A Few Minutes with Mike Mullins

Tell us about your teaching style and why you like to teach.

I don't teach formally, and when I do, I use the "by ear" method. I can create some tab if absolutely necessary, but don't really use it myself. I do have some "waterfall" crosspicking licks I've gotten a lot of mileage out of, and I have tab for those.

In addition to the basic nuts and bolts, I plan to cover phrasing, tremolo, dynamics, variations in pickstroke and simple crosspicking techniques - all done in a way that would be non-intimidating and involve music rather than exercises. I kind of follow my muse when giving instruction because I don't have a formal method. It's a little different ride each time.

Who are your biggest influences in the mandolin world?

The first really great mandolin player I ever saw up close was Bill Griffin, with whom I still play in the Cache Valley Drifters. This was back when I was about 19, or about the time Nixon resigned. I was kind of frustrated with the guitar, and found that mandolin came more naturally to me. Bill sold me my first good mandolin about a month after I started playing. It was a WWI-era Gibson A-2. Wish I still had it.

But my biggest mandolin influence by far is David Grisman. I look upon him as a mentor. He has always been very supportive of my efforts, and standing onstage next to him is still the biggest musical thrill I've experienced. Mike Marshall is also a huge influence, I'm always amazed by Mike's versatility and unflappable command of the instrument. Just outrageous. And I don't think anyone has more fun playing the mandolin. Sam Bush...yes, sir. Adam Steffey, ditto. And Chris Thile. I used to teach Chris, and met him when he was about eight. I knew he would be something special, and I'm very glad he stuck with it. I'd met other musical prodigies, but many of them eventually lose interest or go on to other things. This guy has worked his tail off, probably harder than anyone I've ever met. That, combined with his prodigious talent, has made him the gold standard of the 8-string world. I also value my collaboration with other stellar players such as Kenny Blackwell, Joe Craven and Tom Corbett. Also huge influences. One other major inspiration was Bill Spence, the great hammered dulcimer player. The way he would attack fiddletunes with those wooden hammers had a big influence on my phrasing. Simply too many inspirational figures to name...

What other things do you expect to experience at the Symposium this year?

I'm most excited about being around so many 8-string pilots, from the prime movers and shakers to the novices. I learn something from everyone. I'm not particularly socially outgoing, but there's something about being at the Symposium that really inspires me and fuels my creative spark for weeks afterward. And who needs sleep? It's highly overrated anyway...I couldn't be happier about returning this year.

Mike Mullins' Web Site