Mennell Mullins was born in Clovis, but was raised in the country by his folks Burrell and Levata Tinney Mullins. In August, I had the pleasure of interviewing him about his musical history.
Most people won’t recall he was a musician, as they probably remember him running his Mennell Furniture Auction business on East Second Street for many years.
Ollie Mennell Mullins was born a farm boy in 1936, and raised at Forrest, just over the Curry County line in Quay County. He remembers listening to his uncles making music with their fiddles, guitars, and a piano played by Aunt Edith.
They played dances in his folks’ home or at the schools close by. About age 14 he made enough money plowing for an uncle to send off for a Sears & Roebuck $20 guitar.
“I got a pretty 19-year-old schoolteacher to learn me to read notes. After three classes, which were going too slow, I started playing by ear and the teacher finally told me that I knew more about playing than she did and sent me on my way,” he said.
When the Forrest school consolidated with Melrose about 1951, Mullins was bused along with other students to the big town. At Melrose he started playing with other amateur musicians, including Carl Leon Dodd, Don Billings, and Joe Bledsoe.
When Mullins was 17 he joined the Army, claiming he was 18. During the Korean War, he worked his way up to be a sergeant.
After he was discharged, he started working for the Coke bottling plant in Clovis. He fell off a truck and busted his back. He eventually had three back operations, but he had to find a job he could handle with a bad back.
Mullins thought he would become an auctioneer. In 1968 he went to auctioneer school in Decatur, Ind., and when he came home he went to work for Bill Johnson’s auction house in Portales.
“I soon learned all I need to know and became good at it,” he said.
After another stint at auctioning in a Clovis livestock auction barn, he decided to start his own business. Married by now, he let his wife Betty pick out a building. She chose one owned by “Mac” McDaniel.
“We announced we would auction about anything people brought in. Lobo Brown, a part-time Clovis wrestler who ran a sheet metal company on the side, got me to auction a lot of his sheet metal. He was our first customer,” Mullins said.
“The secret in auctioning is never let a silent moment go by. You gotta keep something moving.
“We started selling furniture. Some of the furniture makers shipped us truckloads of poor quality furniture. I told the makers I could sell their best furniture. They were skeptical, but I proved I could by selling big brand-name furniture, like Garrison and Riverside.
“Our auctions were on Thursday nights, and on Friday nights we’d have a music show at our auction place, with no selling going on, just good country music. One of the first music groups was Tiny Lynn’s band. Anybody could sit in! We made a lot of friends and everyone enjoyed making music.
“I had my own band at one time, long time ago, but I still sit in with many different musicians, like at the Melrose Old Timers Days. I started the first music event to be held at that celebration. I played with Dug Niece, Truman Welch, Jerry Hutcheson, Clyde Norris and others.
“I could play the piano, the guitar, the French harp and foot-peddle bass. Some time ago I made some tapes of my music. Betty has a book of over 300 songs I used to play. A while back my musician friend Gary Beevers put some of them on a CD, packed on that little disk! Can you imagine?”
Mullins died on Nov. 22 at age 67. He is buried at Melrose.
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian.