Ozarks Life: Melinda Mullins continues father’s legacy

Johnny Mullins wrote songs for Porter Wagoner, Loretta Lynn, and others.
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 6:24 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - For Melinda Mullins music moves the memories.

This Springfield woman loves singing songs her dad, Johnny Mullins, wrote decades ago.

“I think Dad’s songs remind people of themselves,” Melinda said. “Things don’t really change that much; hearts are the same.”

Anyone who attended Wilder Elementary from the 1950s to the early ‘80s knew him as Mr. Mullins, the school janitor. Johnny was not just sweeping the floors of a school but also the country music charts.

“He was very talented,” Melinda said. “He was lucky and had the success of getting some songs recorded by some pretty prominent country people back in the day.”

Porter Wagoner sang a Johnny song on the first episode of the Ozark Jubilee in 1955. Porter recorded “Company’s Comin’.” It was both Porter’s and Johnny’s first hit.

“Porter was just starting his singing career,” Melinda said. “Dad said, ‘well, I’m a writer’ and so they kind of got together that way and through Si Siman the publisher of Earl Barton Music in Springfield.”

That led to more opportunities. Loretta Lynn recorded Johnny’s song “Success” in 1962. It was her first top-10 hit.

“She asked dad to write a song for her,” Melinda said after the hit. “And so he wrote ‘Blue Kentucky Girl.’ She had beautiful blue eyes and she was from Kentucky. And she recorded that in ‘65. And that one did great for Loretta; she continued to perform that up until she passed away last October.”

Blue Kentucky Girl was re-recorded in 1979. Emmylou Harris’ version was nominated for two Grammys. Johnny didn’t win Country Song of the Year, but Emmylou did win for female country performance.

Johnny might have gotten something better than a Grammy when he got back from the award show in LA. Wilder Elementary held a huge assembly for the man they knew as their janitor.

“He loved those kids,” Melinda said. “I mean, he would come home almost every day telling stories.”

In 2009, Melinda found shoeboxes and plastic tubs full of tapes. Demos Johnny never sent out.

“Every time I put a tape in, it’s like, ‘oh wow, what a gift.’ And then I sat up one day and I went, ‘this is not just for me.’ You know, this body of work is way too good to just collect dust,” Melinda said.

She has been cataloging Johnny’s work and, for the past ten years, has been performing shows full of her dad’s songs.

“It’s like we’re back together again,” Melinda said. “It really brings me close to him. When I sit and rehearse songs, dad’s listening. When I’m doing shows, he’s there.”

Record executives wanted him to move to Nashville to write songs. But Johnny said he wouldn’t leave the Ozarks and continued writing part-time while being a full-time janitor.

To learn more about Johnny and Melinda Mullins, visit her website here. It has stories, music, and where Melinda’s upcoming concerts are.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com