It was something that Ronnie Milsap had been hearing from his fans for a while, and then a conversation with good friend and award-winning air personality Eddie Stubbs brought it home.
“Quite often, I’ll go over there to WSM and sit with him at night while he’s talking to 38 states and parts of Canada. He, as well as a lot of my fans were asking me when I was going to make another Country album.” Milsap wondered about the commercial viability of such an album, especially in today’s marketplace. “I asked him if he thought it would sell, and he said “I don’t know that it would, but I think you ought to find out.’ So, with his encouragement, I began to turn my full attention to making another Country album. It was so fun to do, and we found the right songs, I think. We made something that is versed in whatever kind of Country that you’re looking for, whether it’s today’s more high-energy Country or yesterday’s Traditional Country, I do it all.”
For Stubbs’ support, Milsap lists the Grand Ole Opry announcer as the executive producer of his new album, aptly titled Country Again. Stubbs said that distinction is an honor.
“Ronnie listed me as the Executive Producer on his own initiative,” said Stubbs. “I’m very honored that he would do that. In reality, all I really did was encourage Ronnie for over ten years that he needed to do two projects. The first was a gospel album, and the second was a traditional country album in the vein of songs like ‘That Girl Who Waits On Tables,’ and ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me.’ Ronnie did the gospel album Then Sings My Soul first, and that two-CD set has been very well received and has sold quite well. We’re all anticipating that this new traditional country project will do equally well, if not better. There is a tremendous audience out there that is hungry to hear Ronnie in this setting. I also believe that same audience would embrace yet an even harder-core, more-traditional collection. Who knows, if this album is successful maybe Ronnie will decide to go that route and delve even further back to a sound and feel reminiscent of his childhood roots.”
Many of the tracks do have that same feel as his early output for RCA back in the 1970s. Take a song like “You’re The Reason I’m Living,” for example. With the background singers chiming in on the opening, it sounds like something that Chet Atkins would have cut on Jim Reeves in Studio B some fifty years ago.
Ronnie likes that comparison, saying “A lot of people will say ‘Background singers. That’s not cool to do on a record, but it is in my mind.’ I remember asking Chet many times about artists he produced. At one time, he was a producer, head of RCA, and doing his own records, and shows. I asked him once, ‘How in the world did you do all that? He said, ‘Ronnie, we just didn’t think about it.”
Title aside, Country Again is not a totally retro Country album. Keep in mind, this is the artist who was equally at home at Pop / AC radio in the 1980s with songs like “Any Day Now” and “Smoky Mountain Rain,” so there are some songs that echo that sound, like “Fireworks” and the current single “If You Don’t Want Me To (The Freeze),” which Milsap has carried around for a while.
“This has been kicking around for a long time on the B-side of several of our singles,” he tells MNN. “Jukeboxes played it down in Louisiana, and they made a dance on the song. It’s a line dance called “The Freeze.” They’ll do it at any celebration, a wedding, or any kind of get-together where people are having fun. A lot of times I’ll be playing down there, and they’ll say ‘You’ve got to do ‘The Freeze.’ We’re going to make you play it five times before you get out of the building.’ People have started asking why it isn’t on a CD? So, it is now!”
Milsap blends both new and old sounds on the thumping title cut. On the verses, he takes a very modern-day Country sound, only to go in a completely different style on the chorus. He says that recording the song was a lot of fun.
“It goes along just fine at 4/4 time, and then you get to the chorus, and you switch to ¾ time. I thought that was a clever move to make, and the drummer who was present on that session, he worked out a real clever way to get us into that. Then, through the Time Jumpers, I discovered what a great singer Dawn Sears is. She sings on that one, and “Cry Cry Darling,’ alluding to his cover of the 1954 Jimmy Newman hit. “You’re always looking for singers around town that might be able to enhance your records. Well, she’s a great enough singer to do that.”
Not only is Milsap a great singer himself, but he’s a pretty good judge of what makes an album great. He has won four CMA Album of the Year trophies over the years, a testament to his song-picking prowess. “I think I just get consumed in doing the project. I don’t think too much about it. Once it gets out, if it works, someone will always ask ‘Can you do something like that again? It was that way with ‘It Was Almost Like A Song.’ Once that song became a million-seller, people would ask for something like that. But, you have to find the right song to pull that off. You can never go in and duplicate anything. You can do something similar, but this was a fun project. It puts us right back in the heat of things, and the chaos of everything. It’s going to be fun playing shows out on the road with a new project.”
And, speaking of awards, Milsap has won virtually every award in Country Music but induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and several industry insiders say that could very well come next year. “Well, I figure if that happens, it’s going to happen whenever it’s time for it to. If it does, I would be honored to be there, of course. I don’t think you need to live your life trying to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but I think the work speaks for itself, and when it gets time for you to be in there, they will put you in.”
Being in the Hall of Fame would put him in an elite class of Country stars, including Reeves, who Milsap saluted in song with his 1981 album Out Where The Bright Lights Are Glowing, which remains a career highlight. “I always wondered how they sold that album internationally. When I first met Keith Urban, he said ‘Ronnie, down in Australia, we had that album on our turntable all the time. They distributed that overseas in a lot of the same places where Jim Reeves was popular. We only had one single, “Am I Losing You,” off that project.”
At the end of the day, Eddie Stubbs feels that Milsap fans will be very much impressed with the music they hear on Country Again. “The great thing about Ronnie Milsap is that he’s truly a multi-faceted artist. He can’t be pigeon-holed, which is a good thing. Ronnie has been blessed with such a voice that he could sing the tax code and people would buy it. He is a ‘singer’s singer,’ who creatively still has many ideas and songs yet to record. Those who have been effected by the music of Ronnie Milsap are certainly richer because his enormous contributions.”
by Chuck Dauphin