Already an experienced stage pro when he launched the group in 2006, Mullins had grown up in a bluegrass family, and began his career playing with The Traditional Grass, a band which included his father, the legendary Paul “Moon” Mullins on fiddle. An opportunity to become involved in the ownership and management of a radio station in his native southern Ohio in the mid-1990s took Joe off the road, and placed behind the microphone in the studio, and at an executive’s desk.
When we spoke yesterday he said that by 2006, his radio business had grown and matured to the point where he could be away from the station to play bluegrass, at a time when requests for him to perform publicly were becoming more common.
“Since we were broadcasting bluegrass and early country music on WBZI, people would call the station asking about hiring entertainers who played it. If they had the budget, I would contact Doyle Lawson or someone like that to come in and do a show, but if they didn’t, I would get some guys around home and go out and do it myself.”
So he built a core band, named them The Radio Ramblers for obvious reasons, and they performed regularly for about 4 years in the central US before developing a sufficient following to go full time. His original band members all lived within 30 minutes of the station in Xenia, and though they only found a couple dozen dates the first few years, they eventually moved up to 40 or so.
“I knew as a small businessmen, it would take 3 years just to find out if we could make it. We didn’t intend to be a full time band when we started, but I think 2016 has been our biggest year ever. In our sixth year of full time touring, we’ll do 114 dates by the time this year is out.”
The first album, Rambler’s Call, was initially released privately for sale at their shows in 2009, and through a few independent distributors. One of those, County Sales, sold so many that Rebel Records contacted Joe to see if he was interested in them re-releasing it. Always the savvy negotiator, Mullins arranged an agreement where they would also immediately record a sacred album, Hymns From The Hills, which was released just a few months later.
Things really took off for the band at this point. They were nominated for an IBMA Emerging Artist award in 2011, and won in the following year. Since that time it’s been more dates, more albums, and more accolades for Joe and the boys.
Mullins’ unerring knack for choosing good material, and arranging it for his talented crew, has brought the band to the very top tier of bluegrass entertainers. But he shares the credit for their success with the team he has around him.
“I’ve built a team to help with all of this, and I’m fortunate to have a team with vocal versatility. So many great bands have been built around multiple vocalists in bluegrass… Seldom Scene, Blue Highway among them. We’re honored to feel like we are part of that tradition.”
The Ramblers’ current CD is Sacred Memories on Rebel Records, available wherever bluegrass music is sold.