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The Story Behind Rosanne Cash’s “Blue Moon with Heartache”

The Story Behind Rosanne Cash's “Blue Moon with Heartache”
Photo: Amr Alfiky/NPR
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A reviewer from 1982 eloquently described Rosanne Cash‘s “Blue Moon with Heartache” as “achingly beautiful,” yet Rosanne herself always maintained a veil of secrecy around the song’s origins. In an interview, she cryptically remarked, “I really don’t know if I want to tell you, or even can tell you, where it came from. I happened to have my catcher’s mitt on and I caught it.”

The song began in its simplest form when Cash presented it to bassist and arranger Emory Gordy, Jr. in her Los Angeles living room. Recalling the initial encounter, Gordy said, “Rosanne originally played it on the guitar, and we transferred the song to an electric piano during pre-production. I worked through a core system of chords on the piano that revolved around a chordal motif, and that’s what stuck.”

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This “chordal motif” ultimately became the song’s distinctive intro, performed in harmony by Tony Brown on electric piano and Hank DeVito on steel guitar. Naming the song proved to be a challenge for Cash. Even after the recording session concluded and the track was mixed, it remained untitled, causing delays in pressing and artwork production. It wasn’t until Rosanne’s then-husband Rodney Crowell, inspired by Tom Robbins’ book “Still Life with Woodpecker,” suggested the title “Blue Moon with Heartache” that the dilemma was resolved.

Initially released as the B-side to “Seven Year Ache,” the lead single from her album of the same name, “Blue Moon with Heartache” eventually earned its place as the LP’s third A-side when Columbia Records reissued it. The single swiftly ascended to the summit of Billboard’s country singles chart on March 13, 1982, marking Rosanne’s third consecutive number one hit. This achievement was followed by an impressive tally of eight more non-consecutive chart-toppers on Billboard.

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