From the Oklahoma-Texas area to Atlanta to Nashville and stints in Europe, Mike's journey has been an extraordinary one. Mike’s innate writing skills and love of music merged early on. Raised in Oklahoma, he grew up on Country Western and Honky Tonk - moving into a diverse blend of music as a young man in the 60s. Many of his influences are: The Beatles, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver and all the great story tellers of years gone by.
Mike Cullison’s roadmap into the recording industry may be somewhat unorthodox yet in many ways suggests a quite sensible approach given the meagre pickings and competition in an industry that suffers from increasingly over saturation levels. His debut album, recorded in 2004, coincided with his retirement after 32 years continuous employment with The Bell Telephone Company. Originally from Oklahoma he combined his nine to five job with song writing and performances and with music running through his veins even relocated to Atlanta during his career to be closer to Nashville. He finally made the final leg of his journey to the Music City in 1995 and currently enjoys the good life with the mundane forty hour a week career a distant memory and his current status as a performing and recording artist the ideal (semi) retirement.
Mike's songs reflect his diverse background. His initial release, BAC, has a Rock-a-Billy feel to it. His second Blue Collar Tired, contains a blend of country and rock with a honky tonk feel. The third CD Roadhouse Rambler is a sample of his breadth as a songwriter.
A longer look:
Singer-songwriter Mike Cullison is used to hearing his work
defined in painterly terms; music journalists commonly pull out
such metaphors when trying to describe songs. But with his new
album, The Barstool Monologues, it’s almost as if he’s
working in the 3D style of sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr., who
turns famous Impressionist paintings into life-sized tableaux,
incorporating not only the original images, but his own fanciful
imaginings of what went on beyond the canvas.
Cullison takes a similar approach, weaving lives into songs,
then threading them together with spoken-word narrative to create
a vivid musical tableau. There’s the heartbroken lover,
the fracturing couple, the other woman, the lonely imbiber ...
each introduced by a bartender named Hollis, who sees and hears
it all. Various singers inhabit their personas, spinning musical
novellas into what Cullison likes to describe as “a honky-tonk
"It’s as if you walked into a place and you took a
snapshot and everybody’s looking in the camera,” says
the Nashville resident. “What I wanted to do was place
everybody in that picture into one of the songs, either as its
or the person singing it to somebody else.”
Cullison, an Oklahoma native who’s honed his songwriting
skills with such royalty as Don Goodman (“Ol’ Red”; “Ring
on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands”), Johnny Neel (the Allman
Brothers) and Mike Stergis (Crosby, Stills & Nash), describes
his style as “roadhouse blues and country roots-rock.” But
his influences are as vast as the early rock ‘n’ roll
his mom adored and the classic country his dad preferred, and
he draws deeply from that well, along with other Americana styles — from
Bakersfield to hybrid zyde-Cajun blues — to create a rich
aural tapestry as colorful as Johnson’s art.
He considers himself a lyric writer first, however. “The
story and how it is told are very important to me,” Cullison
says. “Some songs come at you very quickly, but most take
time. There’s still a lot of polishing to do even after
the lightning bolts strike.”
Cullison’s career has taken time, too. In fact, the release
party for his first album, 2004’s BAC (Big American Car),
was also his retirement party after 32 years with the Bell Telephone
Co. Midway through his Bell Tel years, he moved to Atlanta, “because
it was five hours closer to Nashville.” His ultimate goal
was always Music City, “because that’s where the
He finally made it in 1995. Throughout his day-job years, he
always wrote and performed; in Atlanta, he was in a band called
Lone Walter. These days, Cullison appears solo or with a variety
of friends and collaborators in the states and Europe, where
he first released the EP Roadhouse Rambler in 2011. (His second
CD, Blue Collar Tired, came out in 2007.)
Like most musicians, Cullison spends his share of time in bars.
And like most country-influenced players, he’s sung his
share of “tears in beer” tunes. But one night, while
performing at the late Nashville bar The Sutler (lost, sadly,
to developers), a thought struck: “Instead of having somebody
sitting on the customer’s side of the bar crying in their
beer, what if we turned it around?”
That was the genesis of the Mark Robinson-produced CD The
"Songwriting is storytelling, so it kind of fit for me,” says
Cullison, who also has plenty of “behind the song” stories.
One of his favorites involves the opening tune, “Wish I
Didn’t Like Whiskey” — a perfect choice to
open an album set in a bar.
"I had bought a drink for a friend of mine,” Cullison
as I handed her the glass, she said, ‘I wish I didn’t
like whiskey so much.’ I excused myself for a minute while
I wrote that on a coaster. Turned out to be a very good song.”
They’ve all turned out to be very good songs — vignettes,
actually, sung and performed by some of Nashville’s finest.
If Cullison has his way, The Barstool Monologues might even turn
into a musical of some sort, with actors and stage sets. Life-sized,
like a Johnson tableau. Only even more real, because we can recognize
the characters in Cullison’s stories. They’re our
friends, our exes … or maybe even ourselves.