There was little doubt that Daniel Mullins would one day host a radio show. While he might be best known to Bluegrass Today readers for his album reviews, holiday playlists, and other, often-humorous, contributions here, he is also a third-generation broadcaster. As host of Bending the Stings, a weekly program on Ohio’s Classic Country Radio Network, he both follows in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and expands the horizon of their more traditional focuses.
“Well, I guess it’s in my blood!” says Mullins of becoming interested in radio. His grandfather, Paul “Moon” Mullins was a legendary hillbilly music disk jockey, spinning tunes for forty-five years in eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio. His father, Joe Mullins (yes, that Joe Mullins) has been a broadcaster for over thirty years and is also the owner of several radio stations.
“Dad bought his first station when I was about four years old,” says Mullins, “so I always remember being around the studio and staring at dad and papaw and watching them play everything from Johnny Cash to Reno & Smiley!”
However, Mullins didn’t feel the pull of the radio himself until he began college about four years ago. He’d always been a bluegrass fan – “I’m an American, aren’t I?”, he jokes – but began hearing a number of edge-of-bluegrass bands in the dorms, such as Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers, the Punch Brothers, and Old Crow Medicine Show. He decided that perhaps he could make some bluegrass converts out of the younger generations by using a technique similar to what his grandfather did decades before by playing Flatt & Scruggs and The Country Gentlemen alongside popular country artists like Merle Haggard and Ernest Tubb. Mullins’ dad loved the idea, and after about eight months of listening, planning, and learning, Mullins broadcast his first show.
“I was so nervous that I had everything I was going to say written down word-for-word on index cards,” he says. However, his idea paid off, and he says it has been a thrill to see people learn to love bluegrass thanks to listening to his show.
According to Mullins, “Watching Old Crow Medicine Show fans become Dave Evans fans, Avett Brothers fans become Blue Highway fans, and Mumford & Sons fans become IIIrd Tyme Out fans has been incredible!” One disappointment, though, is that a few of the more traditional listeners don’t especially like his show. “I’ve had people figure out who I was at the barber shop and tell me to my face that my show is terrible,” he says. However, “there have been some older people who have really become fans of some of the ‘hippie’ stuff I’ve been playing.”
No matter what, Mullins is a staunch believer in “big tent” bluegrass – to a point. “Shooting people down that want to be excited about our music and want to be a part of us doesn’t help anybody,” he says. “Why not help them out and show them how what they’re listening to connects to what you listen to? To me, that’s a whole lot more beneficial that debating what is or is not bluegrass.”
If you tune into Mullins’ show on Saturday afternoons from 3:00-5:00, you might hear anything and everything from the Stanley Brothers to Tony Rice to Gillian Welch to John Mayer to Johnny Cash (or “the greatest American of all time,” as Mullins calls him). He can be heard on any of the Classic Country Radio Network stations (WBZI, WKFI, and WEDI), as well as myclassicountry.com and the “Classic Country Radio” app.
We recently had the chance to ask Mullins a few questions about his thoughts on bluegrass. Here’s what he had to say.
How would you define bluegrass music as a genre?
“Dang! That’s a tough question. Wow. Now, just because I like to feature a lot of Americana and folk music on my program doesn’t mean I’m running around saying the Avett Brothers are bluegrass. However, I do feel that a bunch of those bands are “bluegrass friendly,” but I wouldn’t try to dupe someone into saying that that’s straight-ahead bluegrass. I also wouldn’t shoot down someone that wants to think that Old Crow Medicine Show is pure bluegrass – that doesn’t help anyone and definitely doesn’t help bluegrass. I’m also not one of those staunch traditionalists that claims “no banjo, no bluegrass.” Really? No banjo, no bluegrass? Honestly? What about the entire Manzanita album? What about Flatt & Scruggs’ You Are My Flower? What about Michael Cleveland and Jesse Brock playing Jerusalem Ridge?”
What form of bluegrass do you most enjoy?
What bands do you consider examples of the form you most enjoy?
“That may seem an oxymoron, but I view “traditional progressive” bluegrass as bands who were considered progressive at the time they first hit the scene, but over the course of the past few decades have become viewed as traditional due to time more than anything else. Bands like the Osborne Brothers, J.D. Crowe & the New South, The Seldom Scene, The Country Gentlemen, Boone Creek, Tony Rice, and even bands like Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and The Del McCoury Band.”
If you could listen to one album for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
“Dang! That’s a tough choice. It would have to be a tie for me. My two favorite albums are Tony Rice’s Me and My Guitar and Ronnie Bowman’s It’s Getting Better All the Time. I really can’t pick between the two. They’re always the first two in the car before I go on a trip. Both of those are beat to death because I’ve worn them out!
Me and My Guitar is one of Rice’s most creative albums and has such universal appeal. He does a little bit of everything on there, and it may be his best album vocally. It’s just a masterpiece. Unfortunately, It’s Getting Better All the Time is one of the most overlooked albums of the past few decades. Ronnie’s most recent solo album, it features some of his best songwriting. Listening to that record, it’s no wonder Nashville has kind of “stolen” him from bluegrass to write hits on Music Row! The variety on that album is great. It’s a killer album to give to someone who says they don’t like bluegrass.”
What album is currently in your car stereo?
“I’ve been re-listening to the original Longview album recently. One of the most powerful bluegrass albums ever. Can’t help but turn it all the way up and sing along to the top of my lungs!”
Artists who are interested in submitting their music to Mullins for airplay consideration can mail a CD to him at:
Classic Country Radio
23 E. Second St.
Xenia, OH 45385
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