Billy "Tiny" Moore, mandolinist and fiddler, was born on May 12, 1920, in Hamilton County, Texas. Moore's mother and grandfather taught him piano, fiddle, and guitar during his childhood. As an adolescent he backed his mother in her band and played with a group of friends known as the Clod Hoppers. After hearing Leo Raley play one of the first electric mandolins, Moore adopted the instrument. His first electric mandolin was built by Raymond Jones, a friend who lived in Port Arthur, Texas. Given the nickname “Tiny” because of his large size, Moore performed professionally with a group called the Port Arthur Jubileers.
Beginning in 1937, Moore traveled the South and played mandolin in several bands. In Mobile, Alabama, he played in Lloyd Ellis's Jazz Trio, and in Rayne, Louisiana, he accompanied a Cajun band called the Rainbow Ramblers. He moved to Houston before 1943 and played in the Crustene Ranch Gang band, which regularly appeared on local radio stations.
Moore enlisted in the United States Army Air Force and served from 1943 to 1945. After the war he joined western swing legend Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. In 1946 and 1947 Wills and the Playboys recorded the Tiffany Transcriptions, in which Moore played electric mandolin and fiddle, and for which he arranged the music. He also managed the Wills Point Ballroom in Sacramento, California, which was owned by Bob Wills. In 1950 Moore took a break from performing with Wills's traveling band and married Dean McKinney (of the McKinney Sisters), another member of the Wills band. They had three children.
After his departure from the Texas Playboys, Moore settled in the Sacramento area and formed a western swing band with Bob's younger brother, Billy Jack Wills. The band played regularly at the Wills Point Ballroom and on local radio station KFRK. Moore arranged most of the music and played fiddle and his newly-built Bigsby five-string electric mandolin. Billy Jack played drums, and a young Vance Terry played steel guitar in the ensemble. In 1954 the band broke up, but Moore continued to play with Bob and Billy Jack Wills at local venues throughout the decade. From 1956 to 1962 he also hosted and regularly performed on Ranger Roy and the Anna Banana Show, a locally televised children's program.
In 1961 Moore opened the Tiny Moore Music Center, where he gave lessons on mandolin, fiddle, and guitar. He focused on teaching throughout much of the 1960s and wrote an instructional book called Mandolin Method. Moore played as a guest musician on numerous albums and was a member of Merle Haggard's band in the mid-1970s. In 1970 he recorded with Haggard on the album Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World, a salute to Bob Wills. In 1972 Moore recorded his first solo album, Tiny Moore Music. He regularly played with former members of the Playboys, such as Eldon Shamblin and Vance Terry, and frequently performed at music contests. In 1973 he played on Bob Wills's final recording, For the Last Time. Moore paired with fellow mandolinist Jethro Burns (of Homer and Jethro fame) and recorded a twin mandolin album called Back to Back in 1980.
Throughout Moore's career, jazz musicians heavily influenced him, especially the early work of legendary Texas jazz guitarist Charlie Christian. Moore taught dozens of guitarists and was a major influence on musicians such as Ken Fraizer and Bob Murrell. He frequented nightclubs from Texas to California to stay in touch with the jazz music scene. He had a fatal heart attack onstage while playing with the Cadillac Band at a club in Jackpot, Nevada, on December 15, 1987. He was inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 1995 along with his wife Dean McKinney Moore. In 1999 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, honored as an early influence on the rock genre. Moore is also listed as a Music Legend in the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur. The Tiny Moore Western Swing Memorial Scholarship was established in his honor at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas.