of Corrections, Starke, Florida, where he is serving a 33 year sentence for his part in the making, selling and distribution of Moonshine - or White Lightning - via the illegal liquor trade.]
His mother, Richone "Rikki" Astley (August 4th, 1923 – July 6th, 1993), then left Moobs, their only child, in the care of his grandmother, Josephine Hines, and at times, his Uncle Fester. At five, he moved back to live with his mother and her relatives, and only saw his father in sporadic visits to the various prison institutions that he was serving his sentences within.
At aged 10 years-old, and having changed his name by flag pole (to reflect his appreciation of his jazz legend hero, Charles Mingus) in 1950, the young Moobs attended the Felcher School for Boys with Tendencies. It was here the young Moobs garnered a lot of early experience in his subsequent passion for sucking on his instrument of choice.
Indeed, Moobs quickly learned that his first instinct to put it in his mouth and blow was the complete opposite to the way such an instrument should be handled. Moobs himself has told the story many times over that if it had not been for some of the older Felcher boys offering up their private stock of snake oil to him, he might not even have graduated from what some have gone on to call a "spoon-fed society".
Indeed, he has gone on record as saying that there were more than a few late night / early morning sessions where one (or more) of the older Felcher boys would bring their instruments into Moobs' dorm room. It wasn't long before Moobs found himself grasping the middle of someones instrument firmly with one hand, holding its neck in his other hand, gently sliding up and down the core. He recalls learning that a slight twisting motion might also help procure the right sound, but that if it was just too stiff he could always apply a small blob of cork grease. But if it really didn't want to go in, he never forced it. He knew better as a bum note is never something anyone wanted to hear.
Once he had grasped the essentials of the saxophone, Moobs went on to play in Boca Raton's frequent brass band parades and listened to older musicians every chance he got, learning from Bunk Johnson, Buddy Petit, Kid Ory, and above all, Charles Mingus; who even acted as a mentor and father figure to the young musician. Later, Moobs played in brass bands and riverboats of New Orleans, and began traveling with the well-regarded Club of Culture band, which toured on a steamboat up and down the Mississippi River. He described his time with Club of Culture as "going to the University," since it gave him a much wider experience working with written arrangements and makeup.
Through his riverboat experience, Moobs' musicianship began to mature and expand and it wasn't long before his debut mini album (these days called an EP), Bite Size (1956) was put out. Under the musical guidance of Charles Mingus, it contained just four tracks, but the lead single 'Suck ... Don't Blow!' fast became an underground hit. In fact, so much so that it remains to this very day a fundamental part of most jazz musicians' repertoires.
Moobs quickly learned to master the more tightly controlled styling of the saxophone through the tutelage of Mingus, and decided to stop experimenting with the cornet and concentrate wholly on the saxophone. It was a smart move, because in the blink of an eye the nubile 16 year-old had grown into a highly impressive, sort after young musician who was racking up the albums sales: Introducing: Moobs (1957), Teenage Delinquent (1958), Bellhop Boogie (1959), Pushing It Through (1960), Samba Sax Time (1962), Swingin' Capri Pants (1963), Sore Nips (1964), Licks & Flicks (1965), Arcing Down, Bending Over (1966), Dipped In Funk (1967), Breathe Through The Nose (1968), and his last album in the sixties, a musical ode to the warden of the Lake Correctional Institution, Florida, where his father was being held at the time, the JJA Jazz Awards-nominated Time Off (For Good Behavior) (1969).
As the 1950s saw the emergence of free jazz, which explored playing without regular meter, beat and formal structures, the mid-1950s also saw hard bop emerge. However, Moobs initially rode the wave of Modal jazz, that was developed in the late 1950s. Using the mode, or musical scale, as the basis of musical structure and improvisation, jazz-rock fusion appeared throughout his subsequent work in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Combining jazz improvisation with rock music's rhythms, electric instruments and the highly amplified stage sound, in the seventies Moobs released albums such as Tighten the Screws (1970), Push the Mouthpiece (1971), Firm Fit (1972), Straphook Rhythm (1973), the double album Don’t Be Surprised ... I Sure Wasn't! (1974), Lower Lip Curl (1976), his ode to the blossoming era of disco, Body Glide (1977), and a tribute to his youth, Felcher Nights: All Aboard (1978). His last album of that decade, Collard Greens and Soul Food (1979) allowed him to delve into the African-American culture that his music had always been associated with, naming each track after a type of delicious food.
In the early 1980s, a commercial form of jazz fusion called smooth jazz became successful, garnering significant radio airplay. Moobs, as did en masse of other more-dedicated old school musicians, embraced this new era and was soon releasing album after album: Loop the Spiritual Octave (1980), Gigdust Cufflink (1981), Boca Raton Blues (1982), How Blue Are Your Blues? (1983), Pop Goes My Weasel (1984), Liquid Lunch (1985), Stretch Marks of Love (1986), Moobs ... Plays the Dean Friedman Songbook (1987), Keep It Taut (1988), and he ended the eighties with the highly controversial, Aids ... The New Diet For Fat People! (1989). A ten track album, each song lyrically expanding on the time's price-gouging controversy with AIDS, some people - within both the media and among his very own fans - claimed he had wandered too far from his lyrical jazz sensibilities.
With jazz fusion embodying smooth jazz more and more as the nineties progressed, and Moobs' first album of that decade, Prescription: Jazz! (1991) overlooked by the controversy shown to his previously-released album, he decided to try something a little different. Knowing that teaching others how to love the saxophone was still as important to him as learning to play it had once been, Moobs released an unprecedented collection of work. Entitled My Saxy Life, Volumes 1-100 (1992-1999), it was a musical undertaking that took the jazz world by storm and put him right back in the welcoming spotlight he so richly deserved.
The incredible 100 CD collection featured the legends of the Jazz world including Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, Clarence "Big Black" Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Herbie Mann, and so many more. This massive collection of meticulously remastered recordings, lost masters and new tracks delved deeply into Moobs' history, exploring the origins of a twentieth century jazz icon quite like no other collection had ever done before.
With other jazz styles and genres abounding in the 2000s, such as Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz, Moobs knew he had to acclimatize himself to the new musical dawn. So in the 2000s he released an interesting dichotomy of albums. Sampling Caribbean music and combining their African-based rhythmic patterns along with his new found love for Tresillo, his album sales suddenly took off once again with Sub-Saharan African Chants (2000), Groin Pull (2001), African Diaspora I (2002), African Diaspora II (2003), African Diaspora III (2004), Get Off My Lawn (2005), Sax Change (2006), Do Do Do Do Do Do Do Do Do, Moo (2007), A Night in the Tropics (Under The Sweat) (2008), and then I Won't Tell You Again (2009).
Entering into the next decade of the 2000s, and with jazz music now prominently incorporating a New Orleans second line, along with other forms of popular music from that city (from the turn of the 20th century to present), Moobs reinvented himself once more. He began recording duet albums with well-established jazz musicians, such as Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Jessica Williams, Michael Franks, and George Benson.
Soon this next decade of jazz music from Moobs was bringing us albums such as Better Known As Möbius (2010), Moobs Exposure (2011), It's Moobs! (2012), his Motown-inspired, and once-again JJA Jazz Awards-nominated Motor City Melodies (The Songs That Made Detroit Famous) (2013), Deep, Deep Down (2014), last years Sampled Gems (2015), and now the eagerly-awaited back-to-back, same day releases, No Sleep 'Til ... Death! (2016) and One Sax, One Moobs (2016) (which will both be premiered, in full, at the upcoming New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2016.)
Now living in Phoenix, Arizona, Moobs "The Canary" Dingus has five children. All boys and all by different women, they are Otis (52), Marmaduke (47), Charles (38), Dijon (27), and Diesel (3 months). Amazingly, Moobs has never won any form of award for his musical contributions, but has said many times that he would not know what to do with it if he ever won one anyway. "Awards are for losers", he has always commented.
Still inflicted by an early childhood illness that affects his playing, Moobs has never let it get the better of him. When he was a child Moobs got punched in the mouth by his friend George Woods. It subsequently affected the way that he gets his embouchure. Which means that he has a highly original style, but also might well explain why he has never won an award.
He has never played for Kings, Queens or Wimbledon. He has never played for Presidents or Augustine. He has played everywhere from Bowling Green to Aberdeen, but has only ever played any venue just the once! An amazing statistic is that Moobs has never been asked back to these venues because of personal hygiene issues. You see, due to his embouchure, Moobs has always had to over extend certain facial muscles, the awkward shaping of his lips to his saxophone mouthpiece causing his once clean teeth and fresh breath to create a form of distemper deep inside his mouth; forcing its way out through the pores of his skin, sadly.
Jazz is a music genre that originated from African-American communities of New Orleans in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African American and European American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz spans a period of over a hundred years, encompassing a very wide range of music, making it difficult to define.
But Moobs "The Canary" Dingus has done his best - over the past 60 years and 151 albums - to keep jazz pertinent, alive, and cool today. As he himself has always said when asked the question about which gig was his career defining highlight, "It's always 'the last gig' ... but seriously, it's probably the last gig!"
Catching up with Moobs "The Canary" Dingus for a quick chat recently in his hotel room overlooking the Thames in London, England, as he prepared for stints at both Ronnie Scott's and the 606 Club, after having given him an Exclusive Magazine tshirt, I first asked what kept him touring still at nearly 76 years-old? "The money," he laughs. "Seriously ... the money!" As he turns to pick up his Mango and Ginger Margarita, I assume he will add something to his last statement. I was wrong.
Your debut album, Introducing: Moobs was quite easily one of the most important records ever made. Did it feel like that to you when making it, perhaps? "No, not really. My debut was definitely a game-charger, sure, but as a young 16 year-old boy, there were also some darker moments on there too. I still don't think a lot of people have ever picked up on them, in all honesty. Teen angst, and all that, I guess. But it's still one of my favorite albums, sure."
Do you listen to it often? "I haven't listened to it for close to fifty or more years, Russell. I might hate it now. That worries me. So, I just continue to make new music."
Talking of new music, you are releasing two brand new albums back-to-back on the same day this year. Why two albums though? "Well, you're right, rarely do bands release two albums on the same day. Guns N' Roses famously did it with Use Your Illusion I and II in 1991, but I can't recall many other bands following suit. So, I decided to be like Axel Rose and double dip into the pockets of all those jazz lovers still out there with a passion for my music." As he turns to pick up his Strawberry Daiquiri, I assume he will add something to his last statement. Once again, I was wrong.
Can you talk more about the new album titles - No Sleep 'Til ... Death! and One Sax, One Moobs? "Well, No Sleep is how I feel when I'm touring the world playing my music," he says, stifling a yawn. "I don't sleep well on these European tours. All that flying. So, I figured that, in the words of Bon Jovi, I'll sleep when I'm dead. As for One Sax, One Moobs, that is an album done in an acoustic style. Just me, my saxophone and a recording booth. I've never done something like that before and it evoked memories of my childhood, sucking myself to sleep at night at the Felcher School for Boys with Tendencies."
Word has it you are going to be performing both new albums in their entirety at the upcoming New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2016 "The word is correct, my friend." As he turns to pick up his Crème de la Cream, I assume he will add something to his last statement. Of course, I was wrong again.
For me, aside from your debut album, I think both Swingin' Capri Pants and Moobs ... Plays the Dean Friedman Songbook were also pinnacle studio outings. In reflection, do you agree? "I do, yes. I had a lot, a lot of fun making Capri Pants, and drank a lot during those sessions. Which made the final recordings come across very hazy in sound, thankfully, as everyone assumed it was the latest studio technology that had orchestrated that! As for the album of Dean Friedman songs, well, he was about 20 years young than me, but I still had, still have great admiration for him. I mean, my fellow American singer-songwriter could play piano, keyboard, guitar and other instruments, including the harmonica. So what wasn't there to love about ol' Deano?"
And where did your nickname "The Canary" originate? "Well, to make a short story long, my father always wanted me to work down a coal mine, but my mother always related to him her fears of tunnel collapse and soot inhalation. She was so worried I might incur a non-fatal injury also that whenever the subject came up all my father would say is, The bloody canaries seem to live just fine down there! Of course, we know most didn't due to the dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide, but after that she always used to call me her lil' canary."
OK, as my time is nearly up here, your lyrical passion for current topics of the time along with your deeply rooted spirituality, have all led to albums that were not exactly welcomed with open arms, shall we say. Has bad press ever gotten you down, perhaps? "My boy, I assume you are referencing my Aids album, for the most part, which is something I don't wish to discuss here today! Simply put, it was an era where I was experimenting, where I was feeling looser musically and lyrically, and where I believed that whatever I wrote down, whatever I sung, was going to always be welcomed with open arms. I was sadly wrong, as you know."
OK, and as much as you say you don't want to talk about it, but still seem to be, based on what you have just said, if that was the case about not wanting to offend anyone, why name it Aids ... The New Diet For Fat People!? "I'm sorry, but I just told you I don't want to discuss it! It was a different time, a different era, a different world, and I was a different person. But, shit, it WAS a good diet for all the overweight fatty's though, wasn't it," he wryly smiles, as he reaches for his White Russian. I don't bother waiting to see if he will add anything to his last statement.
So, can you give us a glimpse into the next few years of Moobs' recording expectations? "If I'm still alive, I hope to record some duet albums with some of these new girls that are topping the charts these days. Like Lady Gaga, Jessie J, even Taylor Swift. I think that would be a fun thing to do. Also, a new album with my old friend Clarence Johnson is something that I've always wanted to get back into."
Talking of Clarence "Big Black" Johnson, whatever happened to the album Tipping The Hymen: A Love Story you made together back in 1975 that never saw the light of day? "Yeah, well, we were both on Cream Records back then [an American record label started in 1970, by former Liberty Records head Al Bennett] and having hit albums by the bus load. So, just before Al acquired Hi Records [which became a division of Cream in 1977] he wanted to put out one more sixties-inspired, seventies-embodied album. The free love vibe of the sixties was behind us, sure, but the seventies still possessed enough enhancement to enable us to make our own rules up."
"Or, that's what Clarence and myself thought, given that we only spent 12 hours in the recording studio making the album ... and for about nine of those hours we were involved in all manner of lurid, coke-driven sexual encounters with our respective much younger groupies! So, we left the studio, the sound engineer gave what we had recorded to the record label ... and Al hated it! I remember that his exact words were, This is all I get for my $15.00 investment in you guys?! You have to remember that, back then $15.00 was, well, in today's money I'd guess about $5 million, so yeah, he had a right to be pissed!"
"Anyway, they still put together the album artwork, pressed the vinyls, but the day before the release date the record was pulled due to a Presidential request! I kid you not. Jimmy Carter had succeeded Gerald Ford as the 39th President of the United States earlier that year and he had been sent a copy of the album as a welcome gift to The White House. He hated it. Thought the sounds we were all making were disgusting and told Al he was never to release it. Ever! So, will it ever see the light of day, no, I highly doubt it ... but I do have a copy of it at home in Arizona if you are ever in the neighborhood and fancy a listen!"
Wow, thanks ... erm, being on tour so much you must hear some great jokes. Can you tell us one today? "Sure. I heard this one last night in hotel foyer: What do you call a beautiful woman on a trombonist's arm? ... A tattoo," he laughs, adding "It's funny because it's just so damn true".
I notice that you are one of those artists that doesn't add their name to the front of your albums. Is there a reason for that? "Usually it's down to cover space, in all honesty. I like my album titles to be big and bold, so to have that along with my full name, well, it would make any album cover too messy. Especially these modern day, smaller-sized CD covers! Man I hate CDs ... digital downloads even more!"
In closing, and to leave this interview on an enjoyable, and informative note for the readers, are you active on Twitter, Facebook and all other modes of Social Media, perhaps? "I will be soon, yes. I have only just gotten a new publicist, my first in 30 years, so they will set things up and walk me through how to connect with all my fans. I have to say that as much as technology scares me, I know embracing it, reaching out, touching it, feeling it, is where I have to be here in 2016. It's always especially important to know that if you ...". He suddenly trails off, leaning across the table to grasp a drink left behind by a prior interviewer. I wait, in hope he will finish his important thought ... but, of course, he doesn't.
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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