MoonlightAside from an infectious rhythm and a good title, this mid-1970s single by an obscure Atlanta-based group doesn’t have that much to recommend it – until the amazing marimba solo in the middle. Other pop records have used the marimba’s deep resonating sound in the past, but I can’t remember a solo, and certainly not one like this. The player was Bo Wagner, who in the early 1970s worked as a studio musician in Los Angeles, appeared on the Lawrence Welk show, and played drums for the extravagant pianist Liberace.

The solo lifts the record to a whole new level. For a start the marimba sound is unexpectedly punchy. It comes straight in with some magnificently fluid runs up and down the instruments. The solo can be divided into eight four-bar phrases, and things get particularly exciting in the fifth of those, where Wagner changes tack with a series of notes separated by wide intervals that momentarily challenge the underlying harmony. Then things take off again – like a rocket – with a repeat of the opening upward run, a cycle of recurring triplets at breathtaking speed, and finally a rapid fire scale passage that leads up to (probably) the highest note on the instrument. It’s brilliant. Wagner has claimed the performance that ended up on the record was his first attempt, really just a rehearsal. But everyone seems to have realized they wouldn’t get it any better.

Starbuck tried in vain to follow up their single hit, but called it a day in 1980. Wagner went on to set up a performing arts school and taught music and dance. He then shifted careers into health care for the entertainment industry, where he has established himself over the course of thirty years as “Dr Bo”. Unfortunately that means there aren’t any equivalent marimba instrumentals to dig up in the recording archives. But some members of Starbuck did get back together last year to perform “Moonlight Feels Right” once again in Chastain Park, Atlanta – though Wagner uses an electronic instrument this time (a MalletKAT Pro), which (I think) is a bit of a shame.

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