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Ronnie Milsap Excited To Be Singing 'Country Again'

Ronnie says that his new CD is as close to his debut country album, 'Where My Heart Is,' as he's ever recorded.

Ronnie Milsap goes back to the future on his new album, 'Country Again,' just as the main character in the title cut does. Like that character, who finds that country music is alive and well in the future, the singer is betting that country music will be relevant in his future, too. In fact, Ronnie says that his new CD is as close to his debut country album, 'Where My Heart Is,' as he's ever recorded.

The country/soul legend has a ready explanation for recording his current album of pure country tunes. He says many of his fans asked him through the years if he would ever veer from his pop-country success to go back to his early roots.

"When people started asking me that, I told them I would if I could find the songs and get the performances that I wanted," Ronnie tells The Boot. "Back in 2006, when I recorded 'My Life' for RCA, I started finding songs that I thought would fit for this project. I held on to them until I was ready to record."

Produced by longtime friend and associate Rob Galbraith, the album, a joint venture between Milsap Music Group and the Bigger Picture Group, is a collection of tunes that some would call classic Milsap. "My feeling was that the fans would support it. To me, it's a new day; it's almost like starting all over," Ronnie says.

Now that the single, 'If You Don't Want Me To,' has been released, Ronnie feels that his initial thoughts were right. "Everybody is excited about the song. They've seen the video, and they're talking about the single being played on the radio. It's a great time, and it looks like we're off to a wonderful start."

'If You Don't Want Me To' already has a history with Ronnie's fans. The song was first recorded by the North Carolina native in 1979 and was the B-side of four different singles, all because of its popularity around Lafayette, La., where a dance called the Freeze became one of the most popular line dances to hit the clubs. Jukebox operators loved the tune because people would play it and dance.

"Whenever I play a show in that area, I always have to sing the song two or three times," Ronnie explains. "When it first came out as a B-side, I was told if I'd release it as a single it would sell a million copies. I guess we'll find out," he adds.

When he decided to include the song on the album, Ronnie went back and found the original 1979 master for 'If You Don't Want Me To,' made some additions to it, remixed it, and crafted it to sound as current as everything else on the new CD. "We shot the video with a lot of folks dancing to the Freeze. In Louisiana they play the song for just about any social event."

Ronnie took his time to find just the right songs for 'Country Again.' The title cut is the story of a guy who builds a time machine from an old Dodge while the whole town thinks he's crazy. He proves them wrong as he blasts into the future, only to come back with quite a few tales of what the future will bring, including cars that fly and robots and skyscrapers a mile high. The thing that most impresses the time traveler, however, is what he hears on the radio, "... it was country again, so the future looks bright; those folks of tomorrow play their music right ..."

Ronnie tapped into veteran songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall's storehouse of tunes and recorded 'Even Fools Get Lucky,' one of the gems from his 2006 search. While visiting with Nashville legend Cowboy Jack Clement, the veteran producer and songwriter played him 'Trapped in an Old Country Song.' The lyrics convey the universal message fans already know -- that country songs are portrayals of moments of truth from their lives.

Ronnie also pays tribute to several musical icons on the CD, including Grand Ole Opry legend Jimmy C. Newman, whose had a 1954 hit with 'Cry, Cry Darlin.' Ronnie's version features Dawn Sears on vocals, and the singer also lends his special touch to the Johnny Paycheck hit, 'For a Minute There.' Emotions run wild on the Bobby Darin hit, 'You're the Reason I'm Living.'

While Ronnie is known for numerous pop-country hits, including 'Lost in the Fifties Tonight,' 'Stranger in My House' and 'Any Day Now,' his earlier songs such as '(I'd Be) A Legend in My Time,' 'It Was Almost Like a Song' and 'Smoky Mountain Rain' were pure country. The singer credits former RCA label executive Joe Galante for his crossover success in the 1980s.

"There was a time that every album I came out with was a country album, and then after 'Almost Like a Song' was a million seller and a crossover, the record company wanted me to replicate that," Ronnie remembers. "Joe is one of the best record men I ever worked with. He taught me to be a multi-format artist, and he told me I could cut records that would go No. 1 in all categories, and then I'd sell more records. He was right."

One of the first things Galante asked Ronnie to do to step outside the country boundaries in 1979 was to cut a disco record. "I went in and cut two songs," the singer recalls. "One was a remake of 'High Heel Sneakers,' and then I found this song from a new songwriter named Robert Byrne called 'Get It Up.' We cut that thing and Galante heard it and he said 'Put that on the B-side of your new single.' So we did and one side went Top 5 country and the other side went Top 30 pop. So I'm thinking to myself, 'Joe Galante is right.' What Joe did by encouraging me to do that kind of thing was he got me fired up about recording."

With 'Country Again' being on Ronnie's own label, he may soon find what it's like to walk in Galante' footsteps. "If I try to emulate anyone it would be him," Ronnie admits. "I definitely want other people on the label -- comedians, singers -- everybody has a home studio now with their computers, and it's a fun time. As far as being an executive, I don't know too much about that yet, but I do look forward to finding some new talent."

When Ronnie first moved to Nashville, Jerry Bradley, then head of RCA, knew him as an R&B singer with a Top 5 single, 'Never Had It So Good.' Bradley wasn't inclined to believe Ronnie could cut a country record. The singer recorded 'I Hate You' and 'All Together Now, Let's Fall Apart,' changing Bradley's mind. He signed him to a one-year deal at RCA, resulting in the hits 'Too Late To Worry, Too Blue to Cry,' 'Daydreams About Night Things' and 'After Sweet Memories Play Born to Lose Again.'

"We went in with those last two songs and Jerry told me that they could not both exist on the same 45 [record] because they could both be singles. I always got his input when it came to recording."

Ronnie is as excited about his new project as he was those early recordings for RCA. "This is in some ways what it was like when I first started in Nashville, when I first got here in 1973. It's like taking another swing at it. My brand name has stayed around awhile, and I appreciate that the fans have made that happen."

by Vernell Hackett
AOL The Boot