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Joe Mullins brings bluegrass to Mountaineer Opry

Nov. 30, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Bluegrass musician and entrepreneur Joe Mullins, who will perform at the Mountaineer Opry House Saturday, Nov. 30., has been in the music business since he was a kid.

Mullins' father, Paul "Moon" Mullins, was a prominent bluegrass musician whose time spent as a legendary radio DJ influenced his son to buy and run a four-station radio network. Currently heard on the airwaves in southern Ohio, the network can also be heard online at myclasssiccountry.com where the music ranges from bluegrass music to gospel to old school real country hits.

Mullins also fronts the award-winning bluegrass band Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers. The group is on a roll with a series of new and powerful bluegrass albums released on the Rebel Records label over the last few years.

Because of Mullins' long-time standing in the bluegrass community, he is on the forefront of keeping the genre alive and healthy. He is the host of the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival, which brings bluegrass music to Wilmington, Ohio in March and November. This past September, Mullins also attended the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) World of Bluegrass convention where he was nominated for Broadcaster of the Year and he was a presenter at the IBMA Awards Show.

It was the first year that the World of Bluegrass was held in Raleigh, NC, a city that by all accounts did a great job of hosting the convention. Previously, the annual business conference and Fan Fest took place in Nashville. But, while all of the buzz in the bluegrass universe lately has been about the success of the World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, Mullins feels that Nashville's role in the history of bluegrass should not be ignored.

"Everything was fantastic," said Mullins, about his time in Raleigh. "But, I'd like to see less of an attitude of thumbing your nose at Nashville. I think that is a bad mistake. I don't think the IBMA should thumb their nose at Nashville. Their office is still there. I know that the IBMA, on the corporate level, we don't thumb our nose at Nashville as we still have to have Sirius-XM Satellite Radio (whose studios are in Nashville). That is the biggest gun we fire when it comes to promotion. I mean, that is the biggest. I've played music in 25 states over the last couple of years and I get a better response from our music being played on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio than anything. I don't care if we play to a hundred people or a thousand people, we hear the comment, 'We hear you on Bluegrass Junction all of the time.' I hear that more than anything, as far as from new fans or people that come to buy a recording or come up and want to meet you and get an autograph. New fans get acquainted with us and old fans stay in touch with us by hearing us on Bluegrass Junction more than any single source."

Mullins latest album is a duo project with one of the hottest traditional bluegrass artists in the world right now in Junior Sisk. Over the last two years, Sisk and his band Ramblers Choice have won the IBMA Song of the Year and the IBMA Album of the Year awards, and Sisk won the 2013 IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year award.

The album, called "Hall of Fame Bluegrass on the Rebel Records" label, is co-produced by Mullins and Sisk. The project features songs that were once recorded by many artists found in the IBMA Hall of Fame. The project also features a lineup of top-of-the-line guest musicians including Jesse Brock, Dudley Connell, Marshall Wilborn, Rob Ickes, Mike Terry, Billy Hawks and Greenup, Kentucky's own Jason Carter.

"I love Jason Carter's fiddle playing, and of course, Junior's singing," said Mullins. "The way the album came about, I first heard Junior on record in the 1990s and loved his style, and then we both got acquainted in the 90s. We both shared a lot of the same passion for traditional bluegrass and here we are, these days, two of the busiest artists on the same record label. A year and a half ago, when Junior was producing his 2012 release 'The Story of the Day That I Died' with his band Rambler's Choice, he said that he was going to record the song 'Lover's Quarrel,' an old traditional tune that we both learned from the Stanley Brothers. I sang the song with the band The Traditional Grass 20 years ago. Junior said, 'Let's sing together on that one. I want you to put the harmony vocals and the banjo on this and if the folks' like it, maybe we can do something else.' I said, 'Yes. I was looking for any opportunity for us to record together because we think a lot alike and we might be able to match each other pretty good.'"

The duet got rave reviews last year, so Mullins and Sisk went about the task of recording this new album. What is refreshing about Hall of Fame Bluegrass is the song choices shy away from the oft-recorded bluegrass war horses that have been resurrected a thousand times before.

"After we started looking at older songs that folks hadn't done in years, and we looked at some of the tunes that had been covered, I thought it would be quite a challenge to say, 'Ok, maybe we can get diverse enough here to do a whole album and touch as many members of the Hall of Fame as we can," said Mullins. "I asked the Rebel Records people to check if there has ever been an official salute to the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and the answer was no. Even the Hall of Fame didn't go back and put together a compilation album for a fundraiser. So, let's see if two guys like me and Junior, both in our late 40s, can cover 50 years worth of bluegrass and 25 different artists and have it be an album that is accepted in 2013 that sounds like me and sounds like Junior. We pulled it off and I am thankful."

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