Mullins' Music Gets Noticed

Mullins' Music Gets Noticed

by Greg Loomis

Western Hills Press in Cincinnati, OH December 1, 1982

Rich Mullins is a man of music and a man of God.

To Rich, it is not so complicated as some people make it. God makes his musical talent possible. Music is a way to communicate with God, and a moving way to pass his message of love to others.

The story of Rich Mullins begins in the small Indiana country town of Arba, near Richmond, and now focuses on Zion Ministires in Price Hill. Come January, Rich will move to Nashville and record his first solo album.

Now 27, Rich first learned to play piano and write music at age 5.

His biggest musical influence was teacher Mary Kellner. Like Kellner, Rich's mother was a Quaker and his earliest memories include going to a small Quaker Church and, later, a Christian Church.

"I always had interested ministers who cared about me and my family," he said.

Rich's "hillbilly" father didn't care much at first about his son's musical interest. Years later, Rich began to appreciate the music of his father's Appalachian folk heritage. Rich, already an accomplished guitar player, learned the dulcimer.

Although he like the Norman Rockwell-like atmosphere of Arba where half of the residents were his relatives, Rich was drawn to the cultural offerings of Cincinnati.

In 1974, at age 18, Rich moved here to attend Cincinnati Bible Seminary.

Rich met singers Jenny Filson and Beth Snell at CBS, and they formed a musical trio. A vocalist guitarist with another group, Tom Weimer, later joined them.

The group evolved into Zion Ministries, which combines the group's music, religious publications and retreats as means of spreading the word about God's love. Operating out of a house on Beech Avenue in Price Hill, Zion Ministries includes the band (called Zion) and friends Pam Zea and Gary Rowe.

The band Zion has toured more than a dozen states, playing colleges, high schools, coffee houses and church retreats.

An album recorded by Zion last year called Behold the Man features eight original songs, with Rich having a hand in each composition.

He incorporates a variety of musical tastes in his writing, playing and singing. The song "Praise to the Lord" opens with a classical sounding piano solo, then breaks into an energetic pop tempo with a rousing chorus.

His singing voice bears resemblances to one of his favorite popular artists, Cat Stevens. He cites the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, Neil Young and Peter Gabriel as other favorites.

Ironically, Rich has never cared much for "Christian" music, feeling much of it is second-rate. Yet, Rich said, there are some excellent Christian musicians who will never get the recognition they deserve "because they won't stand up and sing 'Highway to Hell.'"

Last year, Beth Snell took a tape of some of Rich's songs to Nashville. Mike Blanton and Dan Harrell, who produce Christian recording artist Amy Grant, liked what they heard.

Rich had never heard of Amy Grant. But her recording of "Praise to the Lord" became a hit, including four months at number one on two different Christian music charts.

Before long, Rich was flying to Nashville to sign song publishing and recording contracts (his solo album will be on Reunion Records, a division of Columbia).

Although his friends in Zion kid him about it, there's no resentment about his success -- even though it will mean the end of the band.

"The most important thing we set out to do was reaching a lot of people with our music, and Rich will be able to do that," said Tom Wiemer.