On Friday, October 10, 2002, I had the great privilege of enjoying a fine dinner at the Links Hotel, Montrose, Scotland in the company of the Jim Mullen Organ Trio (Well done, hotel owner and ‘jazz guru’ Casper Ninterman for getting such a big name to such a small venue!)
Montrose [Scotland] by the way does have a famous musical son just to seal the connection between Jim Mullen and the phenomenally successful Average White Band saxophonist Malcolm "Molly" Duncan.
I spoke to legendary guitarist Jim Mullen at the bar afterwards where he signed my copy of the first Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express released way back in 1970! Jim kindly wrote down his address for me, but his is not the easiest handwriting to decipher and my original letter to him bounced back from Her Majesty’s Postal Service. Undeterred I asked Ann-Marie at Voiceprint Records to assist me with where I had gone wrong in my transposition, and at last I was able to speak with Jim. This is what he said.
JazzReview: First of all, I'm interested in how you got started playing guitar and what your early (and subsequent) influences were/are.
Jim Mullen: The Skiffle boom of the early 50s was my first attempt at music making. We had a neighbourhood Skiffle group (I was the tea chest bass player) and we did stuff like Rock Island Line and Freight Train. When I was about 8, my Dad agreed after much pleading to let me buy my first guitar on the HP (Higher Purchase, a credit arrangement- ed.) I was making £3 a week from my paper round. I wasn’t really aware of any particular guitarists at that time - then came Elvis, Buddy Holly, Cliff and The Shadows (every kid had a poster of Hank Marvin on his bedroom wall) and later, The Beatles.
When I was about eleven, an older friend gave my first exposure to jazz. He had lots of West Coast guitar stuff like Barney Kessell, Tal Farlow and Johnny Smith. Although it sounded like music from Mars, something clicked that I’m still trying to figure out!
After school I was a trainee journalist and all my spare time was spent doing gigs in and around Glasgow. In 1969, I moved to London and joined Pete Brown’s ‘Piblokto’ and plunged into the rock world! After two years and a couple of albums, I joined Brian Auger’s ‘Oblivion Express.’ JazzReview: Brian Auger was an inspiration to me as a keyboard player from Trinity onwards. Listening again to the first Oblivion Express CD, I believe this is a rather overlooked classic that has not dated to my ears over 32 years! I'd particularly like to compliment you on your playing on this album. A 'flirtation' with jazz (of a kind) is there on John McLaughlin's Dragon Song (Also Freedom Jazz Dance etc. on 'Second Wind'). What do you remember about your time with this band?
Jim Mullen: Oblivion Express was a great band, but VERY LOUD! The band’s gear is listed on the inner sleeve of the ‘Second Wind’ album; Auger using 2x 165 watt amplifiers with 3 speaker cabinets containing 6 x 14 [metric size] speakers in each cabinet, Mullen ‘Hi Watt’ 200-watt amplifier etc! I actually recall seeing the band play live at Dundee Art College, but can’t remember them being that loud. Maybe they didn’t have all their gear with them! This was where I first worked with the great Robbie McIntosh [later of the Average White Band]. We toured a lot in Italy and France (where Brian was a big name) and I fell in love with these countries. Brian put his all into keeping the band together, but Robbie left and we were devastated. Brian called Steve Ferrone (later to drum with the Average White Band as well) who had sat in on gigs in Milan. But by the time Steve joined, I had already left to join Vinegar Joe (A big mistake!) This was a band of super egos and I got fired for talking back! I’m still friendly with Robert Palmer though.
JazzReview: And Kokomo was next?
Jim Mullen: Yes, Kokomo started as a pub band, but the Pink Floyd’s manager got involved and doors began opening big time. Kokomo spent a lot of time touring the States and it was while touring and hearing great music everywhere we went, that I started itching to play jazz again. Disillusioned, I left the band and didn’t work for a year.
JazzReview: You had a long association with Dick Morrissey of course. I saw his early jazz/ rock band, "If" play at Dundee's Caird Hall, a most enjoyable night. (There is a compilation CD entitled ‘Forgotten Roads, the Best of If’ on Sequel Records for anyone wishing to check this band out).
Jim Mullen: Yes, that all started with a call from Malcolm Duncan of The Average White Band (By now huge in the US) who put me in touch with Dick Morrissey, and we began a 15-year partnership that made some great music and helped me evolve as a player. There’s a ‘Best of Morrissey Mullen’ album coming out in the New Year. After the Morrissey Mullen Band split, I began freelancing.
JazzReview: You've also worked with Claire Martin I believe?
Jim Mullen: I’ve worked on and off with Claire Martin, Britain’s best young jazz singer, for 10 years. [See Discography]
JazzReview: What about your associations with all those other legendary figures Jimmy Smith, Mose Allison, Percy Sledge, Jimmy Witherspoon?
Jim Mullen: Dick Morrissey introduced me to Jimmy Witherspoon and I toured and recorded with him for a couple of years. I worked with Jimmy Smith for one week at London’s Jazz Café and that was more than enough. Not a nice person! The Jazz Café also asked me to put a band together for Percy Sledge. He had no music, so I had to write out his whole repertoire. He liked the band and said we would work together whenever he was in Europe, but I never heard from him again. I got a call to do some gigs with Mose Allison about 5 years ago and I’ve been doing it every time he comes over. He recorded a CD ‘The London Chronicles Vol. 2’ which I’m on. Mose is more than 75 now, but still in great form.
JazzReview: Finally, what of your more recent bands and the Voiceprint releases? You are now on Flamingo West Records, Glasgow and are starting work tomorrow [Monday, October 14] on a new CD ‘Make Believe,’ 2 tracks of which were premiered on Friday evening. These sounded great and the organ playing on Untitled Waltz reminded me very much of Brian Auger. Two young musicians were accompanying you on Friday - Jim Watson and Matt Skelton. Can you tell me a bit more about their backgrounds?
Jim Mullen: The new organ trio CD is called ‘Way of Life’ on Flamingo West [Release date May 2003]. I have a new quartet CD called ‘Somewhere in the Hills’ on Help Records, and a solo guitar album called ‘Thumbnail Sketches’ on Bobtale Records, Abensberg, Germany. The last two are newly released. Jim Watson and Matt Skelton are both young veterans who have awesome experience, and between them have worked with almost every one of note on the British scene. It was their idea to form the organ trio. I’m just glad they asked me- the token oldie!
JazzReview: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I really enjoyed the set on Friday and I am at present discovering/rediscovering your music. Also thanks to Ann-Marie at Voiceprint for the Jazzprint CDs.