TERRY DAVID MULLIGAN IS NOT DEAD.
“Some people actually have the gall to say, ‘Hey whatever happened to you?'” the DJ vents. “Someone actually said, ‘I thought you died.'”
The actor, interviewer, author, former Mountie, and advocate for the free flow of wine across Canada is decidedly vital for someone who downed drinks with Janis Joplin in the 1960s and endured the relentless PR machine of glam rock giants Kiss in the 1970s.
Mulligan, 69, was recently named Broadcaster of the Year by the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters.
Speaking over the phone, the North Vancouver resident seems tireless as he recaps his colourful career while prepping the next instalment of his rock radio show, Mulligan Stew.
“I’m going to be editing and working while I’m talking to you if that’s OK,” he says, speaking with a swiftness that has not slowed in nearly 50 years on the air. “If I can’t do both I’ll admit defeat.”
While the whirring of audiotape sounds in the background, Mulligan tears into Canada’s liquor control board, whom he dubs: “True, bureaucratic bullies.”
Protesting a 1928 law that restricts the transportation of wine across provincial borders, Mulligan, the co-host of wine-swilling travel TV show Hollywood and Vines decided he would risk arrest to call attention to what he sees as an obsolete and unfair rule.
“I was just so pissed off,” he says. “The liquor control boards love to hit the wineries over the head with the threat of charging them in a court of law because they’re shipping wines from B.C. to Alberta.”
Heading from B.C. to the Banff food and wine festival earlier this summer, Mulligan hit the road as a bootlegger with thunder as his engine and chardonnay as his load.
“I sent two registered letters to the liquor control boards in Victoria and Edmonton . . . . and said this is what I’m doing and this is why I’m doing it, and if you have charges, go ahead,” he says. “The media showed up, and God bless ’em, they told the story.”
In Ottawa, the senate is currently considering passing a bill that would do away with the regulation and allow wine to be shipped across provincial boundaries, but Mulligan has not relaxed on the issue.
“Some of the provinces are going to play hardball because they’ve had their hand in our pockets for a long time and they’ve gotten very used to taking money from us and they’re not going to give up this pipeline easily,” Mulligan says, pausing. “Some of them are just going to be dorks.”
Growing up in the section of North Vancouver known as Skunk Hollow in the 1940s and ’50s, Mulligan has been dealing with bullies and dodging gangs since rock ‘n’ roll was called race music.
The son of a game warden, Mulligan found his father’s livelihood often put him in conflict with his schoolmates.
“My father was busting the same kids that I was going to school with . . . . they were carrying guns or BB guns,” he recalls. “I’d know when one of them got busted because they’d punch my lights out at school or pin me into a corner: ‘Your old man took my gun, man. I want it back,'” he says, imitating the schoolyard snarl.
Mulligan says he could sometimes promise his way out of danger, but other times, the future 21 Jumpstreet guest star resorted to more drastic moves.
“On occasion, when I thought I was seriously in trouble, I would take that BB gun and I would return it to its owner and my father, thankfully, never missed it,” he says.
Living near the intersection of Fell Avenue and 17th Street, Mulligan found respite from disgruntled firearms enthusiasts in his father’s collection of jazz records.
But as Red Robinson brought rock ‘n’ roll to Vancouver’s airwaves, the Mulligan family headed for the Interior.
“When I got to Kamloops, the only time there was rock ‘n’ roll on the radio was 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
When it was daylight out, and kids wouldn’t riot. That was the thinking then,” Mulligan explains.
But while Robinson was out of reach, another DJ, one even farther away, was within earshot, depending on the weather.
“If I took the cover off my radio and lay my alarm clock on a certain wire, it became the aerial and I could hear Wolfman Jack. It was fantastic,” Mulligan says, recalling the raspy-voiced disc jockey. “I had never heard anybody like that, and I’d never heard anybody play R&B and blues on the radio.”
After coming of age in Kamloops, Mulligan decided he needed to get out of Kamloops and promptly joined the RCMP.
In his autobiography Mulligan Stew: My Life. . . So Far, Mulligan writes about hearing Love Me Do by the Beatles for the first time while riding around Red Deer, Alberta in his police cruiser.
“The music had an innocence and a joy that brought such happiness to people. I can’t remember when that has happened since,” he writes.
He also writes about volunteering to stakeout a group of hookers who were working right next to a radio station.
The station was a converted two-storey house, and once inside Mulligan received a crash course in radio from DJ Hal Weaver.
Watching the DJ spin Beatles 45s on his finger and kick his chair like Jerry Lee Lewis convinced Mulligan he wanted to be on the air.
“Hal Weaver became my Wolfman Jack,” he says.
He soon left the police force, but when asked if the experience stayed with him, Mulligan replies emphatically.
“Oh God yes. Absolutely, totally,” he says, crediting the experience for instilling his strong work ethic.
Mulligan’s decision to leave the RCMP was cemented during a trip to Banff in the summer of 1964.
“I came across and spent time with all of the free spirits who were hitchhiking across Canada in that summer,” he recalls of the burgeoning hippie movement of the 1960s.
“On my way back from Banff to Red Deer I thought, ‘Who are you? Are you a Mountie or are you a free spirit?” he recounts. “That’s when I decided to leave the force.”
Mulligan overflows with enthusiasm when asked about the records he played during his first stretch on the air, listing tracks by The Kinks, The Who, and the long version of “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals.
“Every day brought a new group and a new single that killed, just killed,” he says.
But while he still plays some of those tunes, Mulligan is careful not to neglect the present, a lesson he may have learned when he asked Jimi Hendrix about reviving the blues.
“It’s no revival, kid, because why go back into the past?” Hendrix replies in the 1968 interview.
Now blending groups like folk band Trampled by Turtles and Winnipeg singer/ songwriter Del Barber into his playlist, Mulligan seems to have retained Hendrix’s advice.
“The trap I don’t want to get involved in is just re-living my life through music, because there’s some really fine music being made today,” Mulligan says. “The problem is that Canadian radio is so lame that most of it goes un-played, which is why I ended up at CKUA in Alberta for the last 16 years because they embrace new music, they celebrate it, they play Canadian music without making any apologies, and I finally found my musical home.
I found the same station I heard in my head.”
Still, Mulligan has a particular fondness for many rock stars of the 1960s.
“Janis Joplin,” he answers when asked about his favourite interviews. “You had to drink with Janis in order to get the interview, and she would drink me under the table and would laugh me silly because I couldn’t keep up with her. . . .
There was no bullshit. She was just a girl from Port Arthur, Texas, and played no games, hadn’t been micro-managed, hadn’t been taken through polishing school like the Motown acts. It was like I was talking to my sister.”
Conversely, one of his most disappointing interviews was the leather-clad frontman for The Doors.
“Jim Morrison was totally bizarre,” Mulligan says. “He talked in tongues, these sort of half-sentences and bits and pieces of poetry and really never found out much about him at all. So much so that I don’t think I ever ran the interview.”
He had a different kind of disappointment when trying to talk with the members of Kiss.
“They were on their own planet, and they were going to say what they wanted to say no matter what question you asked them.”
Much like his father’s profession had endangered him, Mulligan’s four children were affected by his career, especially when he started playing music on TV.
“When they were going to school and I was doing Muchmusic . . . . they got smacked around by kids at school saying, ‘Your old man won’t play any heavy metal,'” he says, imitating that familiar schoolyard snarl.
“They kind of took it out on me in their own way,” Mulligan says.
The reaction from his children ranged from indifference to pawning his CDs, according to Mulligan, who laughs at the larceny.
“I’d go to play a CD, and there’s no CD in the thing. I’m about two minutes away from actually going on air and I have no music and so I’ve had to apologize on occasion saying, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s been stolen, and you know by who.'”
But while his sons converted music to beer money, his daughter started taking an interest in her father’s work.
Kate Mulligan credited her father’s musical taste and counsel for her own transformation in a piece she wrote for The Tyee called Growing Up Mulligan.
“My dad gave me my first record player. It was fully restored into an aged brown leather suitcase, with speakers on the side, making it portable and incredibly unique,” she writes.
Asked what’s next in his career, Mulligan is quick with an answer.
“Retirement,” he says. “Well, my form of retirement.”
While audiotape continues to whir in the background, Mulligan reflects on the criticism he’s absorbed, as well as that one guy who thought he was dead.
“You have to be prepared for almost anything whenever you leave the house,” he says. “If you wait for the praise or the damnation to show up, you’re not really living your life. You have to move on and just live your life, simple as that. I mean, you only get one shot. How pissed off would you be at the end of your life if you thought, ‘Well, I lived my life according to somebody else’s views of who I should be?'”