During the recent IBMA Bluegrass Awards Show, the late Paul “Moon” Mullins was recognized as one of the 2022 Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame inductees. As his family came forward to accept his award, technical glitches prevented audio clips and a photo collage of Mullins from being played. The following day, during a IBMA World of Bluegrass session on the 2022 HOF inductees, Joe Mullins, Paul’s only son, had but a few minutes to share memories of his dad, due to time constraints. As the late Paul Harvey used to say, here is the rest of the story, in the words of his son.
“Dad was a mountaineer, even though he was successful and traveled the world. He lived in a suburban area, but lived like it was the Depression. He cured his own ham, churned his own butter, and grew almost everything that Mama put on the table. He was a good weather man. He could look at the sky and know what to do agriculturally. His listeners cherished the fact that they had so much in common.”
You could hear the pride and intense respect in Joe’s voice. “He loved being hospitable. He and Mom were always feeding company… folks like Ralph Stanley, Larry Sparks, and Doyle Lawson and their bands. Night or day, there was always good food and good music going on at our house.”
A broadcaster for almost 45 years and a professional fiddle player, Paul “Moon” Mullins spent his life promoting the music that he grew up with and dearly loved.
“Dad’s main goal, whether on air or stage, was to present bluegrass music with professional integrity. He wore a suit and a tie. Though he called himself ‘a hayseed’ on the radio, he hated those stereotypes. He knew the secret to the success of the bluegrass economy.”
Mullins’ radio programs were extremely influential in the preservation of traditional country and bluegrass music. As a broadcaster, he introduced leagues of listeners to quality bluegrass from the 1960s through the early 2000s, playing with and promoting the bluegrass greats along the way. His broadcasts were extremely valued due to his rich knowledge of the music industry.
Joe continued, “In 1960, there wasn’t a big dividing line between bluegrass and country. It was country and western or hillbilly music. It was a combination. Dad had his own presentation. He gave just as much weight to JD Crowe as he did Loretta Lynn. He knew how to sell it on the radio: the songs and the pickers. He had to be real and present it that way.”
The senior Mullins’ radio career began in eastern Kentucky. After relocating to Ohio, he spent 17 years on Middletown’s WPFB (1964-1981). Paul, who gained the nickname “Moon” after a comic strip character, had a parting of ways with the station and left for Jellico, TN, to manage a local radio station there. (It was here Joe Mullins graduated high school and launched his own career on radio.)
The Ohio radio station realized their mistake in losing Moon.
Joe shared, “In 1982, WPFB had a quarter million dollar loss. They got Dad back in the summer of 1983. In 1989, we put The Traditional Grass (the father/son bluegrass band) on the road full time. He went back on the radio from 1995-2005 at the first station I bought and rebuilt, WBZI in Xenia, Ohio. He retired then due to poor health.”
Though well-known for his radio work, Paul Mullins was quite the musician as well. He taught himself to play the fiddle while serving his country during the long, dark hours in Alaskan barracks. Returning to Kentucky, he played 1961-63 with a group called The Bluegrass Playboys.
“They played every little school house and church house in eastern Kentucky. Dad was a big deal in that area,” his son fondly recalled.
“Dad was given a poem by Chuck Seitz, Come Down the Mountain, Katy Daley. He recorded the very first bluegrass version of the song on the Briar International Music Label in October 1962. It was a big jukebox hit. That LP is a collectible. Ralph Stanley covered it in 1971 with Roy Lee Centers, Keith Whitley, and Ricky Skaggs (Something Old, Something New, Rebel Records SLP-1503). It became a jam session favorite.”
The elder Mullins respected many in the music.
“Dad was moved by the fiddle playing of Jason Carter, Michael Cleveland, and David Crow, who put himself through law school playing fiddle with the Osborne Brothers. Dad had a real passion for seeing young musicians present bluegrass in the right way. These and other top players of the ’90s and 2000s excited Dad because they were still learning from the masters and learned ‘the lick’.”
When asked what Paul “Moon” Mullins would have said if he were living to accept his prestigious Hall of Fame induction, Joe studied a moment.
“He was so overcome with emotion when he received his Broadcaster of the Year Award and the Distinguished Achievement Award back-to-back in 2000. Terry Herd had been the broadcast winner the year before so he presented it to my dad. He said, ‘Thanks,’ and walked off. It scared Terry to death and embarrassed me a little bit. Then I surprised him with the Distinguished Achievement Award. He got a standing ovation. He was overcome with emotion. It had been a lifetime goal to uphold the integrity of the music. Often times, Dad was shy. He overcame it when he was on the radio or on stage. When it was just him, he wasn’t very good at it.”
Paul “Moon” Mullins passed away, August 3, 2008, at age 71, from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a neurological disease. His accomplishments in broadcasting and playing/performing traditional country and bluegrass music, as well as his contributions to the Appalachian community, will remain for generations. Thanks to Joe for sharing such precious memories of a life well-lived.