This interview with Rich Mullins’ producer Reed Arvin is months old now, but I thought of it again the other day and wanted to share one revelation in the interview that particularly impacted me.
[Interviewer:] When I was a kid I would just pour over the liner notes to each of Rich’s albums, and I was always surprised to see how few of the instruments he actually played on the recordings. Obviously, he played the hammered and lap dulcimer, but usually you were the one listed as playing piano and not him.
[Arvin:] Rich was incredibly soulful musically but he possessed a particular quality many singer-pianists share: he played all over the instrument, all the time. He was used to accompanying himself, you see. He would hammer out double bass notes even if there was a bass player and things like that. So, when you added other instruments, it didn’t quite mesh. Live, this didn’t make so much difference. But on record, it didn’t really work. Also, he had a very elastic sense of time. Making a record is just a different enterprise. But just to sit around the piano while he played and sang by himself, this was beautiful. And we did that sometimes, just for the pleasure of it.
Rich was the formative artist for me as a musician in my teenage years. I memorized his albums, studied liner notes, learned the piano parts note-for-note, played and sang his songs incessantly.
What somehow never occurred to me while reading the liner notes, that never really hit me until reading this interview, is that maybe I owe Reed Arvin a lot more for influencing my piano style than I owe Rich.
The songs and musical ideas were all Rich’s, so it’s not going to tarnish my view of him and his legacy, but it’s still a surprising thought.