At only 30 years of age, the Atlanta born and bred guitarist had already recorded and self-released five indie albums and become pretty adept at managing his own career. With the help of his girlfriend (now his wife) he booked his own solo gigs at coffeehouses, bars and restaurants throughout the Southeast, handled his own promotion and publicity, and generally did whatever needed to be done to work his way up the music biz ladder.
It wasn’t too awfully long before this immensely talented singing storyteller earned a loyal following at Decatur’s famed acoustic listening room Eddie’s Attic (where scores of famous touring acts play, and ambitious newbies cut their teeth at legendary open mic “shoot outs”). Soon enough, Columbia/Sony Records came calling.
His Soul’s Core LP, which that industry giant immediately released, contained Mullins’ breakthrough single “Lullaby,” a slick, of-the-moment mix of dry, spoken-word narration and exultant, soulful vocals. Set atop a funky, vaguely hip-hop influenced rhythm track abetted with layers of soaring acoustic and electric guitars, it virtually owned the radio charts for several weeks, hitting No. 1 on the Adult Top 40 charts and saw significant video rotation on MTV. It made Mullins a star.
There was only one problem. “Lullaby,” while an unforgettable slice of ear candy, didn’t accurately reflect the full breadth of Mullins’ vocal abilities or existing catalog of songs. It was a triumphant realization of one particular facet of his artistry, but was in no way a summation of what he’d done before becoming an international sensation, nor a particularly accurate preview of what he’d go on to do next.--------------------------------------- Here's a strange, "vintage" solo performance of "Lullaby" by a sombrero-wearing Shawn: ---------------------------------------
Suddenly, this reserved, laid-back Ga. boy with a love of literature, a yen for poetic lyricism and a love of raw-boned troubadours like Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark found himself “giving 20 interviews a day” and playing short, high-profile sets at massive radio-station sponsored all-day music festivals, sandwiched in between grunge groups and teenybopper bands.
“I’d come out and have a 20-minute slot right before The Backstreet Boys or somebody like that,” he recalls by phone from his Candler Park home near Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood. “I’d play ‘Lullaby’ and a few other songs that most of the crowd had likely never heard of.”
“If I made any new fans at gigs like those I felt like I did very well! (laughs) One was at Madison Square Garden. They offered me a limo, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that, so I took the subway. I’m standing outside of the Garden, where I’m gonna be playing in about two hours, and I can’t find the stage door! (laughs) They wouldn’t let me in because I don’t have a pass, and I started to have a bit of an anxiety attack. Things like that happened a lot for a while and just highlighted that I was truly out of place in that world.”
Mullins describes this time in his life as “that roller coaster ride.”
“Actually,” he muses, “it felt more like some kind of a weird dream I had, you know?”
Despite the success and recognition that album and its follow-up single “Shimmer” brought him, he’d eventually part ways with Sony in a mutually amicable split that found him signing with the much smaller label Vanguard, which specializes in roots-rock, bluegrass, Americana and jazz — rather than pop mega stars. That’s just fine with the singer, who wound up scoring a No. 1 hit on the Americana and Adult Alternative charts with “Beautiful Wreck,” the lead single from his 2006 CD, 9th Ward Pickin Parlor.--------------------------------------- Here's a live performance of "Beautiful Wreck" by Shawn and his band in NYC a few years back: ---------------------------------------
“It feels a bit like I’ve come full circle,” Mullins explains. “But I’m on a better plateau than I was before. It was never really my intention to have a big pop hit in the first place. It was great that it happened, but I had to spend a few years fighting to get back to what I (really) am.”
What he really is, is one hell of a good, old-fashioned ‘70s-style songwriter and charismatic stage performer, whose masterful ability to connect with a live audience will be on display this weekend at famed luthier Randy Wood’s Concert Hall in Bloomingdale. Mullins, accompanied by lead guitarist Patrick Blanchard, headlines a double bill which also features his longtime friend and songwriting mentor Larry Jon Wilson.
Though not a household name, Wilson is a respected member of the songwriting community who’s had scores of tunes recorded by major country and soul artists.
“Larry Jon was one of the original country outlaws,” explains Wood. “He ran with that crowd: Elvis, Waylon (Jennings), Willie (Nelson) and Kris Kristofferson, you know. Two of his very best friends were Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt. Larry Jon’s one of those guys who was right at the pinnacle of becoming a major star but never quite made it.”
“A lot of folks will know his booming voice right away, as he does voice overs for Georgia Public TV and is the host of one of their shows called Georgia’s Backwoods.”
Mullins says it was Wilson’s no-nonsense authenticity that had a profound impact on his own work.
“Larry Jon sings about shit he knows about. It’s so real and truthful. I think our lyrics really complement each other’s, because he’s a direct influence on what I do — from the stories I tell in between songs to the turn of a line,” he says. “The whole thing about Larry Jon’s songs —and something I’ve tried to do with my own— is they stand alone without anything flashy. He chooses not to play all over the story he’s telling.”
This marks the second time in two years these two artists have split the bill at Wood’s family-friendly, 100-seat listening room, and Mullins can’t wait.
“It’s not my average road trip. There’s a family element to it and a sense of community. I love playing there. It’s what all the gigs should be like.” csCheck out Connect's complete conversation with Shawn Mullins here.
Shawn Mullins & Larry Jon WilsonWhere: Randy Wood's Concert Hall (1304 E. Hwy 80, Bloomingdale)
When: 7:30 pm, Sat.
Cost: $25 ALL-AGES at 748-1930