Ronnie Milsap Biography

Ronnie Lee Millsaps, 16 January 1943, Robbinsville, North Carolina, USA. Milsap’s mother had already experienced a stillbirth and the prospect of raising a blind child made her mentally unstable. Milsap’s father took him to live with his grandparents and divorced his mother. What little vision young Ronnie had was lost after receiving a vicious punch from a schoolmaster; both his eyes have now been removed. He studied piano, violin and guitar at the State School for the Blind in Raleigh, and although he had the ability to study law, he chose instead to be a professional musician. After some workouts with J.J. Cale and a 1963 single, ‘Total Disaster’, for the small Princess label, he toured Playboy clubs with his own band from 1965. Among his recordings for Scepter were early compositions by Ashford And Simpson, including the memorable ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’, relegated to a b-side. A few months later it was a million-selling single for another blind pianist, Ray Charles. Following a residency at TJ’s club in Memphis, Milsap performed at the 1969 New Year’s Eve party for Elvis Presley. Presley invited him to sing harmony on his sessions for ‘Don’t Cry Daddy’ and ‘Kentucky Rain’, ironically the only time he has been part of a UK chart hit.

After several recordings with smaller labels, Milsap made Ronnie Milsap for Warner Brothers Records, with top soul and country musicians. He worked throughout 1972 at Roger Miller’s King Of The Road club in Nashville, and then signed with RCA Records. Where My Heart Is was a tuneful, country collection including the US country hits ‘I Hate You’ and ‘The Girl Who Waits On Tables’. ‘Pure Love’ is an uplifting country great, while Don Gibson’s ‘(I’d Be) A Legend In My Time’ was even more successful. In 1975, Milsap came to the UK as Glen Campbell’s opening act, and the strength of his concert performances can be gauged from RCA’s In Concert double album, hosted by Charley Pride, during which he duets with Dolly Parton on ‘Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ and tackles a wild rock ‘n’ roll medley. His live album from the Grand Old Opry shows a great sense of humour - ‘You don’t think I’m gonna fall off this stage, do you? I got 20 more feet before the edge. That’s what the band told me.’ He had a crossover hit - number 16 on the US pop charts - with Hal David’s ‘It Was Almost Like A Song’. Milsap bought a studio from Roy Orbison, GroundStar, and continued to record prolifically. In 1979, RCA sent an unmarked, pre-release single to disc jockeys, inviting them to guess the performer. The funky seven-minute disco workout of ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ was by Milsap, but, more often than not, he was moving towards the Barry Manilow market.

Milsap also helped with the country music score for Clint Eastwood’s movie Bronco Billy, and he recorded a flamboyant tribute album to Jim Reeves, Out Where The Bright Lights Are Glowing. A revival of Chuck Jackson’s ‘Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)’ reached number 14 on the US pop charts and also became Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Song Of The Year. His 1986 release, Lost In The Fifties Tonight, had doo-wop touches, but the album should have remained completely in that mould. A year later, Milsap and Kenny Rogers recorded the country number 1 duet, ‘Make No Mistake, She’s Mine’. He moved away from synthesizers and sounded more country than ever on ‘Stranger Things Have Happened’. Remaining a formidable force in US country music, Milsap enjoyed his thirty-fifth US country number 1 with a Hank Cochran song, ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurtin’ Me)’. It showed remarkable consistency by an artist with little traditional country music to his name. His last number 1 was ‘A Woman In Love’ in 1989, after which his commercial fortunes finally began to decline. He left RCA in 1992 and signed to Liberty Records, but was unable to break back into the charts. He re-signed to Warner Brothers in the late 90s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.