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Family and Friends Remember Songwriter Johnny Mullins

Songwriter and musician Johnny Mullins died today in Springfield at age 86. Mullins wrote several popular songs for famous country artists like Emmy Lou Harris, Porter Wagoner and Lorretta Lynn. KSMU’s Kristian Kriner spoke with some of Mullins’ family and friends about his life and legacy.

Johnny Mullins was born and raised in a little town near Cassville and Exeter, Missouri.

He grew up on a farm where he spent most days in the barn playing a guitar he bought from a catalog.

Melinda Mullins, his daughter, says he was only allowed to play his guitar in the barn until Johnny’s father heard his first song.

“Rabbit in the Briar Patch…So when he played that song for his dad he said, ‘You know what? I think you can start practicing in the house now.’ And he’s always had an inclination toward music and he had an incredible way with words,” Melinda said.

His daughter says when he was in his late teens or early twenties he moved to Oregon where he worked at a lumber yard.

She says Mullins also worked at a radio station where they called him “The Yodelin’ Cowboy from the Ozarks.”

Melinda says eventually he moved to Springfield, became a janitor at Wilder Elementary and started a family.

She says he met Porter Wagoner in a restaurant in Springfield, which started a long friendship between the two.

Johnny wrote Porter Wagoner’s first song “Company’s Comin.’”

Melinda says he wrote Emmy Lou Harris’ hit song “Blue Kentucky Girl,” which was nominated for a Grammy in 1980.“He came in second place to the guy that wrote Kenny Rogers song ‘You Decorated My Life.’ Dad used to call it, ‘You Stole My Grammy.’ But, Emmy Lou Harris won that year for album of the year and that was the album that was entitled ‘Blue Kentucky Girl,’ so that was just like winning,” Melinda said.

The early 1980s is also when he met KSMU’s Mike Smith who became a life-long friend.

Smith says he met Johnny at a local coffee shop and they ended up having breakfast together on a regular basis.

He says his fondest memory of Johnny was the day after one of his songs was performed on Saturday Night Live.

Smith recalls Sinead O’Connor performed one song on the show and then ripped up a picture of the Pope right after that.

“The problem for Johnny Mullins in that case was the second song that Sinead O’Connor performed on Saturday Night Live that night was his tune ‘Success.’ I won’t forget how the very next day we talked about that and he knew he wouldn’t be getting the royalties he thought he would be from that,” Smith said.

Smith says Johnny Mullins was an amazing man and a brilliant songwriter.

Smith says his favorite Johnny Mullins’ quote was from when Mullins was inducted into the Missouri Writer’s Hall of Fame.

“Johnny Mullins said ‘You just have to have the inborn knack for putting words together. I’m not saying I have that talent. I just dig a little deeper,” Smith said.

Smith says Mullins’ legacy will live on.

Melinda says he her father is leaving behind some great music.

But more importantly, he’s leaving her with some wonderful memories.

“He was so humble, humble with a big grin. He knew that he was special and he just expounded love. You could smell it. It was all over him and that’s going to carry me through,” Melinda said.

Johnny Mullins passed away in Springfield and was 86 years old.

For KSMU News, I’m Kristian Kriner.