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Milsap in 1974
|Ronnie Lee Milsap|
January 16, 1943|
Robbinsville, North Carolina, U.S.
|Genres||Country, blue-eyed soul, soft rock|
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, keyboards|
Ronnie Lee Milsap (born January 16, 1943) is an American country music singer and pianist. He was one of country music's most popular and influential performers of the 1970s and 1980s. He became one of the most successful and versatile country "crossover" singers of his time, appealing to both country and pop music markets with hit songs that incorporated pop, R&B, and rock and roll elements. His biggest crossover hits include "It Was Almost Like a Song", "Smoky Mountain Rain", "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me", "I Wouldn't Have Missed It for the World", "Any Day Now", and "Stranger in My House". He is credited with six Grammy Awards and forty No. 1 country hits, third to George Strait and Conway Twitty. He was selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
Milsap was born January 16, 1943, in Robbinsville, North Carolina. A congenital disorder left him almost completely blind from birth. Abandoned by his mother as an infant, he was raised in poverty by his grandparents in the Smoky Mountains until the age of five, when he was sent to the Governor Morehead School for the blind in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Throughout his childhood, Milsap developed a passion for music, particularly the late-night radio broadcasts of country music, gospel music, and rhythm and blues. When he was seven years old, his instructors began to notice his musical talents. Soon afterward Milsap began studying classical music formally at Governor Morehead and learned several instruments, eventually mastering the piano. At age 14, he had very limited vision in his left eye. A slap from one of the school's house parents caused him to lose that limited vision. At that point, Milsap lost all interest in anything meaningful in life for several years.
With the national breakthrough of Elvis Presley in 1956, Milsap became interested in rock and roll music and formed a rock band with classmates in high school, The Apparitions. In concert, Milsap has often paid tribute to the legendary artists of the 1950s who inspired him including Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley.
Milsap was awarded a full college scholarship and briefly attended Young Harris College in Young Harris, GA, with plans to become a lawyer. During this time, Milsap joined a popular local R&B band called the Dimensions that played gigs in the Atlanta area, and became a regular attraction at the rough and rowdy Royal Peacock Club. In the fall of 1964, Milsap declined a scholarship to law school and left college to pursue a full-time career in music. He met Joyce Reeves one night at a dinner party during this period, and the two were married in 1965.
In 1963, Milsap met Atlanta disc jockey Pat Hughes who became an early supporter of his music career. Milsap recorded his first single, "Total Disaster/It went to your head", which enjoyed some local success in the Atlanta area. The single sold 15,000 copies with the help of Hughes, who played the record on his radio show. Around this same time, Milsap auditioned for a job as a keyboardist for musician J.J. Cale. In 1965, Milsap signed with New York-based Scepter Records, recording several obscure singles for the label over the next few years and working briefly with other soul musicians like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and James Brown.
Also in 1965, Milsap scored his first hit with the Ashford & Simpson-penned single, "Never Had It So Good", which peaked at No. 19 on the R&B chart in November of that year. It would be his only successful single during his time with Scepter. Milsap cut another Ashford & Simpson tune, "Let's Go Get Stoned", that was relegated to a B-side. A few months later, it became a million-selling single for Ray Charles who heard and liked Milsap's version of the song so much that he decided to record it himself. Milsap's Scepter recording of "Ain't no soul left in these old shoes" eventually found popularity in England, where northern DJ's discovered it and it became a floor filler in northern soul clubs.
In the late 1960s, after moving to Memphis, Tennessee, Milsap worked for producer Chips Moman and became a popular weekly attraction at the Memphis nightclub T.J.'s. During this time, Moman helped Milsap land work as a session musician on numerous projects including several recordings with Elvis Presley such as: "Don't Cry Daddy" in 1969 and "Kentucky Rain" in 1970. That same year, Milsap made the lower reaches of the pop charts with the single "Loving You Is a Natural Thing". He recorded and released his debut album, Ronnie Milsap, on Warner Brothers in 1971. The album is a lost, obscure classic that was re-issued on CD in 2006.
In December 1972, Milsap relocated to Nashville after a chance meeting with country music star Charley Pride who was in the audience for a Milsap gig at the nightclub Whiskey A-Go-Go. Pride was impressed with Milsap's singing and encouraged him to change course and focus on country music. Milsap began working with Pride's manager, Jack D. Johnson, and was signed to RCA Records in 1973. He released his first single for RCA that year, "I Hate You", which became his first country music success, peaking at No. 10 on the country chart. In 1974, Milsap toured with Pride as an opening act and had two No. 1 singles: "Pure Love" [written by Eddie Rabbitt] and the Kris Kristofferson composition "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" which won Milsap his first Grammy. In 1975, he revived the Don Gibson song "(I'd Be) A Legend in My Time" and scored another No. 1 hit with "Daydreams About Night Things".
From 1976 to 1978, Milsap became one of country music's biggest stars. He scored seven No. 1 singles in a row, including the Grammy-winning "(I'm a) Stand by My Woman Man" and "What a Difference You've Made in My Life". The most significant of this series was "It Was Almost Like a Song" in 1977, a dramatic piano-based ballad that showcased his soaring vocal range and became his most successful single of the 1970s. In addition to topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, the song was his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart since "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" reached No. 95; "It Was Almost Like a Song," reached No. 16. It was also his first song to make the Adult Contemporary Chart, stopping at No. 7. While the song was Milsap's only crossover success of the 1970s, he continued to achieve hits on the country music charts for the remainder of the decade.
Milsap's sound shifted toward string-laden pop ballads during the late 1970s which resulted in crossover success on the pop charts beginning in the early 1980s. From 1980 until 1983, he scored a series of eleven No. 1 singles. Milsap's Greatest Hits album, released in 1980, included a new single, "Smoky Mountain Rain", which became a No. 1 smash on the country charts. The single peaked in the Top 20 on the pop music chart and also became the first of two Milsap songs to score No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
Other crossover successes included the Top 5 pop single, "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me", and two Top 20 songs in "I Wouldn't Have Missed It For the World" and "Any Day Now", the latter which lasted five weeks at No. 1 on Billboards Adult Contemporary chart. He also had some success with "He Got You". All four songs reached No. 1 on the country music charts. In the Philippines, ironically, his biggest hit was the country ballad "Is It Over", which came from his 1983 album "Keyed Up". However, this was never released as a single in the U.S.
Although the series of No. 1 hits ended in 1983, the last song of the series, "Stranger in My House", was still successful on all three charts, peaking at No. 5 on the country music chart, No. 23 on the pop music chart, and No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Just a few months later, "Don't You Know How Much I Love You" was released, becoming Milsap's last significant entry on the pop music chart, stopping at No. 58. However, it along with others still became major successes on the Adult Contemporary chart. These successful singles include "Show Her", "Still Losing You", and finally, the Grammy-winning song "Lost in the Fifties Tonight" (his last pop crossover success) in 1985.
Like other artists of the same era such as Linda Ronstadt, Glen Campbell, Marty Robbins, and Ray Charles, Milsap's albums during the 1980s often featured songs in a variety of musical styles that showcased his remarkable range and versatility as a singer. Milsap, in fact, became the first country music artist to be played in full rotation on legendary rock music channel MTV with his 1984 single "She loves my car". In his 1990 autobiography, Milsap explains: "I'm a singer, not a vocal stylist. My breathing is correct; my enunciation is precise. Because of that, I can sing anybody's music. Yet there are stylists whose technical skills are so underdeveloped they can sing only their own songs their own way. They might be remembered for their hits longer than I am. I'll probably be working longer than they are. I can sing whatever the times and the trends demand."
Between 1985 and 1987, Milsap enjoyed a series of uninterrupted No. 1 country singles, enjoying great success at this time with "She Keeps the Home Fires Burning", "In Love", "Snap Your Fingers", "Where Do the Nights Go", and the grammy-winning duet with Kenny Rogers, "Make No Mistake, She's Mine".
In 1989, Milsap had his last No. 1 song with "A Woman in Love", although he still remained successful on the charts. Other Top 10 singles between 1989 and 1991 include "Houston Solution", "Stranger Things Have Happened", "Turn That Radio On", a remake of the 1950s hit "Since I Don't Have You" (his last adult contemporary hit) and "Are You Loving Me Like I'm loving You". With the help of writer Tom Carter, Milsap wrote and released his autobiography titled "Almost like a Song" in 1990.
In 1992, he had a major success with "All Is Fair in Love and War". The song featured rock guitarist Mark Knopfler on lead guitar and peaked at No. 11; his last top-40 country hit, "True Believer," peaked in 1993 at No. 30. By that time, however, Milsap's chart success began to decline, as did that of most other country stars of the 1970s and 1980s, in the wake of major changes in the country industry that pushed most of the older stars of the industry out of rotation on the wave of new country stations that signed on at that time.
Milsap has remained one of country music's best-loved and most successful artists despite the lack of radio airplay since the mid-1990s. In 1993, he left RCA for Liberty and released the album True Believer which failed to achieve significant radio airplay, although the title track song scored No. 30 on the country chart. In 2000, Milsap resurfaced with a two-CD set, 40 No. 1 Hits, featuring a new single entitled "Time, Love, and Money". The new collection earned a gold record although the single failed to score on the charts.
In 2000, Milsap's biography was featured by A&E Networks's Biography television series. Milsap has also been featured by CMT's numerous shows, including 40 Greatest Men of Country Music and a 2005 episode of Crossroads with Tex-Mex rock group Los Lonely Boys.
During 2004, Milsap worked with producer Jerry F. Sharell to record his first non-country album since the early 1970s, Just for a Thrill. The project was a collection of American popular/jazz music standards which earned Milsap a Grammy award nomination that year. In 2006, Milsap signed with his former company RCA and returned to a mainstream, contemporary country music style with the album My Life. The first single was "Local Girls" which reached No. 54.
In 2009, Milsap released a two-CD set entitled Then Sings My Soul which featured 24 hymns and gospel songs, including "Up To Zion". "Up To Zion" was co-written by Gregory James Tornquist and Noreen Crayton and became a No. 1 hit on the southern gospel charts. On May 12, 2010, he was part of a Gaither Video Taping.
Milsap's next studio album,Country Again, was released in July 2011. The CD was a return to a more traditional country sound. The first single, "If You Don't Want Me To", is a previous Milsap recording from 1980.
On May 2, 2013, Milsap performed at the memorial service of country legend George Jones, singing the Jones classic "When the Grass Grows Over Me". The service was broadcast live on CMT, GAC, RFD-TV, The Nashville Network, and Family Net as well as Nashville stations. SiriusXM and WSM 650AM, home of the Grand Ole Opry, broadcast the event on radio.
On December 27, 2013, it was announced that Milsap would release a new album. Summer #17 was released in March 2014. The album features new recordings of classic pop and R&B songs from the 1950s and 60's.
In November 2014, Milsap announced he would embark on a final concert tour. "You get to a place where you still have your health, but you know it's not given," explained Milsap. "I've been blessed with so many great songs, so many wonderful memories and stories -- and some of the very best fans in the business. Before I get to a place where it's not a celebration of the music, I want to go out and play all these hits for the people who love them as much as I do."
In 2016, Milsap was selected as one of 30 artists to perform on "Forever Country", a mash-up track of Take Me Home, Country Roads, On the Road Again and I Will Always Love You which celebrates 50 years of the CMA Awards.
Milsap recorded a song in 2009, titled "My First Ride," as a fundraiser to benefit firefighters and police officers in the United States and Canada. The song features Trace Adkins as a guest vocalist and 70 percent of all proceeds are donated to the fund. After the song's initial release, however, the Nashville division of Capitol Records (of which Adkins was an artist on its roster at the time) allegedly reneged on promotion of it without explanation. On September 24, 2009, Milsap and a group of Tennessee firefighters and volunteers picketed the Capitol Nashville office because the company refused to service the record to radio and iTunes four weeks after its release. Milsap marched with the group of fifty people to the front steps of the office, then sang the new single from atop a vintage fire truck. The demonstration was peaceful and, after the performance, the group was asked to leave by building security. Milsap said:
We came here to raise awareness about this worthy cause... What record label wouldn't want to be part of raising money for this much needed fund that helps firefighters and police officers who desperately need it?
Country Music Hall of Fame 2014 Inductee
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