Open the packaging for Jody Mulgrew’s new CD, “Rocket Ship,” and you’ll find an interesting old photo on the inside.
The photo, collected by Mulgrew’s father-in-law, features a group of uniformed Navy men from World War II posing for a snapshot.
Curious to learn more about this mystery photo and his latest work, we talked to Mulgrew, 33, who studied music at Cal State Northridge, at his Los Osos home. The founder and driving force behind the Johnny Starlings, Mulgrew has given up his band name and explored a new musical era with a collection of tunes that partially channels the 1950s.
Q: OK, what’s the deal with this photo?
A: My father served in World War II. He was born in 1921, and he was an old timer, which explains a lot about my own musical tastes and leanings. And I’ve got pictures of my father that are like that, from World War II — these severe guys in sepia-toned black and white. And all my family friends are asking, “Hey, is this one of your dad’s ships?” Because he served in the Navy at the same time. But that’s actually a photo of the chiefs of a battleship that was sent out to the Bikini Atolls for the atomic bombs test.
Q: So how old was your dad when you were born?
A: Fifty-seven years old.
Q: What’s the story behind that?
A: My mom was much, much younger. It was his second marriage. He raised a family and remarried in the late ’70s to my mom. She was 22, and he was 57.
Q: Wow. Was he rich? A: No, anything but. But he knew how to get by. I hear stories that he was the most eligible bachelor in Morro Bay at one time. So he was doing something right.
Q: That gives all 57- year olds hope, right?
A: Yeah, right? So that was my dad, who served in World War II. He was a photographer and artist himself. I got a lot of support from him.
Q: Did he stay married?
A: Yeah. He passed away back in 2007.
It kind of gives you a different experience. Lately, I’ve been thinking that’s why I’m drawn to older music and art. Because he grew up on the big bands. His record collection was, like, Benny Goodman. That’s what they were listening to in high school.
Q: Did he play music?
A: He wasn’t a musician himself, but he was a lover of music. Both of my parents really loved music. He was a photographer and writer. He really loved art. When I think back now, I’m really fortunate my parents were so supportive. Not everyone gets that.
Q: What happened to The Johnny Starlings?
A: It ran its course. Like all good things, it passed. It was never a band, it was more of a project.
Q: Were you just sick
of people confusing you for Johnny Starling?
A: It didn’t bother me so much. When I abandoned the name a few years ago, a club owner in Santa Barbara said, “I think this is the biggest mistake you could make. You’ve got such a brand with the Johnny Starlings, you should keep it going.”
We had played down there a couple of times a year, and always had really good shows— packed the house. But I had done my time playing that vintage-y, retro 1920s thing. I worked my way to the 1950s.
Q: What’s up with “The Devil Won’t Give My Baby Back” (from “Rocket Ship”)? It’s almost like those ’50s tragedy songs. It reminded me of the one Eddie Vedder covered.
A: “Last Kiss” is totally the inspiration for “The Devil Won’t Give My Baby Back.” My wife Adrienne and I had a long drive from L.A. late one night, and I was sort of in a songwriting mood. So I was writing as we drove, humming to myself and scratching little notes. So I wrote that song, for the most part, in the car, thinking about that “Last Kiss” song.
Q: Were you into the Eddie Vedder one or the original?
A: I have to claim the original one, although the Eddie Vedder one is cool. There’s a whole bunch of songs like that, like “Dead Man’s Curve.”
Q: You’ve got a different sound than the previous stuff. What were you shooting for?
A: The Johnny Starlings was feel-good music that kind of hits you in the heart. I wanted it to be a feel-good old timey thing, where you get your lemonade, kick your feet up and relax. And with this one what have we got? I guess we’ve got nine love songs.
Q: You went from the ’20s to the ’50s. Will the next one be New Wave ?
A: I think at this point I’m going to write what I’m into, and I’m really into Madonna.
Q: I saw that Inga Swearingen did one of your songs on “Prairie Home Companion.”
A: We’ve been friends for a long time, and we’ve done some shows together over the years. And I asked her to do one of my songs for the shows, and later she took it to Garrison Keillor for “Prairie Home Companion” and submitted it. It was cool. I’ve got a reel-to-reel tape of it somewhere. Inga’s amazing — she’s a great singer. I was honored to hear her sing that song for the nation.
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.