Shawn Mullins was at a career crossroads in 1997, and it was a lonely intersection. The Atlanta native was still playing coffeehouses and half-empty clubs -- not the second career he had been imagining a few years earlier when he had given up his Army rank of second lieutenant and left Ft. Benning in Georgia with a guitar case full of ambition.A friend in L.A. lined up a gig for him at Genghis Cohen on Fairfax Avenue. After the set, Mullins was gathering his stuff when a woman stepped up to the stage and introduced herself as Jodi. Mullins remembers she was wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans and boots and "a cowboy hat, curled up Rickie Lee Jones style."
Over Chinese food, Jodi told her whole L.A. story and Mullins got caught up in the tale. He wrote it down, and it became "Lullaby," a Grammy-nominated hit that took him down a new career road.
She grew up with the children of the stars
In the Hollywood hills and the boulevard
Her parents threw big parties, everyone was there
They hung out with folks like Dennis Hopper, Bob Seger, Sonny and Cher
Now, she feels safe in this bar on Fairfax
In the dreamy song, the woman in the audience hangs her head to cry and the singer begins performing just for her -- "I sing to her a lullaby, I sing / Everything's gonna be all right / Rockabye, rockabye" -- but that's a bit of artistic license. "She was actually a pretty upbeat person," said Mullins, whose album "Soul's Core" went platinum thanks to the forlorn hit.
Another bit of license: Jodi had never really met Seger; Mullins is just a fan. "She did go to swimming parties with the Jacksons, I could put that in. But I didn't want to go here."
The hit led to a somewhat surreal moment on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" when Mullins performed the same night Cher was booked as a guest. "She just had this big smile the whole time."
As the hit took off, Jodi got in touch with Mullins through his manager and said she was happy (and more than a little surprised) to be part of his success story. Mullins, who still lives in Atlanta, hasn't scored another hit as big as "Lullaby," and every time he performs it the lyrics remind him of his odd troubadour odyssey.
It's hard to play a gig in this town
And keep a straight face
Seems like everyone here's got a plan
It's kind of like Nashville with a tan