Joe Mullins: The Story We Tell is a must have

One of my favorite talented bluegrass friends Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers has an amazing new CD entitled The Story We Tell from Rebel Records. The band’s sixth CD in seven years brings together a vibrant collection of songs that when heard, work together like chapters from a well-worn literary classic.

Filled with new songs from some of today’s top songwriters including Larry Cordle, Jerry Salley, Ronnie Bowman, Steve Bonafel, and Raleigh Satterwhite, alongside forgotten gems the band dusted off from such varied sources as The Delmore Brothers, Merle Haggard, and The Browns, the balance achieved on The Story We Tell flows through the speakers like tuning in to your favorite radio broadcast — a claim only befitting of the reigning IBMA Broadcaster of the Year, Joe Mullins.

“We gathered a very diverse set of songs, heavy on new material from great writers, allowing us to tell several types of stories — tales of fun, family, fiddlers, faith, felons, and one funeral … real bluegrass,” banjo player Joe Mullins.
And if the lead off track and first single, “Long Gone Out West Blues,” debuted on Bluegrass Today’s Top 20 Songs chart, maintaining a strong presence for five consecutive weeks.

Featuring Mullins alongside bluegrass veterans Mike Terry (mandolin), Jason Barie (fiddle), Randy Barnes (bass), and Duane Sparks (guitar), The Story We Tell showcases the band’s most inventive and innovative arrangements to date, both vocally and instrumentally on 12 tracks. With an approach to the music that rings with authenticity, the band secures a rightful place among the traditional guard of bluegrass while standing comfortably shoulder to shoulder with more progressive type artists who find themselves drawn to not only JMRR’s music, but their down-home, likable nature.
In the album’s liner notes, journalist Craig Havighurst brings The Story We Tell and its authors to one solid conclusion: “Joe and his superb band with its diverse strengths and multiple lead vocalists have patiently carved out a special place in the national scene. They’ve won some awards that you can look up, though fewer than they deserve and fewer than they will over time. What matters more is that Joe’s steady contributions and excellent performances are accumulating, year in and out. So is a larger story of an artist who’ll tend to traditional music for decades, something we very much need as the genre widens. Just remember that Joe and his band mates are standing sentinel over something even more profound than the cultural creation we cherish as bluegrass. They’re giving us all tuneful, truthful reasons to have faith in the future of the country.”

The Story We Tell is available for digital download at iTunesGoogle Play, and Amazon. Consumers may also order The Story We Tell direct from Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers at

Could I borrow a cup of chiggers?

That may sound like a strange question but after you already have a whole hoard move in on you, what’s a few more?

I was filming a movie outside Nashville when I noticed that I had an extreme need to reach down a scratch my leg again and again. I wasn’t even filming outside where you might expect them to pay a call. I just had picked the critter up along the way.

I had forgotten what a hair raising experience it is to find oneself as the battle ground upon which these critters wage war.

They are like an army quietly waiting for a battle front to move into their theater of operations and once they do the chiggers slowly advance surmounting the shoes, the socks making their way as if they were advancing towards the German front leaving behind little command posts as they go.

The memory of childhood scrubbings, dousing the shoes in sulfur powder, and covering those command posts with calamine lotion are all etched in my memory.

Thankfully there was just one lone scout that caught me in Nashville, there was one time when I sat at my newspaper desk a few years ago, I noticed that I seemed to have itches popping up in places I didn’t even know I had. Later that evening, the plain truth became apparent.

In the fulfillment of my patriotic journalistic duties, I had crossed over into the sovereign nation of Chiggerland. They were so put out by my invasion, they sent out their best commandos to repel my attack and wouldn’t you know it, I left before those critters found their way back home.

In any event, by suppertime they had built new outposts from head to toe.

In trying to thwart their assault, one simple remedy came to mind — fight fire with fire. No, that wasn’t it. To scratch or not to scratch, that is the question. It wasn’t that either but I think the affirmative won.

I got up and rushed into the bathroom as the stroke of memory from childhood hit me, the way to handle this was to find a bottle of fingernail polish and paint the white flag of surrender on each fortification so they knew I was giving in.

The only negative thing is the one remaining bottle I found left amongst my late mother’s things was red. I just could not quite bring myself to painting myself all over with red fingernail polish. So, I decided, first thing in the morning, I would get what everyone needs in their fight against dem critters, clear fingernail polish and some benedryl.

What dem critters do not really know is when you paint those little flags of surrender you are really attacking dem with your own little secret weapon and slowly they give up.

So in any event, I am happy to report that on almost all fronts, the chiggers lost the battle, although I made every effort to steer clear of any opportunities for them to bring in reinforcements.

Just remember a scratch in time saves nine, no, that’s not it. One good scratch deserves another, that’s not it either. Well there must be some lesson learned here. If I figure it out, I will let you know for right now I had better run I think that one little critter from Nashville is acting up again. Now where did I put that furniture polish, no that’s not it.


A tool bag full of answers

With my nose pressed against the window, I anxiously watched for the arrival of my father from work. With him he would often carry a large, black leather tool bag which, for a little boy like me, held a world of adventure.

After dinner, Dad would spend time at the kitchen table working on various fix-it projects.

I would walk by the table where he was working on some gismo. It is amazing how many little parts would be meticulously set out where they could be cleaned, re-worked and replaced. Every tool had it’s purpose.

“Can I help you daddy?”

“Yes, son. Get me my pliers out of my tool bag,” he said.

I would search through the bag to find the pliers. With each odd looking tool I would say, “Daddy, what do you do with this?” He would tell me, even though he knew I would ask again the next time. Finally, I would find the tool he asked for and hand them over.

He would say, “Just in time.” He would do some little something with it and then set it neatly with the other tools.

Thinking back, he probably did not need those pliers, but he found a use for them anyway just so I could say I helped him fix whatever it was.

Usually as he was nearing the end of his project, I’d run in and ask, “Dad when will you be done?”

He’d say, “Soon son, soon. When I get these tools cleaned up.”

My father was a man of tools, and with them he accomplished great things. The tool bag to him was like a doctor’s stethoscope or a preacher’s bible — it helped to solve the mysteries in his life.

He had the ability to fix almost anything. I am sad to say the mechanically-minded trait did not pass down in my genes.

Much of what my father did for a living rotated around his ability to fix things.

During his life, he worked for several companies fixing everything from Singer sewing machines to Royal typewriters. The job he retired from spoke highly of his abilities to adapt to new technologies. He was responsible for keeping the computers at the IRS running. I’m not talking about these little personal computers. I’m talking about when super computers ruled the world, and they took up the space of nearly a football field.

When he passed years ago, many of his tools came to me. Some are still packed away as he left them. Many of the tools I have no idea for what they could be used. I keep them simply because they were his.

More and more, I find myself doing various jobs around the house. While I am still not mechanically inclined, with patience I usually manage to figure out how to fix whatever it is. Many times I find myself looking through his tool bag for tools that might be put to use in my objective.

My father Floyd Franks died in August 1987 and one year later in August 1988, God sent another fatherly figure into my life, a television icon to all the world, but to me someone who in many ways picked up sharing fatherly advice in my life. One day, the late Carroll O’Connor and I were standing in a pawn shop set on “In the Heat of the Night” looking into a case of tools and knives. We talked about how you can often judge the character of a man by how he cares for his tools.

If he has respect for them, that will be reflected in his life. My Dad took care of his tools and he shared that respect with me.

Today we often depend upon others to fix things we cannot. Oftentimes this tendency carries over into other aspects of our lives as we look to others to fix things which are broken.

Patience and respect will lead you to solutions that can solve many problems.

The tools to fix them are often just inside your own tool bag; you just need to take the time to look.

These are lessons, we also share with Pearl and Floyd Franks Scholars as they embark on their lives continuing the traditional music of Appalachia. Learn more about how you can help make a difference in the lives of our scholars at

Doyle Lawson affirms that “Life is a Story”

I have been honored to know one of the most admired bluegrass performers whose work has contributed an endless string of talented performers who trained as part of his band and later went out to establish a career on their own. Doyle Lawson’s ability to reach his audience is unparalleled and he reaches out to them again with his upcoming CD “Life Is a Story.” 
Doyle describes is as a mix of Bluegrass styles “from the middle of the road to the very traditional,” the album never strays from the heart of the genre. 
“So much of what makes good Bluegrass and Country music compelling comes down to great songwriters – and the stories told in their songs,” Lawson said. “Life itself is really a continuous story that embraces the beginning, the middle and inevitable ending.”  
For those not familiar with Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, with nearly 40 albums to their credit, the group has won numerous major awards, including seven International Bluegrass Music Association Vocal Group of the Year honors.  For his contributions to cultural heritage as a musical trailblazer, Doyle received the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship award in 2006, and was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2012.  DLQ is an influential force in today’s Bluegrass world, and their last two releases (In Session, Burden Bearer) received back-to-back Grammy nominations in 2016 and 2017, respectively. 
“Life is a Story” was produced by Lawson and recorded in Sparta, Tennessee for Mountain Home Music Company, the new album features patriarch Doyle’s signature Lead and Baritone vocals, Mandolin and Mandola, and includes members: Josh Swift (Resophonic Guitar, Acoustic Lead Guitar and Percussion); Joe Dean (Banjo and Guitar); Dustin Pyrtle (Lead and Tenor vocals, Guitar); Eli Johnston (Lead and Baritone vocals, Bass) and Stephen Burwell (Fiddles).  
The circular nature of life is highlighted in the lead off track, “Kids These Days,” which Dustin Pyrtle sings in a nuanced tone that reflects on innocence, lyrically invoking the perfect memories of childhood.  “Little Girl,” a #1 Country hit for John Michael Montgomery written by the late Harley Allen, was a crew favorite that made the project because Doyle heard it sung so often at sound check.  “They love that song,” recalls Lawson.  “And the more I listened, the more I loved it too.”  The inspiring “Life to My Days,” the offering’s first “great-track,” was written by friend and fellow hit songwriter Jerry Salley. 
Band members Joe Dean, Eli Johnston and Dustin Pyrtle co-wrote “Life of a Hardworking Man” while the group was in the studio recording the new project.   
“We already had the album title,” Lawson said.  “The guys wanted to create a character within the narrative – and so they crafted this hammer-banging, big machine thumping tale of a typical working man.”  
No life story would be considered complete without a bit of heartache, so Doyle and frequent co-writer Paul Humphrey sat down to write a song acknowledging that reality.  The result is the fiddle-laced traditional Bluegrass “I See a Heartbreak Comin’.”
Fans can pre-order the digital release HERE. For more information, visit

Commerce, a slave to electricity?

It has been over two centuries since Benjamin Franklin tied a key on a kite string. He stood out in a rainstorm flying a kite to coax down some electricity in the form of lightning. Since his discovery, humankind has worked tirelessly to harness electricity for use. In that time, humankind has learned how to generate it and has created every kind of gadget to make life easier. From Edison’s light bulb to the George Foreman grill, we are able to do almost everything with electricity.

Have you noticed though in the span of just around 100 years, we have managed to slow to a snail’s pace something that has thrived for thousands of years? They had it in Egypt, Rome, China and even in the Americas. What is it? Commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services.

Over the last couple of decades, another invention, the computer, has made our lives better in so many ways, except when the power goes out.

I have seen commerce came to a halt in my hometown when for a couple hours in the middle of the day the power was off. I know at least one bank closed its doors, the Post Office could only sell stamps, gas stations couldn’t pump gas, businesses could not run their computer cash registers, so for this time folks looking to conduct simple daily transactions were inconvenienced. Imagine what it would be like if this happened on a larger scale for an extended period of time.

Men and women have been buying and selling without electricity forever. With ink and paper or the fingers on their hands, bills were tallied, money changed hands and the customer was on his way. But thanks to all our progress and all the advantages of the modern age, you can’t cash a check or make a deposit at the bank without electricity. Since no one puts prices on products anymore, only the electric computer scanner can tally a bill.

Even if you do find an ambitious cashier, willing to add in their head, they wouldn’t know what to charge.

I remember one time having to contact an insurance company about a claim. Their electricity was out. So, everybody had gone home except the poor soul answering the phone. I guess that means that we’ve advanced to the point no one can write on paper anymore. If the computers don’t get electricity, we’re closed.

I guess folks thirty and under have never experienced anything else. Do you remember the days when you had to know the prices of the items you sold? I remember my mother telling me about getting her first job at the Southern Railway Terminal in Chattanooga. In 24 hours, she had to be able to recite the price of every item they sold and run the cash register, which wasn’t electric. If she could do it, she got the job. She did it.

Maybe I’m expecting too much. Many cash registers today in fast food restaurants don’t show prices. They show pictures of the food.

These days there are obviously some things you can’t do without electricity. I am not advocating life without it, but as the threat of outages spread across the country, it would make sense for business people to have contingency plans in place to continue to serve customers in some way during these down times.

I guess it would mean people would have to pull the mechanical cash register out of the backroom. Take out the old Royal typewriter to write for the paper and dig out the old press. Make a paper copy of prices or account records to refer to when the power goes out.

Maybe we could just go back to using ink and paper or folk’s fingers. They kept commerce going for centuries. And, you know, when somebody’s countin’ on his or her fingers if they don’t have enough, yours are right there to give ‘em a hand. That’s a whole lot nicer than being just another number on the screen. Yep, commerce is a slave to electricity but we shall overcome, if we don’t we will just have to do without one or the other.