Joe Mullins on His Latest Radio Ramblers Project, 'Another Day From Life'

Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
Alane Anno

Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers

Joe Mullins is what could be termed a double threat in the business. Musically, he is one of the top bluegrass acts in the business along with his band, the Radio Ramblers, but he also is one of the top radio personalities in the genre. Spend any amount of time with him, and you'll be in amazement at his vocal chops -- whether singing or announcing.

He tells Billboard he feels blessed to be able to use his talents in many different ways. "The art of communication is something that any artist should pay a little bit of attention to. My dad was a great broadcaster. He was great on-air, but one-on-one, he was a little bit shy. Thankfully, I have been in the industry for as long as I can remember. I started in radio full-time when I was 16 years old. A couple of years later, I wound up on stage as a banjo artist. The two talents together have served me well. I'm very thankful."

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The highly regarded Mullins has just released Another Day From Life, a disc full of story songs in the bluegrass tradition. Perhaps the most powerful is the stunning "The Last Parade," a song he says came in at the very end of the recording process. "The song was sent in to us, and we were just about done with song selection," he says, admitting that once he and the band heard the song, it was a no-brainer. "The song was so moving to all of us. You take a theme so tender as someone killed in action, and to relay that to an audience musically is a delicate line on how you want to deliver the message. I think the song is laid out perfectly, and reminds us that freedom is not free," he says of the song's lyrics. "That's what the song does, and it does so in a very apolitical way. I was very glad for that. It's a very true story about Sgt. Nicholas Carnes from Dayton, Ky. -- a young man who was 25 and lost his life on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2007. The song is about a friend of the family going to the procession that brought his body back from the airport in Cincinnati to his hometown."

Another highlight from the album is "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry," a song that Porter Wagoner originally took to No. 3 almost six decades ago. Mullins says the song has intrigued him for years. "I had toyed with the idea of making it a bluegrass song about thirty years ago, but it never worked out. One of my friends mentioned the song, and I had told him about it. He said that he could hear it with a Jimmy Martin approach, so we tried that."

What kind of approach do you take when covering such a classic? "You crawl inside the song," says Mullins. "Jimmy Martin used to talk about singing those heartbreak songs in the honky-tonks, and he tried to picture the subject of the song -- an old boy with a broken heart sitting at the bar. He wanted to be just as broken hearted as he was singing it. I don't know if I've got the ability to get into all that, but being in radio all these years, you want to hear a performance that is believable. Sometimes believability gets left out of the recording process these days. You've got to keep the emotion it. Hopefully, we did that."

Mullins & the Radio Ramblers have a busy schedule on the books through the holidays, as well as a full slate of dates through November of 2015. "We work an average of 40 to 45 weeks a year," said Mullins. "We load up on the bus, and average about a thousand miles a week. That's what we do."

How does Mullins resist the allure of truck stop food -- a mainstay on the road? He admits he hasn't always, but he's doing better. "I've overcome that. I guess that's the blessing of having a nice tour bus. We keep our personal favorites stocked. Eating in truck stops will kill you. But, they have changed. There's some that still have the old greasy spoons, but most of them have a food court. I was fortunate enough to train myself by my early 40s that I can't be responsible with biscuits and gravy or cinnamon rolls, cheeseburgers, and all of that. I lost about 80 pounds five years ago, and have kept off seventy. But, it can be hard to do when you're on the road. We try to keep the bus stocked with healthy food."

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