Country Singer Ronnie Milsap to Play Erie County Fair
To Play Erie County Fair
By Melanie Hulick
Milsap, who was once considered a cross-over artist has returned to his simple, classic country roots with his latest release, “Country Again”, in 2011- his first country oriented album in six years.
I caught up with the country legend recently and we talked about the album and he clued me in on his next album, which he is currently working on.
A four time Country Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year and a six time Grammy winner, Milsap still plays to sell out crowds and admits he loves to feed off of a live audience.
Born blind, Milsap has never let that slow him down. Instead he took what was in his heart and soul and took his place in the music industry and almost 40 years later still loves it as if it was still brand new to him.
Quoted as saying he “lives and breathes music everyday”, the singer tells me how close he was to foregoing that dream he had as a small child listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio with his family in the following conversation.
Our conversation was very casual and relaxed, almost like sitting on a big wrap around porch hanging out with a friend, and apparently Milsap enjoyed it as well as you will read when he describes his perfect day.
The show at the Erie County Fair is a free show, with your fair admission ticket and the singer is hoping that fans come out to share the evening with him.
A Conversation with Ronnie Milsap
By Melanie Hulick
HULICK: How’s the tour going?
MILSAP: Good. We started in early June and it runs till the end of the year.
HULICK: You like to feed off of a live audience don’t you?
MILSAP: Yes, I do. I love the live performance and the audience always creates electricity and I love all that.
HULICK: Do you get requests shouted out to you during the show?
MILSAP: Oh, yeah! One of these times I’m just going to say, “What do you folks want to hear?”
HULICK: (laughs) Is it usually always the same songs?
MILSAP: Not necessarily. A lot of times it’s ones that we haven’t played in four or five years.
HULICK: Your album, “Country Again” was released last year. How is that doing?
MILSAP: It’s doing great! We are actually working on the next album now. I’m either on the bus or in the studio it seems like.
HULICK: I love the liner notes that come with “Country Again” and I wanted to talk to you about a couple of them. You said that the first track on the album, “A Better Word For Love”, reminds you of the first couple of years of marriage. You’ve been married to your wife, Joyce, for 46 years now. What do you mean by that comment?
MILSAP: Well, as I was singing that song it just struck me that if you’re in that frame of mind, you’re going to be much more successful with the interpretation of that song. My producer and I were talking about the song and he said to think about when you were first married and sing it that way. It was a good piece of advice. It came out real well.
HULICK: The song, “Country Again”, speaks of the future looking brighter and down-home traditions, saying “I’m going back to country again”. Do you think that because of the world we live in today, that that is something we all need to do… take a step back and go back to the simpler times like that?
MILSAP: I think so. I’d like to think things might get better.
HULICK: Tell me the story behind the song, “Oh, Linda”, on the album.
MILSAP: Well, the one gentleman that wrote it happened to be on the same plane as me one time on my way to Dallas. He came up to me and asked if when I work with the songs if I have a copy of Braille lyrics. I said yeah, I actually work it up on my computer and send that over to an embosser and it prints Braille. And he said, “That’s what I want… I want a Braille copy of the lyrics so I can hold onto that, because I wrote this song and I can’t believe you recorded it on this album”! So I told him I’d send it over to my manager’s office and it would be waiting for him and he could pick it up over there.
HULICK: That’s a great story. This digital age we live in can be quite amazing as in your ability to emboss lyrics into Braille, but I would imagine it is also a completely different way of recording.
MILSAP: It is all different now. It’s all done on computers, and from being an analog type guy like I’ve been… well it is different. You know, I love the smell of analog tapes. That smells like solid gold, you know? But it is much easier to do it on computers, and if you want to get crazy about it you can make a record as perfect as you want it to be.
HULICK: That’s true, however that lends itself to someone who sounds great on the radio, doesn’t necessarily sound good when you see them live.
MILSAP: Yes, you’re right! The way it is today anybody can be a star. We could sing right here together now and I could build a record around that. Then I could send it to Atlanta to put the drums on, then to New York City to put the other instruments on and so forth. It’s amazing what you can do now. It’s a very exciting time to be alive.
HULICK: Your father loved bluegrass and growing up you listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio with your family. Did you know at that time that you wanted to be in the music business?
MILSAP: I sure did. I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. I studied classical music while I was in school in Raleigh, North Carolina. Then I learned Braille at age 6 and violin at 7, piano at 8 and ended up with 12 years of classical training. When I finished high school they said I made excellent grades and I qualified for a scholarship to college and I was asked where I wanted to go. I said I wanted to go somewhere and study music- I want to become a professional musician. Well they said no we don’t want you to do that, because you will wind up on the street and you’ll be a liability to the state of North Carolina, and you did so well academically why don’t you do something like become a teacher or a lawyer? So I left North Carolina for a college in North Georgia and the best thing about that whole experience was a teacher named Phil Miller who taught political science. Going to his class everyday made me think I really did like all this stuff. Then I went to a Ray Charles concert in Atlanta and his pilot was kind enough to let me back into Ray’s dressing room and I got to meet Ray. I told him he was truly the high priest and I had all his records and that I wanted to go into the music business but all the people who are sponsoring my education are telling me I need to be a lawyer or something like that. He had a piano in his dressing room and he said, “Play me something.” So I played him three songs and he said, “You know… you can be a lawyer if you want to, but there’s a lot of music in your heart and you ought to follow what your heart tells you to do.”
HULICK: Wow… what great advice and from such a legend.
MILSAP: Yeah, great advice. So I thought I’ll do that. He said just get around a lot of people that do what you like and soak it up.
HULICK: When you arrived in Nashville, it was singer Charley Pride’s manager that played a key role in your career, wasn’t it?
MILSAP: Yes. My wife and I lived in Memphis for four years and I got a lot of great studio experience working on some records with Elvis Presley as well as all kinds of other recordings, so I knew what making records was all about. I also learned what being in a studio was all about. When I got to Nashville then Charley Pride’s manager had heard me sing and he contacted me and said he wanted to manage me. So I went and talked to him on January 3rd in 1973 and I signed a contract with him and he leaned back in his chair, and in his very gruff voice said, “Now I can’t make you a star… you’ll have to do that yourself.” And I said, “Damn, why’d I sign this contract?” (laughs)
MILSAP: (laughs) He said, “You know what I mean.” So I got my contract with RCA and that was good for 20 years of hits.
HULICK: Wow! I tried scrolling down through your list of albums to count them and I gave up because there were so many. So can you just tell me how many you have recorded?
MILSAP: (laughs) It’s about 70 something.
HULICK: That’s amazing! And now you are working on a current album. Can you tell me a little about that?
MILSAP: These are newer songs and songs we’ve been lucky enough to go out and find and some that have worked their way to me by email. We also got some by way of a group that gets together and writes called Chicks with Hits.
MILSAP: (laughs) That’s exactly what they are. They’re song writers and they all come to a certain place and I went one week and sat and listened to some songs and picked up some new ones.
HULICK: Do you think because of the fact that you were born blind that you have a more intense and deeper connection with the music that you may not necessarily would have had?
MILSAP: I’ve often wondered that Melanie. But I have been so well trained and so adjusted to this way of life that if someone asked me if I could have music or sight, which one would I choose and I’d say music of course. There’s and interesting development today- I talked to a guy from the University of Wisconsin who said there are a lot of soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan who have lost their sight and they are developing a new technology which, and this is going to be interesting to see how this works, they’ll be able to see through their tongue.
MILSAP: Yeah! Just leave it to the ingenuity of America to come up with a solution for that. This may be a way for them to get their sight back.
HULICK: That’s incredible! So out of tragedy something good may come of it. I read that you going into country music was almost a missed opportunity. You made a demo of three country songs to have Jerry Bradley at RCA records listen to it and he thought of you as a rock and blues artist and wasn’t going to listen to it.
MILSAP: That’s right. He thought I was a rock and roll and rhythm and blues artist and he said he’d seen me and he’s a great rock and roll singer, but he’s not a country singer.
HULICK: So in a sense you were already put in a category and they were willing to pass on hearing the country demo. What a mistake that would have been.
MILSAP: Yeah… after he heard the three songs he said, “You know what? That son of a (gun) can sing country!”
HULICK: (laughs) Oh, my goodness!
HULICK: Do you have any advice for a long lasting marriage? As we talked earlier I mentioned that your wife Joyce and you have been married for 46 years. Is there a secret to it?
MILSAP: Oh, I wish I knew Melanie. I think it’s this way for any long term relationship, when it works it works. You don’t have to wonder how it works or why it works or even how to keep it alive… you just know.
HULICK: My husband and I have been married for 28 years.
MILSAP: Oh, that’s wonderful!
HULICK: You know these days it is not very popular to stay married for so long and remain true to that one person while you are married.
MILSAP: I agree. You know I am happy to say we have couples like Johnnie Wright and Kitty Wells, who just passed away, that were married seventy some years. It was just always a special relationship with them. It’s like I don’t even think about it… I go through every day like it’s another blessing; I don’t try to think what I can do to make it better today.
HULICK: When you get to this many years it just becomes natural… like breathing.
MILSAP: You are right Melanie, it does.
HULICK: Before I let you go, could you describe for me what your perfect day would be?
MILSAP: My perfect day… well it would most likely be very similar to today. I got up and came downstairs and had a good breakfast, checked my email, called some friends on the phone and then talked to you this afternoon. I don’t think it gets any better than that.
HULICK: Oh, that’s very sweet.
MILSAP: That’s a perfect day!