Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
Joe Mullins has built a life on "banjo picking and broadcasting" and that's why the bluegrass band he leads is called the Radio Ramblers. Carrying the family torch lit by his highly respected father, Paul “Moon” Mullins, Joe is a driving force in the world of bluegrass. Over the past three decades, he has devoted his life both to bluegrass performance and to disseminating great bluegrass, gospel and country music via radio. A masterful Scruggs-style banjo picker and gifted singer known for his soaring high tenor, he leads a top-notch band that can do it all, delivering impeccable instrumentals and superb harmony singing with equal ease. According to Nashville’s Music City Roots, “Joe Mullins is a classic character who could slip through a time machine to about 1961 and move around comfortably. And he’d be among the coolest cats there in his Ohio home, fronting a bluegrass band and owning AM radio stations.”
Joe’s father, the late Paul “Moon” Mullins, was one of the most influential radio personalities and promoters of deep, traditional bluegrass in the music’s early years. A fine fiddler, the elder Mullins played with several seminal groups, including the Stanley Brothers and the Bluegrass Playboys, also writing “Katy Daly,” now a bluegrass standard. Just as impactful, perhaps even more so, was Paul Mullins’s work as a radio DJ in the Ohio Valley. Both over the airwaves and by establishing a market for live bluegrass events, he cultivated a sense of home for the region’s many Appalachian migrants.
Paul Mullins first worked in radio in Kentucky in the 1950s, and in 1964 moved to WPFB in Midland, Ohio, to continue his career. The station’s call letters became synonymous with “We Play For ‘Briars’,” which soon became the station’s tagline. “Briars,” short for “Briarhoppers,” was a derisive label applied to Appalachian migrants from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia who, in the mid-20th century, moved to industrialized areas of southwestern Ohio seeking factory jobs. Paul Mullins adopted the epithet as a source of pride. Broadcasting classic country, bluegrass and gospel, mixed with personal stories from home told in a familiar accent, he affirmed the value of his listeners’ Appalachian heritage during a challenging time of transition.
Joe Mullins began his dual careers in radio and music while in high school. He was a founding member of Traditional Grass, a band his father started in 1983, and he played with the group for over a decade. Joe’s purchase of WBZI Radio in Xenia, Ohio, and the growing demands of radio station management, turned his attention from performing for a while, until the late 1990s, when he joined the supergroup Longview. Meanwhile, Mullins created Classic Country Radio, a thriving southwestern Ohio network of four stations; webcasting at www.myclassiccountry.com, it retains his father’s classic country/bluegrass/gospel format. For his work on radio and as a promoter, Joe Mullins was named the 2011 Broadcaster of the Year by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA).
In 2006, Joe formed the Radio Ramblers, primarily to perform at Classic Country Radio promotional events. Unsurprisingly, due to their excellent musicianship as well as Joe’s leadership, the Radio Ramblers quickly became one of the nation’s most respected traditional bluegrass bands; the group now tours widely and records regularly. The band has recorded six albums, with the most recent, Sacred Memories, released on Rebel Records in 2016.
In 2012, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers were named IBMA’s Emerging Artists of the Year. Along with Mullins, the band’s current line-up includes Duane Sparks on guitar and vocals, Mike Terry on mandolin and vocals, Jason Barie on fiddle and vocals, and Randy Barnes on bass. Nearly five decades after his father Paul began to “play for briars,” Joe Mullins continues to keep the flame. “A second-generation ‘grasser,’ Mullins grew up around music at its very best,” writes Jon Weisberger in the Nashville Scene, “and the Radio Ramblers’ take on tradition is more informed—and therefore richer and more nuanced—than that of many who wave the banner.”