Roy Mullin's "rock and roll bathroom" is covered wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor with music memorabilia.
Photo illustration by M. Scott M
Most music fans just listen to music and take in the occasional concert. A few more read about it. More than a few dance with reckless abandon when no one is watching; some sing in the shower or into a hairbrush moonlighting as a microphone.
There are few “casual” music fans who take music as seriously as Soldotna photographer Roy Mullin. Mullin plays guitar every day and writes songs, despite having given up making his living playing music many years ago. His CD collection numbers in the thousands. For more than six years he’s hosted “Free Spin,” a two-hour rock and roll radio show, on KDLL 91.9 in Kenai.
Beyond that, though, one thing separates Mullin’s fanatic devotion from anyone else: his bathroom.
Lost in the bathroom
“You could just look forever,” Mullin said while gazing at the ceiling in his rock and roll bathroom.
You could. Especially if you are a fan of rock and roll’s formative years.
The walls of this bathroom are plastered with memorabilia. The ceiling, the door, the cabinet on which the sink sits, the little cove built next to the toilet, even the toilet are covered with memorabilia. Walking into this bathroom is like walking into a room designed for an overpaid celebrity on MTV’s “look at my house” show-off show, “Cribs.” The difference, outside of a few million dollars, is that this is labor of love was designed and executed by Mullin himself.
Mullin files compact discs into "the twin towers," racks that stand nearly to the ceiling and which are full of music.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Across from the bathroom mirror is a 1965 article from a London music rag about John Lennon’s first book, “In His Own Write.” There is an ad on the page touting the music by clean-cut country crooner Jim Reeves, who hit big with honey-dripped tuneage such as “Welcome to my World” in the 1950s and early 1960s until 1964, when an airplane went down near Nashville with him in it.
“Jim Reeves ... he used to stay at our house,” Mullin said matter-of-factly. “By the time (my dad) was 20 he was the staff steel guitar player for the Louisiana Hayride, one of those Grand Ole Opry places. Whoever came through on the weekend, he got to play with them.”
Just then, Mullin’s wife Barbara cracks the door, interrupting the reminiscence and the interview momentarily.
“I won’t tell that I found you guys in the bathroom together,” Barbara said.
Roy pulls loose a piece of plastic from an office doodad and jokes around a bit (“The way I tell I’m in trouble? I’m awake,” to a roll of the eyes from Barbara) and launches back into the story.
“A neighbor three or four houses down the street went to high school with him that’s how dad knew the guy. He’d come over to this other guy’s house and they just didn’t have room so we put him up a couple of nights,” Mullin explained, noting that a similar scenario played out with Lefty Frizzell, who liked staying in homes, not hotels.
There is a handbill for a 1960s-era touring production of the hippie musical “Hair,” “Freak Brothers” comic books, a collection of rock and roll books, a trading card with a piece of the shirt worn by Janis Joplin on the cover of her “Pearl” album and fringes from a jacket worn by Neil Young. There is so much to see, even Mullin loses track.
According to Barbara, some of their photography clients get lost, too.
“We get clients of a certain age who go down to the bathroom, and we can always tell,” she said. “It’s the music they grew up listening to.”
Roy Mullin entertains and educates during his KDLL 91.9 FM radio show, "Free Spin." Mullin uses recordings from his extensive music collection to present two-hour long programs on a specific group or artist.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Back in the bathroom, Mullin points to a 1965 Fender Jazzmaster guitar, the same make he learned to play at age 12.
“It was my dad’s guitar,” Mullin says of the original. “He got to where he played about a hundred percent pedal steel and he gave it to me. I wore it completely out.”
Mullin came across his current Jazzmaster (one of a half dozen guitars he owns) at a wedding. He was the photographer, and during some down time he saw a man playing a 12-string guitar. Mullin struck up a conversation, eventually coming around to the topic of “the guitar I wish I’d have never sold.”
“His eyes lit up and he said, ‘Dude! I have one of those and I want to sell it.’ I guess it was meant to be.”
This is a common scenario. The ever-changing look of Mullin’s rock and roll bathroom, a project that started with pictures from a calendar of concert posters, is shaped partially by donations from friends, acquaintances and clients. A poster for a concert featuring ZZ Top and Foghat at Philidelphia’s Independence Hall on Thursday, Nov. 11 in the 1970s, for example, came from a friend. November 11 on a Thursday happened in 1972 and 1978, so the exact date of the show is in question.
“They never put a year on them because it’s now, you know. And look at what it costs four bucks.”
There is a photo on Greg Lake from Emerson, Lake and Palmer on the wall, taken by a friend of Mullin’s named Robert Henry while Henry was a teenager growing up in the San Francisco Bay area.
There is one photo Mullin doesn’t have.
“Someone was in here the other day with a picture of Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith) in Seward. He went to Seward to do tourist stuff while they were in Anchorage and they had time off. Somebody recognized him and they gave him this big mount, a king salmon mount. So he’s standing there with this big-a fish and people are going ‘click click click click,’” Mullin said, holding up both hands in a picture-taking pose. “That would be a great bathroom piece.”
Two hours of power
“I call these my twin towers,” Mullin said, pointing proudly to the two main CD towers, each five feet tall, that house his collection. “Of course, it’s all alphabetized or I’d never find anything.”
Mullin's glasses rest on a hand-written play list for his radio show in KDLL's studio. He writes the show's script in longhand.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The music he plays on his “Free Spin” comes from this collection. The show, which runs from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, is a thoroughly researched affair, with historical and biographical tidbits interspersed with two hours of music for one artist. There are theme shows, too, like “Rock and Roll Graveyard,” which is “two hours of music from dead people.” Then there were shows featuring live performances from concerts at the Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver or shows like “Woodstock,” with music from the era-defining 1969 festival in New York state.
In more than six years, Mullin has never repeated an artist. Some artists do end up appearing more than once, though, as parts of theme shows or when an artist has been a part of many different projects. Eric Clapton was the first, but then there were shows on Derek and the Dominos, Cream, the Byrds and John Mayall, all of which Clapton was a part of. All told, Mullin said, he has enough to do more than a year’s worth of programming without repeating an artist.
Who’s on the horizon?
“I have a lot of people call in and request shows,” he said. “Kiss is one of the really heavily requested shows.” Aside from Kiss, there are more “Rock and Roll Graveyard” shows on the way, even a few from current artists like Modest Mouse and My Morning Jacket.
“I’m not just an old music guy. I don’t like a lot of the new stuff, but still ... and of course I try to do a least one country show a year for my country people.”
The abundance of profanity in some of the music makes screening it as important as researching it.
“Some groups you never have to. Somebody like Nirvana, Guns ’N’ Roses, (Frank) Zappa, you’ve gotta screen and comb the material,” he said.
The most important part of the process, of course, is listening to the tracks. Some artists in Mullin’s collection are represented by more than a dozen albums, and each CD could have a song or two worth playing. To simplify song selection, Mullin listens to each CD then rates tracks on a six-point scale, with sixes or six-plus rated songs aired for sure, then five pluses, then fives and so on.
“When I come in to do it, there is no list yet. I just sit down and go ‘OK, there’s eight number six songs on this one, there’s eight on there, so I’ll start with the ones that have the most,” he said, pointing out that his taste isn’t the only factor in determining which songs are played. “If people call in with a request, I slip it in somewhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s a six or a two, I play it.”
The extensive prep time pays off, according to KDLL Station Manager Allen Auxier, who also is the host of “Morning Concert” from 9 to 10 a.m. Thursdays.
“It’s very unusual,” Auxier said of “Free Spin.” “You get two hours of one artist, where they came from, why they play what they do. You can learn a lot.”
Auxier said the show is uniquely commercial for a public radio station like KDLL.
“The intention of public radio is to serve unserved or underserved audiences, so we try to put on things that are not necessarily commercially viable. Roy’s show might be commercially viable, because no one’s doing anything quite like it.”
It is also unique that in the age of computers and high-speed music downloads, Mullin writes the scripts for his programs in longhand, archives them in old-fashioned binders and doesn’t download or copy music. Of course, Mullin isn’t interested in being like everyone else, anyway.
“I’ve been living outside the box my whole life. It’s just the way my brain works.”
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