In 2009, Corrosion of Conformity were on a break. The North Carolina underground legends — who had played everything from frenetic hardcore to groovy Southern rock since forming 1982 — had last put out an album in 2004, and bassist Mike Dean had fallen out of touch with co-founding drummer Reed Mullin, who’d exited in 2000.
“So I hadn’t laid eyes on the dude in nine years and he rolled up in my driveway with a complete stranger,” Dean tells Rolling Stone, “and asks me if I want to learn some songs and start a band.”
The total stranger was guitarist Jason Browning, and the band turned out to be Righteous Fool, a swinging, soulful hard-rock trio featuring vocals by all three members that played live and put out a lone seven-inch in 2010. The group eventually fizzled, in part due to an eventual Corrosion of Conformity reunion that included both Dean and Mullin, but not before Righteous Fool recorded an album’s worth of songs at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606, piggybacking on the sessions that produced COC’s self-titled 2012 reunion LP. Now, following Mullin’s death last month, Dean and Browning are sharing “Low Blow,” a track from those session, on what would have been the drummer’s 54th birthday.
Although best known as a drummer, Mullin was also an accomplished vocalist and lyricist — contributing about half the vocals to Corrosion of Conformity’s 1985 punk-metal landmark Animosity — and the drummer sings lead here. He belts out his words in a gritty yet melodic wail that perfectly complements the song’s mean, bluesy swagger. Although the music comes from Studio 606, the Mullin vocal that appears here comes from a demo the drummer had made, which he felt he couldn’t top.
The song’s lyrics seem to take aim at greed and corruption, as Mullin sings lines like “Low blow/Who stole the show/And all the money,” “Follow the glow, carrion crow/You picked it bone dry/You ate the heart but you left the eyes,” and “You wouldn’t buy what you’re selling/A channel for your disease/You know it’s just a con job/But they will believe.”
Dean says that for Mullin, coming into his own as a singer had been a gradual process.
“As COC developed more melodic sense, he did as well, and he would offer up a lot of vocal melodies, harmonies and lyrics. These were not always what everyone else was looking for and you could see some frustration and, eventually, he quit COC to be the principal songwriter-singer guy,” Dean explains. “Eventually while doing Corrosion of Conformity at Dave Grohl’s place, he sang a song called ‘Weaving Spiders’ where he really started to find himself.”
For Dean, “Low Blow” stands as a testament to his late friend’s expanding creative horizons. He doesn’t expect the full Righteous Fool session to come out — “Basically, all of the songs are very good, but with three vocalists and a lot of influences, we just felt like we didn’t have an album that was cohesive, from a band with an identity,” Dean says — but he says now seemed like the right time to release this track. “In the last months of his life, [Reed] kept mentioning to Jason that he was particularly excited about our performance as a band and in his vocal performance in particular,” Dean says of “Low Blow.” “So we thought we would share it for his birthday.”
Mullin had appeared on Corrosion of Conformity’s most recent album, 2018’s No Cross No Crown, but wasn’t part of the band’s live lineup at the time of his death. Just days after his passing, the band — including current drummer Jon Green — embarked on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, which wraps up on February 12th. “I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy doing this Australia tour knowing Reed isn’t coming back, but music gets us through life, so we go on,” Dean explains.
He also confirms that COC will forge ahead, both live and in the studio. “We are making plans to write and record with Jon Green,” he says. “He once learned our set in 24 hours and killed it in front of 60,000 people at a festival with no fear. No one will ever be Reed, and it is futile to try to be him. So we chose someone who is uniquely themselves; we pick up the pieces and start a new chapter.”