When Elise Testone texted her bandmate Wallace Mullinax to ask what key they usually did Hendrix's "Bold As Love" in, he was joking when he said, "Oh, that's all right, I'll just come out and play it with you." Much to his surprise, she responded, "I'm working on that." Days later, it looked like Mullinax's trip to Hollywood might actually happen. He had bought a plane ticket, but just as suddenly, the trip was off and Mullinax canceled his ticket. And so the guitarist for Elise Testone and the Freeloaders made other plans for last Wednesday night.
"I actually got a grocery list together to make beef stew for dinner," he told me from Los Angeles right before last Thursday's results show knocked Testone out of the competition. "I was walking out the door and I got a message: 'You have to be here at 9:30 in the morning.' So I went straight to the airport and ended up catching a 7:30 flight."
After only 10 minutes of rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon — two takes — and one dress rehearsal Wednesday afternoon, the bandmates were psyched. While Randy Jackson and Jimmy Iovine didn't like the song choice, they killed it on live TV. "The stools were this really awkward height," Mullinax said. "And my legs were too long and I kind of had to find this funny little spot to sit in, but we were so excited, just like, 'We're going to annihilate this song.'
"They put an in-ear monitor in your ear and make you play with a click-track," he adds. "And Elise was like, 'I don't really wanna do this with the click-track,' so you're going to be the one that has to hit the first note and get me in. So all of a sudden in my ear I just hear '1-2, 1-2-3-4,' and we were off and running. After a few measures, all that nervous excitement transforms into this exuberance, and after a while I looked over at her and she smiled at me, and I'm thinking, 'We played this at Folly Beach at Loggerheads in front of four people four months ago, and now we're playing it in front of how many million people?"
On top of the great performance experience, Mullinax, who flew back for a gig at the Pour House last Saturday, also had an encounter with a rock legend, Queen guitarist Brian May, while in Hollywood.
"I was trying to stay out of his way, thinking the last thing I wanna do is get Brian May upset, they'll throw me out in a second," he says. "So I was kind of hiding in the corner looking at this list, and he came up and stood beside me and started reading the same list, and it's just the two of us in the room and I turned and said, 'I'm scared to ask you, but do you have any favorites,' and he said he liked Elise, and I said, 'She brought me out here to do a Hendrix song.'"
Hearing the magic H-word, May immediately perked up, saying "Oh, that's why you're here." May said he loved "Bold As Love," and the two talked about Hendrix for a while, agreeing on the greatness of his rhythm guitar work in the more R&B style of songs like "Bold As Love" and "Little Wing."
After chatting about guitar nerd stuff for 10 or 15 minutes, they moved on, but, Mullinax said, "A couple hours later when I was getting ready, getting my ear thing put in and all that, I felt a little tap on my shoulder, and it was Brian May. And he said, 'Hey man, have a great gig,' and I'm just starstruck, thinking, 'That's fucking Brian May.'"
Shortly after Mullinax's American Idol performance, he learned exactly how everyone back home felt about his unexpected opportunity. "I turned my phone back on, and it just dinged for like two minutes. It must have been 100 of them," Mullinax says. "And there was a group of folks looking at me and laughing because they knew what was going on and they were like, 'Yeah that's what happens around here.'"