Photo courtesy of Ronnie Milsap
Lagniappe spoke with country music great Ronnie Milsap ahead of his Saenger performance.
Band: Ronnie Milsap
Date: Thursday, April 4, with doors at 6:30 p.m.
Venue: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St. (Mobile), mobilesaenger.com
Tickets: $48-$78 available through Ticketmaster
Keyboardist Ronnie Milsap used a long run of No. 1 singles and numerous Grammys and CMA awards to establish a permanent legacy in country music. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, Milsap’s warm vocals and smooth work on the keys delivered such hits as “Smoky Mountain Rain,” “Stranger in my House,” “Where Do the Nights Go” and many more.
Time has not slowed Milsap’s career. This country legend is currently celebrating the release of a unique greatest-hits album called “Duets” featuring Milsap crooning his hits alongside such notables as Luke Bryan, Kacey Musgraves, George Strait, Willie Nelson and the late Leon Russell.
Lagniappe Weekly got together with Milsap to discuss his career and the new album.
One thing that I admire about you is your persistence and dedication to your craft. I don’t think that you’ve stopped touring since you started. What keeps you on the road?
Well, I absolutely love it, Steve. The best band I’ve ever had. I’ve got great support people and a sound engineer. It’s just all people that I really care about. When I’m onstage with an audience, that’s the happiest I’ll ever be.
How would you compare touring now to when you first started?
It’s different. I remember our first run on the road in 1974 — that’s some time back. I opened a show in Greenville, South Carolina. I was on the show and Mel Street was on the show. I had a bite around four o’clock with Mel Street, and I said, “I can’t believe that I’m playing here with you. Just a year ago, I was in Memphis listening to ‘Borrowed Angel.’” That was his big record. So I played, and Mel Street played. Then, there was Tammy Wynette and George Jones. I was sitting in the lobby, and here comes Tammy through. She says, “Ronnie Milsap! What are you doing sitting here?” I said, “I’m just hanging out.” She said, “Well, you come hang out on the bus with George and me, okay?” I said, “All right, if that’s alright with you and George.” So I got to be around them quite early.
Touring is a lot different today. There’s not the love and camaraderie today that we had back then. I mean, I did a whole long tour with the Statler Brothers and Tammy Wynette and me. I’d go out and do a sound check, and Harold Reid [Statler Brothers] was there and said, “If Ronnie Milsap said it’s [sound check] all right, then it’s all right. We don’t have to go do one, if he says it’s all right.” I loved working with them. There’s not anything like that anymore, if you know what I’m saying, Steve.
Speaking of bonding, you’ve got this new album filled with duets. What made you want to do this album?
My producer and I were talking about it. Since I have not been that active in the studio in the last four or five years, I didn’t have a greatest hits package that I could put out. The producer said, “Why don’t we do an album with other artists and call it ‘Ronnie Milsap: Duets.’” I said, “Hey, why not?”
The engineer we were working with was close to Leon Russell. Leon said, “Can I be on that album?” We said, “Well, Lord yeah, Leon Russell! You’re the master of space and time. You can be on that album.” We recorded with him, and on the same day, a group came in called Lucy Angel. They were three girls that wanted to sing “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby.” All of a sudden, we got a couple of songs going. Then we called up Little Big Town and asked if they would sing on “Lost in the Fifties (In the Still of the Night).” They said, “Yeah, we’ll do that.” All of a sudden, they called up Luke Bryan and said, “You gotta be on this album!” Then Luke showed up the next day and sang “Stranger in my House.”
You know, the toughest part was coordinating schedules. Everybody has their own itineraries going. It’s like the other day we were with Little Big Town playing “The Tonight Show” up in New York with Jimmy Fallon. They had to go on to California to the Grammys. So, getting people in the studio at the same time is tough, but we did it.
We found this one song, “Southern Boys and Detroit Wheels.” I got this song 20 years ago from my CPA. I went in one day and said, “I want you to do my taxes.” He said, “Ronnie, there’s a cassette here that this guy wanted me to give to you. He thinks there’s a song on here.” So, that was 20 years ago. Now, I’m doing it with Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. So, it’s a great album, and I loved doing it.
For the one Kacey Musgraves did [“(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me”], she came in and sang another song, then she said, “Who’s doing this ‘No Gettin’ Over Me?’” My producer said, “We haven’t found out yet.” She said, “Let me sing it, and if you don’t like it, you can take me off.” Of course, we loved it. She’s real hot right now, and she won a bunch of Grammys. She’s very fun to be around and just a great artist.
You laid a lot of these tracks down in the analog days. How would you compare recording in the old school versus the new school?
Well, there’s some people who claim analog has a better, much warmer sound to it. I think digital is much more interesting. You’ve got so many different ways to manipulate something in the digital world. I didn’t know I was gonna like it until I got in it. Making a record today is much easier than it was 20 years ago on analog tape.
Like I said before, you’ve always maintained your persistence. What’s next for Ronnie Milsap?
We’re gonna be in Mobile on April 4, on a Thursday night. I know it’s gonna be a lot warmer than it is now. That’s gonna make it a lot better. The audience is gonna be warm, and we got a show put together with the best band I’ve ever had. We’re gonna make it happen and make folks feel something and feel some music and make them wanna shout a little bit.
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