Jim Mullen – Jazz Guitarist 1945-
Born in Glasgow, Scotland on November 26, 1945, Jim Mullen began his musical life aged 8 playing “Tea-chest bass” in the neighbourhood skiffle group. He got his 1st guitar the same year, and when an older friend introduced him to jazz, he was hooked.
After leaving school he trained as a journalist while playing on the local music scene. He formed a group with Malcolm Duncan and Roger Ball (later of the Average White Band) and they worked throughout Scotland playing Coltrane tunes and originals. It was in this group that he started attracting attention and in 1969 he moved to London, going on to work in the groups of Pete Brown, Brian Auger, Vinegar Joe and Kokomo.
In 1975 he met sax player Dick Morrissey and began a 15 year association which produced 7 albums and became one of Britain’s top club bands. After the demise of Morrissey Mullen he worked with jazz vocalist Claire Martin (3 albums) and formed a series of quartets (3 albums). As a sideman he is in demand by visiting U.S. stars like Gene Harris, Mose Allison, Jimmy Smith, Weldon Irvine, Percy Sledge, Teddy Edwards, Plas Johnson, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Terry Callier.
Jim Mullen is winner of “Best Guitar” in the British Telecom Jazz Awards (1994 and 1996), “Best Guitar” in the Post Office Jazz Awards 2000 and winner of “Best Guitar” in the Hamlet Cigar British Jazz Awards 2002.
Jim Mullen on Guitars
But for Mullen the ghetto kid, there was only one way to make music – make your own instrument! Mullen was lucky that his father was a carpenter, and remembers his 1st instrument being a tea chest bass. I wanted a guitar, he says, but dad found the strutting and the fretwork too much, so he reluctantly allowed me to buy my first instrument on 1 year’s hire purchase and acting as Gaurantor. The guitar was an Egmond and cost the young Mullen around £10. He laughs: It was an almost unplayable thing! I was left handed and found myself playing on a right handed instrument – it felt weird holding something in my right hand – but that’s how I started playing with the thumb. By the tender age of 8, Mullen had already started to listen into jazz. I had an older friend, about 13 or 14, who was a guitarist and who listened to jazz, he remembers
“It was the mid-50s, and for some reason all you could get was the West Coast labels like Pacific Jazz. I would go round his and bother him into letting me listen to the likes of Mundell Lowe, Tal Farlow, Jimmy Raney and Barney Kessel. I couldn’t relate to this music, or what was going on – but it still fascinated me. I would be like a sponge soaking all this up, trying to figure out what was going on, and to this day, I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on!” Mullen’s friend also had a ‘proper’ (as Mullen puts it) archtop guitar. “It was a German instrument called a Hopf, ”he remembers,“ and was a straight copy of one of the classic Gibson archtops.”The frustration grew and by the time he was 14, Mullen had mothballed his Egmond and was playing the double bass and bass guitar. “I was lucky to have a good ear, ”he says,“ so I could hear and identify sounds quite quickly.” Then when he was 18 or 19 he got back into playing the guitar again. “The next guitar I had was a Hofner solid,”he says. Then on reflection – “a cheesy copy of a Les Paul!”.
Over the next few years, Mullen would go onto play with a number of semi-pro bands, one of which would metamorphose into the highly successful AWB (Average White Band). In 1969 he decided to venture south and was hired by Pete Brown to join his band Piblocto. “By this time,” remembers Mullen, “I had a Gibson SG special, (Solid Body Double cutaway) and I used this instrument for the next few years and on into the time that I played with Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express.”From there he had a short (and tempestuous) stint with Elkie Brooks and Vinegar Joe, before once again finding his musical feet with the band Kokomo. “I was around 27, and Kokomo became really big. We ended up doing a tour of the States with Earth, Wind & Fire,” he says. “Now that was something.” But the big, heavy sounds didn’t suit Mullen, and he was eager to get back to the quieter, more melodic moods of jazz, and in 1975 found a kindred spirit in the saxophonist Dick Morrissey. “We were listening to jazzers like Stanley Turrentine and George Benson, who were on the CTI label, and saying to ourselves – this is where we want to be.”Mullen changed from solid bodied instruments to the archtop models that he had so admired years before.
“I currently have an Aria – Herb Ellis, and a larger blonde Aria FA51. This gives me a much darker sound than the smaller Herb Ellis and it’s the one I use as my road guitar. I also have a prototype archtop by the English luthier Andy Crockett. But this is such a beautiful instrument that I daren’t take it to a gig – it’s my recording guitar. ”and what amplification does Mullen use to create those deep, warm tones? “I’m not into heavy gear, so at the moment I’m using a Gallien & Kruger 65 watt bass amp, with a 12 inch speaker. I used to use Fender Twins, but the Gallien & Kruger is so portable – it’s great to be able to sling it over my shoulder and just jump on a bus!”
Andy Crockett is an accomplished archtop guitar builder. His handbuilt jazz guitars are made to highest standards and are regarded as such by enthusiasts and serious players alike. Andy Crockett of Crockett Guitars builds the JC1 which is conceived and built in the D”Angelico tradition but with a contemporary edge. A Crockett archtop guitar is currently played by one of the world”s finest jazz guitarists, Jim Mullen. As well as the specific model the luthier Andy Crockett is also delighted to receive instruction to build bespoke instruments of archtop guitars, mandolins and solid bodied guitar designs. As a well established luthier he also supplies a high quality service for all guitarist needs – servicing, repairs and setting up operations. Andy has been successfully established in the music world for 30 years.