The Mullets were recently named "The Grand Strand's Best Cover Band" after beating out 31 other acts in our first-ever March Music Madness competition. To see how they won, click here.
The Mullets probably don’t need anyone to tell them they’re “The Grand Strand’s Best Cover Band.”
After entertaining local crowds since the mid-1980s, it seems safe to say this five-piece band has long since earned the honor.
The Mullets LIVE!
- When | 8 p.m. Saturday
- Where | Dead Dog Saloon, 4079 Hwy 17 Business, Murrells Inlet
- How Much | No Cover
Whether it’s because of their rockin’ renditions of countless classic hits or simply a longevity unmatched among local bands, The Mullets have gained the love and respect of fans and fellow musicians over the years.
And though carrying around a name that’s synonymous with Myrtle Beach Music may not lead to sold out stadiums shows or lavish rockstar lifestyles, that’s more than OK with The Mullets.
“By the time we started, everyone was already having kids and starting families and we all were at a place where we didn’t care anything about that sort of thing,” said guitarist/vocalist Bob O’Connor, one of the band’s founding members.
“That’s what’s made us successful I think. We never had dreams of moving to L.A. or wherever, we just got into a groove where we could play around the beach, have fun, make a little money and some free beer.”
Myrtle Beach Music: The Mullets are Jack Willits, Russ Flack, Bob O'Connor, Tom Smith and Terry Amaker
Just one gig...
O’Connor (vocals/guitar) along with fellow founding members Terry Amaker (vocals/guitar), Russ Flack (drums), Dave Gifford (bass) and Phillys Tanner Frye formed The Mullets in 1984. The band was put together as a one-off grouping that came together to play a Valentine’s Day telethon at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
The televised gig consisted of three original songs penned by Frye and went well enough that the band decided to keep playing around town at places such as K’s, Chairman’s Corner. and others.
After about a year, Frye chose to break off and pursue her own acoustic act, and current sound engineer Jack Willits stepped up and began singing Rolling Stones songs with the band.
In 1994, the band traded its original bassist for current member Tom Smith, securing the final piece of a lineup which has been together going on 18 years.
“I’ve always felt that for what we are — a successful local band — we had all the right pieces,” said O’Connor.
...plus 27 years
Even with all the right pieces in place, it has been more like an alignment of the stars for O’Connor and crew to be able to remain playing together this long.
“We all just came to the same place at the same time,” he said. “We’re really an exception to the rule. We never argue much. We’ve never had much trouble.”
And while O’Connor jokes that lack of ambition has aided the band’s easygoing ways, he admits things weren’t always so laid back for the band who’s schedule now includes only 3-4 shows per month.
“In the old days, when we were playing a lot more it was definitely a challenge to schedule things around families and kids and all that,” he said. “But we’ve never had band blow ups or people quitting. Shoot, we’ve only had one change in the past 26 years.”
But even with a scaled-back schedule, O’Connor says that the semi-retired band’s desire to play remains strong.
“We still love to play and to be honest with you, I think we’re as tight now as we’ve ever been, ” he said. “Being 60 now my body aches more playing than it did 20 years ago, but then again we don’t party as hard as we did 20 years ago so maybe it all evens out.”
Myrtle Beach Music: Bob O'Connor (photos courtesy of Buffy Sitzes)
Like father, like son
One thing that has been special for O’Connor as he’s gotten older is being able to incorporate his son Casey, 23, into the Mullets mix.
Casey, who has Down’s Syndrome, is part of LIFE (Learning Is For Everyone), a four-year post-secondary program for 18- to 24-year-old students with learning disabilities at Coastal Carolina. Over the past few years Casey has become an honorary member of The Mullets, playing the harmonica.
“Being around all of us playing he has always been part of that,” said O’Connor.
O’Connor said his family got Casey a harmonica as a stocking stuffer a few years back and he just started fooling around with it and learning on his own.
“He’s not bashful. At the gigs we’d ask him to come up and play,” said O’Connor. “If you lay down a 12-bar blues or three chord song he does a pretty good job with it and it’s just kinda grown from there.”
Now the band’s Facebook page lists Casey and an official member.
“Having him up there has just been a great thrill for me,” says O’Connor.
Video by Randall Hill of The Sun News. Check out more on the O'Connors and lots of other great local musicians on his Common Chords blog.
The more things change
Though the band has remained mostly unchanged over the past quarter century at the beach, much of what’s around them has changed over the years.
“When we started playing here, the whole town and what was playing was Beach music,” said O’Connor. “With all the jukeboxes and shagging there was just us and maybe 4-5 bands that you could actually call a rock ‘n’ roll band.”
These days, O’Connor says the scene is better than it ever was.
“There’s more people playing. Just drive down the strip on a Friday night in Murrells Inlet and there’s great bands everywhere,” he said.
Beginning about 10 years ago, the band shifted its focus south playing mostly in venues such as Dead Dog Saloon, Hot Fish Club and Pawleys Island Tavern.
“A lot of nights we start at 8 or 9 p.m. and we’re done by 1 a.m. In the old days at some of teh late-hour bars we didn’t start until 11:30 p.m.,” said O’Connor. “It’s a whole different dynamic. The people you have out that late is a lot wilder.”
Covering the covers
As the newly-crowned kings of the cover circuit, The Mullets theories on what makes a good cover are — like the band itself — pretty lax.
“There are a lot of bands I hear around here that just play something perfectly and I think ‘Wow, we don’t play it like that,’” said O’Connor. “When we learn a tune we never really listen to the record much. We’d always just play it and if it was anywhere close to the song we’d just go ‘Hey, that’s it!’ and move on.”
He says putting your own spin and playing it n your own style is key, especially when you’re playing older material.
“Most of stuff we play is songs that are like 100 years old,” he jokes.
But just because most of the source material is classic, doesn’t mean The Mullets don’t learn new tricks from time to time. O’Connor notes tunes by Bill Withers, Smokey Robinson and some newer Motown hits as material the band has been working on lately to keep their show fresh.
“For us, when somebody brings a tune in, it’s always got to be a unanimous decision. If somebody doesn’t like it we just gotta drop it,” he said.