Joe Mullins talks Old Fashioned Christmas and Paul Williams

Today is the release date for a new Christmas single from Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers, with a special guest vocal performance from Paul Williams, who is an old friend of the Mullins family.

As this weekend is the 60th wedding anniversary for Paul and his wife, Edria, Joe put together this lovely remembrance to coincide with the release of the single, Old Fashioned Christmas, one Paul wrote back in the late 1950s.

Take it away, Joe…

Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Paul Williams was writing songs before he was even a teenager. By age 17, he was recording his songs for RCA Victor with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. 

In the fall of 1957, Paul completed his service with the US Air Force. Within a few weeks he received a call from Jimmy Martin who asked Paul to join the Sunny Mountain Boys in Detroit, Michigan. Martin was working a jamboree show and a variety of night clubs. 

Paul arrived in Detroit in November 1957. “I made it to Jimmy’s house and this skinny red-headed kid was stretched out on the couch. It was J.D. Crowe,” Paul recalled. He was 22 years old, Crowe had just turned 20, Martin was 30. “J.D. showed me what Jimmy wanted on the mandolin, and worked with me everyday learning the songs I needed to know.” The two were close friends until Crowe’s passing in 2021.

When the December calendar gave them a break, Jimmy insisted Paul go home to Tennessee for Christmas with the Martin family. “I didn’t want to go, but Jimmy insisted I shouldn’t stay in Detroit by myself, so, I rode with Jimmy and Barbara to Sneedville, Tennessee, for the family Christmas gathering,” said Paul. “I met Jimmy’s brothers and sisters, and we spent a few days together. This was the first time I met Edria, Jimmy’s youngest sister. She was 17. By the end of the visit in Tennessee, I was able to kiss her for the first time. I knew right then, immediately, if she would have me I would marry her!”

The trip back to Detroit began, and in the backseat of Jimmy’s Cadillac, Paul Williams wrote his first of many songs for the Sunny Mountain Boys – Old Fashioned Christmas. The beautiful lyrics really capture the festive spirit of the season, and Paul wrote a recitation that Jimmy delivered, personally. “I can see my brothers, Johnny and Roy……mother and dad admiring each one so dear,” a direct accounting of the scenes from the Martin home place in 1957. Martin and his Sunny Mountain Boys, including Paul and J.D., recorded the song in the summer of 1960, and it was released by Decca Records to country radio for the 1960 holiday season.

By Christmas of 1960, Paul and Edria had furthered their courtship, much by mail, as the Jimmy Martin show had left Detroit for Shreveport, and then Wheeling. In eastern Kentucky, my dad, Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Paul “Moon” Mullins, was on air each weekday at WGOH in Grayson. Old Fashioned Christmas became a seasonal hit on my dad’s radio program, immediately. As Dad’s career progressed, he made history on radio at Middletown, Ohio’s WPFB from 1964 until 1989. And every holiday season, Old Fashioned Christmas was heard almost daily, and has always been a family favorite. My wife Tammy’s family even had the Decca Records LP of Country Christmas songs, and we heard Jimmy and Paul singing Old Fashioned Christmas at her parents’ home every Christmas Eve when we were dating, and then first married in the 1980s. 

The song, and my friendship with Paul, are so special to me, that I really wanted to record the song with The Radio Ramblers. I called Paul on Christmas Day last year, in 2021, and told him I would like him to do the recitation and be part of our recording. He didn’t hesitate, and his sincere Christmas wishes in our new version of this classic will be part of the holiday season for the next generation. 

I’m glad to also deliver the “rest of the story.” Nearly five years after that first Christmas kiss for Paul and Edria in 1957, a phone call came to Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, where Paul was living across the Ohio river from the Wheeling Jamboree, the regular Saturday night show for the Sunny Mountain Boys. “If you want to marry me be in Morristown, Tennessee in the morning.” Paul scrambled to find a Greyhound bus that could get him to east Tennessee. Paul said, “I’d never been to Morristown and didn’t know IF I could get there in one night. But I made it the next morning.” The wedding happened at the preacher’s house the afternoon of December 4, 1962. 

HAPPY 60th ANNIVERSARY to Paul and Edria! You are both so loved by the bluegrass community and we wish both of you the best Old Fashioned Christmas, ever. 

Joe also shared some photos from Paul and Edria’s wedding. The reason for the sudden call and scramble to get back to Tennessee was that Edria’s sister, Erma, was to be married that day to her husband, Marvin, and the two sisters wanted to have a double wedding.

You can check out all the Christmas bluegrass we have covered at Bluegrass Today by following this link.