TThere exists a bond between musicians that’s a special one. Maybe it’s like the one between guys that like cars, but I think it’s more like the one between guys that served in the armed forces. Even more so, the bond between musicians that live a sober lifestyle is probably much like the one between those that have served while also seeing combat duty. I could be stretching it, but there’s something about the hard life and challenges faced by songwriters that continue to put themselves out there even when things are constantly uphill, lonely, and incredibly uncertain that make us tough. Throw the added struggles presented by the lifestyle in this particular industry into the mix, and it’s a life that can get downright dark at times.
Bret Mullins and I somehow connected through music a number of years ago, but I honestly don’t recall meeting him until we connected over our shared journey in recovery. Our eyes connected at a meeting going on three years ago. It was the very beginning of my journey in sobriety, Bret has a 15 year head start on me. After that meeting, we began to talk more often, and though we’ve never spent great deals of time together at any one point, we’ve easily connected over the mutually shared aspects of our individual journey.
Like for most of us that find ourselves living this life, music grabbed Bret early in life. “My earliest and fondest memories are of my dad listening to a wide range of music from Willie, Waylon, the main Johnny, to Johnny Mathis and everyone in between. Growing up, I listened to records constantly and poured over the album covers for hours. Music has really always hit me at a soul level.”
It was in middle school that Mullins’ musical meanderings materialized. “I joined the middle school band on sax and started learning a little about music theory. That continued into high school until rodeoing took over. It wasn’t until much later in life that I got back into music by “accident” (I don’t believe in accidents).”
“Doing community service work is something that has been important to me for a long time, and I was putting together a talent show for a fundraiser. I had talked a friend into playing a song on guitar and he said he’d do it if I sang. Never before had I really sang in public before that moment. A man was in the audience who was putting together a country band for an upcoming event and afterwards he asked if I wanted to join as the singer. From that first moment I very hesitantly said yes, it quickly took on a life of its own. One thing led to another, and another, and now I’ve sang all over the world, won awards not only here in Texas, but in New Zealand, Ireland, and France. We’ve finished our third album and had a big release set up, but the pandemic had other plans. We’ve even gotten to do some Bret Mullins Band Cruises. I sure am grateful for saying yes when I wanted to say no.”
Hearkening back to the early years when the musical influences were taking shape, Bret recalls the first time he saw “King George” do his thing. “I remember seeing him perform at the 1983 CMA show and knowing beyond knowing that I wanted to do that one day. He had so much of what I try to channel to this day. There’ve been many singer/songwriters since then that I’ve been obsessed with: Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Lyle Lovett to name a few.” Good choices indeed, My Friend.
Bret says that he started music “later in life,” but, late or early, I don’t know what that means anymore. Suppose it means that he was able to put in some of the grunt work in his younger years in starting and building his own company that alleviated much of the pressure felt by most musicians “starting out.” Not only did he have some extra years under his belt, there was a greater sense of stability afforded through some hard work and difficult sacrifices which opened some of the proverbial doors to him in some unique ways.
“The path I took freed me up to do what I love to do and not what I ‘had’ to do. Don’t get me wrong, it has still been a grind paying my dues, playing the dives, and hopefully forming some legitimate chops in the craft, but I wouldn’t have given that up for anything.”
Like so many in industries across the board, this year has necessitated circumspection, while also stoking the fires of gratitude. “The pandemic has really made me look at what I was doing musically and which direction I want to go from here. Having around 75 shows cancelled will do that I guess. But what I do know is that music has taken me places I’ve dreamed of going and introduced me to amazing people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I love meeting and working with people who are more interested in making the pie bigger for everyone, not just in seeing how big a piece they can get for themselves. Most musicians are like that.”
When I think about Bret, a number of positive adjectives and qualities come to mind, yet, none more than his sincere desire to just be a good man. Not simply to be happy or successful, but I always feel that he desires to be a source of good, and on my own best days, I should only hope that people would say the same of me. Were there more people in life that sought to better the world around them, the sheer act of existing would surely be an even more wonderful thing.
Yet, Bret also seems to exemplify perspective to me, at least the ongoing hope of having a good one. “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” “I reckon we’re all about as happy as we make up our minds to be.” These are mantras by which I live, and when I look at my friend Bret, when it comes to personal growth, family life, professional development, hell, in every sense that I can think of, I see a man that has a healthy perspective on this thing called life.
“The blessing of having my own company has given me flexibility with my schedule and a lot of what I do can be done from a laptop. My daughter is in college now, and thankfully, music hasn’t taken me away from her too much over the years. I’m grateful for that and for the fact my wife has always been so supportive and let me chase my heart’s desire. The COVID break has shown me though how much my wife has really sacrificed in not having a husband around on weekends for all these years. I’m working on changing that. I really count my blessings on a daily basis.”
In his free time, Bret most enjoys hunting, fishing, and camping throughout Texas and beyond. He’s a gifted singer-songwriter, loyal husband, devoted father, servant leader, and true friend. And I’m glad to call him one of mine.