<

P.O. BOX 456 - WINCHESTER. VA. 22604
1-540-722-4625

 

RONNIE MILSAP

 

If the cover didn't say Ronnie Milsap, the listener would probably have no idea the singer on Just For A Thrill is a country artist.
Just For A Thrill is, after all, a traditional pop album-swinging brass sections, romantic string arrangements, tender lyrics and not an ounce of twang. Founded on titles by such classic songwriters as Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Sammy Cahn and Jerome Kern, the album oozes with sentiment and swings with authority.
It's an authentic standards album from an artist who has proven himself authentic in a variety of genres.
''If you're able to do it, you ought to do it,'' Milsap says of the format hopping he's done throughout his career. ''I've just never been into the whole idea of separating the artists. I understand they have to do that, but it's always been hard for me to stay in one place.''
Not that Milsap has needed to narrow his output. He's moved successfully between R&B, pop and-of course-country in his career, amassing 40 #1 records, ten gold and platinum albums and six Grammy awards along the way.
Even within the country genre, he's shown an enormous stylistic breadth, recalling the doo-wop era with ''Lost In The Fifties Tonight,'' becoming the first major country artist to employ synthesizers in ''It Was Almost Like A Song,'' threading heavy rock influences into ''Stranger In My House'' and channeling James Taylor in ''(There's) No Gettin' Over Me.''
But traditional pop songs have gnawed at his psyche ever since he was a kid, first listening to the radio in eastern Tennessee and North Carolina. Milsap quickly became a fan of Jo Stafford and Nat King Cole, although his biggest influence among classic pop singers would mirror his own restless stylistic spirit.
''You'd think Frank Sinatra would be the guy,'' Milsap allows, ''but to me, it was Bobby Darin. Bobby Darin was always the coolest of all the cool. He came out of rock & roll and then moved into this area of music, which apparently he knew very well. He was kind of a mix of everything.''
During the era when Darin recorded ''Splish Splash'' and ''Mack The Knife,'' Milsap studied classical music at
North Carolina 's Governor Morehead School for the Blind, but augmented his studies by finding the notes and chord structures to his favorite pop songs on the keyboard after class. By the time he attended college in Atlanta , it appeared his future was more likely tied to the legal bar than to the jazz musician's ''eight to the bar'' pursuits.
But Milsap developed a friendship with Ray Charles, who also stretched his vocal tentacles in a myriad of styles, establishing a classic of his own with Hoagy Carmichael's traditional pop standard ''Georgia On My Mind.''
''I met Ray at a show and got to play for him,'' Milsap recalls, ''and I said, 'I'm thinkin' of goin' in either an academic career, goin' into law school, or music.' He heard me play and sing and said, 'You got a lot of music in your heart, son. You need to follow your heart.' So I did.''
Initially, that led Milsap to
New York 's Scepter Records, where he recorded R&B alongside such label mates as Dionne Warwick, Chuck Jackson, The Isley Brothers and The Shirelles.
For a time, Milsap had a regular gig playing piano at
Atlanta 's Playboy Club. By the late-1960s, he was a featured musician in Memphis clubs, weaving traditional pop classics into his setlist during several New Year's Eve shows for Elvis Presley. In 1972, Milsap moved to Nashville to take up residence at Roger Miller's King of the Road Hotel (now a Days Inn in the shadow of the Tennessee Titans' football stadium). The club was a favorite of country music executives, but it didn't stop Milsap from showing off his musical flexibility.
''The first set I would just do all instrumental piano stuff-Ahmad Jamal or Ramsey Lewis,'' he notes. ''I'd sing some easier stuff in the second hour, and I would work up to my R&B stuff after midnight, because I liked so many different types of music. That's just the way I am.''
The King of the Road performances earned him a country-recording contract, and within short order, Milsap was a bona fide star, turning out hits steadily for a 20-year period.
During one of his biggest commercial periods, he watched with envy when Willie Nelson released his own traditional pop album, Stardust, in 1978. Milsap began collecting songs for a similar project in the 1980s, though his record company politely passed on the idea.
Years later, in 2001, Milsap played the House of Blues on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, and at breakfast the next day, former Elektra/Asylum Records exec Jerry Sharell rekindled the idea of recording a standards album. The two, along with Ronnie's long-time producer, Rob Galbraith, began sorting through about 200 song possibilities until they settled on the 14 titles on Just For A Thrill, songs originally associated with such artists as Johnnie Ray, Dinah Washington, Fats Waller and Mel Torme.
Milsap and Sharell employed arrangers Sammy Nestico (Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby) and Jimmie Haskell (Bobbie Gentry, Sheryl Crow, Chicago), along with frequent Milsap collaborator Charlie Calello, (Four Seasons, Gloria Gaynor) rounded up some of the best horn players in Los Angeles, and took a stack of music charts into the legendary Capitol Studios, where Sinatra, Nat Cole and Dean Martin recorded some of their best-known efforts.
The bulk of the album was made amidst the crowded chaos of an orchestra, a rhythm section, a big band and a ton of guests, but it took only a speedy three days to record.
''Most of these things went down in two or three takes,'' Milsap marvels. ''It's not like they had to keep doin' it over and over. They would do a rundown for rehearsal, and to check levels for the engineers. Maybe they'd do another run-through, but usually by the third time, it's as good as it's gonna be with these guys, 'cause they read and interpret so well.''
Of course, Milsap also sings the material quite well himself. He captures the torment of the title track, the sweetness of ''My Funny Valentine'' and the brashness of ''I Don�t Want Nobody To Have My Love But You'' with a characteristic ease, as if he'd been singing these songs all his life. Which, in fact, he has.

 

 

 

I