On the Record

Toy drive tradition

On the Record with Gary Mullis

Gary Mullis
Gary Mullis

DeKALB – Gary Mullis might not have a beard or a red suit, but for 50 years, he has been making sure children in DeKalb County have toys to open on Christmas Day.

Mullis, an award-winning songwriter, has been organizing a country music show toy drive for Toys for Tots since 1970. In July, Mullis also organizes a drive to collect school supplies.

The 50th annual country music show will be from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Taylor Street Plaza, 507 E. Taylor St. in DeKalb. Attendees should enter through Door 2. Parking is available on the north side of Taylor Street.

Admission for the event is a new, unwrapped toy for children for Christmas. Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army will distribute the toys.

The event will feature live bands performing a variety of music genres, including country, bluegrass, gospel and Christmas songs.

For more information about the event, call Mullis at 815-762-5589.

Mullis met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss the country music show and the importance of making sure children have toys for Christmas.

Milton: Tell me about your songwriting.

Mullis: I have won platinum and gold records for 12 years in a songwriting contest in Lexington, Alabama. My name was inducted into the VIP Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Museum in Lexington, Alabama, in 2014. I write country music, happy music, sad music, Christmas music. My song, “Doing the Christmas Boogie,” was played on the radio and TV stations a lot.

Milton: Why do you write songs?

Mullis: I enjoy music, all types of music, because it brings people together. I don’t drive and I can’t ride a bicycle, but I can play the drum, tambourine and the washboard. Leroy Troy from RFD-TV gave me his washboard, he played it on shows. I like to write the lyrics and words to songs.

Milton: Why did you start the country music show and toy drive?

Mullis: I wanted to get people together and play music. It was first held in the Cortland Town Hall in 1970. It was held there for many years, then held for many years in the Holiday Inn in DeKalb. Then it was held at the Sycamore Armory for a year, then the IUE Union Hall in DeKalb for many years. Then it was at the House Café, Feed ’Em Soup and now here at the Taylor Street High Rise. I’ve been doing it for 50 years, but it’s moved around a lot of places.

Milton: What else will the country music show include?

Mullis: On that day, there will be a big anniversary cake in honor of 50 years. It will say ‘Congratulations Toy Drive Show 50 Years Organizer Gary Mullis.’ The cake will be a white cake with white frosting and there will be blue and red roses on the cake. The cake will be cut at 3 p.m.

Milton: Who will emcee the show?

Mullis: The emcee of the show this year is Kim Glover, who will sing some songs I’ve written, including “Honolulu Christmas.” Laverne Day emceed 23 shows but passed away in 2007. Bill Blough, a former radio DJ with WMRO Radio in Aurora, did 13 shows but retired.

Milton: Who will perform during the country music show?

Mullis: Angel Davis will dress up like Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s wife. The Elderly Brothers will perform, as well as the Basically Bluegrass Band, Matthew Littlejohn and Tracy McFadden and Irene Fredrickson. Roy Rubin from New Castle, Pennsylvania, will be at the show. Every June, I play with him at John A’s in Nashville, Tennessee.

Milton: Will you perform during the show?

Mullis: I will be on the show, including some of the songs I’ve written. Songs I do every year are “Christmas in July,” “Doing the Christmas Boogie,” “The Christmas Guest,” in memory of Grandpa Jones of the Grand Ole Opry who passed away, and “A Letter to Santa,” written by Little Jimmy Dickens. That [song] is about a little boy who got a toy from Santa but brought it to a little boy that didn’t get ‘nothin’ for Christmas. I like doing that one, it’s very touching.

Milton: How would you describe the show?

Mullis: It’s a family show for a good cause. I encourage people to come and bring toys and help out. I’m 75 years old now and have been doing the show for 50 years. Toys for Tots and The Salvation Army give out the toys as presents for kids for Christmas. There’s also a lot of good music and a big cake. It will be a lot of fun.

Milton: Are you originally from the area?

Mullis: I was born at the old St. Mary’s Hospital in DeKalb on May 14, 1944, at 6:18 in the morning. I was raised on a farm in Sycamore. It was an old two-story brick house with an old pot-bellied stove in the living room, an outhouse to go to the bathroom and a pump in the back to get water out. We had a bunch of animals on the farm. We had hogs, cattle, chickens, ducks, sheep, even dogs and cats. … I wrote the book “From the Farm to the VIP Songwriters Hall of Fame” about growing up in Sycamore and my life. I will sell the e-Book next year.

Milton: Why did you start the country music show and toy drive?

Mullis: I like helping others and I enjoy doing it. I think a lot of people know me in the community from the toy drive, school supply drive and from my music and songwriting. I went to Sycamore West School on Fair Street. In 2009, I started a school supply drive that’s on the third Sunday in July. The supplies go to New Hope Baptist Church for their backpack giveaway.

Milton: What would you like to say to readers of this article?

Mullis: I want to thank everybody, the community, everyone for coming and supporting me through the years. They’ve been helping any way they can, bringing toys and playing on the show. I also want to thank Bill Nicklas, the city manager, for coming to help cut the cake. I’m waiting to hear if DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith will be able to make it. But I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to them for coming and celebrating 50 years with me.

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