When Joe Mullins learned part of the region’s history was being documented in the new book, “Industrial Strength Bluegrass: Southwestern Ohio’s Musical Legacy,” he decided to curate a companion album. On Jan. 29, his band the Radio Ramblers released the single, “Readin’, Rightin’, Route 23,” the first taste of the forthcoming various artists compilation, “Industrial Strength Bluegrass” (Folkways Records).
“I decided to find 15 or 16 songs that connect to this story,” Mullins said. “It’s songs that were written or recorded in the Cincinnati-Dayton area and songs that were performed first here by artists who were stationed here, whether they were here for a little while on the radio or they grew up here like me, Larry Sparks and the Osborne Brothers. I was able to mine some of the best songs that represent this music we’re bragging about.”
Mullins, the owner and operator of the Real Roots Radio stations, was the perfect man for the project. In addition to fronting the Radio Ramblers, the second generation musician and broadcaster also organizes a pair of annual bluegrass festivals. As someone steeped in the region’s musical history and tapped into contemporary performers, Mullins was able to enlist a diverse group of contributors such as Vince Gill, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jim Lauderdale, Bobby Osborne and Lee Ann Womack.
“I brought in a cast of some of the top artists today in bluegrass, country and Americana,” Mullins said. “We got them to do new versions of these songs to give the whole world an example of ‘Industrial Strength Bluegrass.’”
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
“Readin’, Rightin’, Route 23,” the album’s opening track, is a cover of a song by Dwight Yoakam.
“Dwight is originally from deep eastern Kentucky but he grew up in the Columbus area,” Mullins said. “On his first hit album, he wrote this song about the Appalachian migration. It’s about how homesick hillbillies had to leave to make a living, but how they went back home every weekend.”
The song struck a chord with Mullins. His father, Paul “Moon” Mullins, was a popular radio disc jockey and musician who left Kentucky’s Menifee county for the Miami Valley.
“Trying to learn the song, I came to tears half the time in the second verse of the song,” he said. “The lyrics are, ‘Have you ever seen them put all the kids in the car after work on Friday night? Pull up in a holler about 2 a.m. and see a light still shining bright. Those mountain folks sat up that late to hold those little grandkids in their arms.’
“That was me,” Mullins continued. “At least once a month, when Moon got off the radio at 5 o’clock, we had everything in the trunk of that Pontiac and we were heading to Kentucky to see my grandparents.”
“Readin’, Rightin’, Route 23” is streaming now on all major platforms. Folkways Records is releasing “Industrial Strength Bluegrass” on March 26. Preorders for the compilation album are open now at folkways.si.edu.
Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.