Big Mo and the Full Moon Band
● By Melissa Mendonca
Surplus BluesAugust 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Paula Schultz
Maurice Huffman is the guy you'll need to know when the rains return. He can outfit you in protective gear from Swisslink.com, his supply business of international military surplus gear. If you need sandbags but don’t want to fill them yourself, he’s designed a “just add water” storm bag that he also sells through the site. If you need to get away in a hurry and don’t want to queue for gas, he’s got a line of high-grade metal, EPA-approved jerry cans that can keep you on the road. And at the end of the day, if the storms are just too much, he can offer a blues song, one that he's written himself.
Huffman, also known as Big Mo of Big Mo and the Full Moon Band, has a long and storied history that has taken him from the awards stage of the Monterey Bay Blues Festival (Best Blues Band, 2004) to the pages of the Wall Street Journal (his sandbags once helped protect a New York hospital from major storm damage) to military warehouses across Europe, where he uncovers gems for Swisslink, his Paradisebased online and brick-and-mortar business.
“It kind of worked out to be a fun business,” he says of Swisslink, the venture he started in 1996 when a young son gave him reason to question pursuing life on the road as a touring musician. “You have to have fun,” he adds with a smile.
While it’s hard to imagine a musician named Big Mo not having fun, he almost didn’t make it to the stage his first year at the Monterey Bay Blues Festival. “They thought we were the guys that were bringing the equipment in,” he says with a laugh.
Big Mo was originally invited to the festival in 2002 based on the sound of one original track he submitted to organizers, “Hey Hey,” which he describes as “a bluesy cassette song.” “I didn’t even have a band,” he says, noting the hustle he had to do when he was accepted. “I called my buddies in Germany and said, ‘Guys, you’ve always wanted to visit me and this is the time.’”
Back then, Big Mo was still known as a Maurice, a young immigrant from Germany who had followed his heart to Northern California with a new American wife. Thanks to American Forces Radio, he’d grown up on Southern rock and had a taste for American blues. When he needed to pull together a band in a hurry, his German friends werehe best the knew.
Three years later, he had a more intentionally formed band and they were back on stage accepting the Best Blues Band award, “a really big thing for a German white boy to win,” he says. By then, someone had called him Big Mo, and the name had stuck. He and his 10-piece ensemble, including guitarist Richard Moore of the Troggs and “Wild Thing” fame, went on to accept eight consecutive Chico Area Music Awards in the blues category.
A secret to their success is original writing, which Big Mo churned out at the rate of a song a day for about 20 years. “Blues can get very dangerously boring,” he says, noting his desire to be fresh with original writing.
One might say that Big Mo was anointed into music at a young age. At only 13 years old, he was dragged to a Ray Charles concert in Germany when his mom fell ill and was unable to keep her invitation from an American friend who taught in the military school system. The friend grabbed Big Mo from behind his mom’s skirt and insisted he take her place. Sheepishly, he recalls being annoyed all the way from Heidelberg to the Mannheim concert hall, full of teenage attitude and unaware of the power of Ray Charles.
“My God, the first two notes this guy sang,” he says with reverence of the epiphany that came once the concert began. “I was just in a fantasy world. It was so amazing. I was mesmerized.”
The experience only got better as his mom’s friend, who had grown up with Charles, took him backstage. Charles rubbed his forehead and said, prophetically, “You’ve got a musical forehead. Do you sing?” In fact, Huffman did sing. He was a choir boy. But from that moment on, he says, “He had me going. I was a huge fan.” He moved from choir to Southern rock and eventually on to the American stage as a blues man infusing his work with funk and other influences.
Although Big Mo says, “I wish I had grown up musically in San Francisco rather than Heidelberg,” it’s clear that he’s made the most of his opportunities. These days, he’s focused less on songwriting and has turned to penning “Jake and the Hot Air Balloon,” a collection of bedtime stories he made up to tell his son, Miles, as he grew up.
He keeps a camper on Lake Almanor, where he reflects on the joys of his life and the opportunities that have opened up. Rain or shine, whether on the stage or as a business entrepreneur, Big Mo keeps it fun and reminds people that the blues can bring joy.