Ronnie Milsap, who turns 71 years old today (January 16th), will celebrate with a private party at the recording studio he founded on Nashville’s famed Music Row. The legendary entertainer, who recorded for RCA throughout the Seventies and Eighties, was a mainstay for those two decades at RCA recording studios, including Studio B, which is now co-owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Belmont University’s music business school, which carries the name of music mogul Mike Curb. The adjacent building, RCA Studio A, has recently been at the center of a preservation battle that saw the historic location nearing demolition, until Curb and two other Tennessee philanthropists stepped in to stave off the wrecking ball.
For Milsap, whose RCA hits include the country-pop classics, “It Was Almost Like a Song,” “There’s No Getting’ Over Me” and “Stranger in My House,” among dozens of others, keeping such historic recording facilities operating is essential, if only for future generations to understand why such places are so significant.
“If you’re in the studio where Elvis recorded, that ought to mean something,” Milsap tells Rolling Stone Country. “The records that he recorded when he finally got to Nashville, it’s amazing how good they are. When the Jordanaires kick in, Elvis’ whole attitude changes. He finally gets the spark of magic that he’s looking for. They kept all the outtakes of Elvis at Studio B. He’s singing ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ and saying, ‘Let me see if I can struggle through this.’ That’s right there on your outtakes. [Laughs] We don’t have outtakes anymore with all this multi-track stuff.”
Another of the key factors to the magic that was created at RCA’s Nashville studios was singer and arranger Anita Kerr, whose Anita Kerr Singers were heard on dozens, if not hundreds of recordings beginning in the late 1950s.
“She saw so much go down at RCA Studio B,” Milsap says. “She recorded on all the great records and she arranged the strings for so many great records. I suspect that she was really the producer on ‘The End of the World,’ by Skeeter Davis. I can’t prove it until I talk to her, but I predict that was produced by Anita Kerr, with Chet Atkins’ name on it. Watching Chet, I know she knew how to produce records.”
In November of last year, a treasure trove of Milsap (and RCA) recordings was released as a boxed set. Boasting 21 of the singer’s albums for the label, the staggering RCA Albums Collection includes several of Milsap’s LPs which have never been available on CD before, including Out Where the Bright Lights Are Glowing, the 1981 tribute to one of Milsap’s greatest inspirations, country-pop pioneer Jim Reeves. The album features “Am I Losing You,” a Number Three hit for Reeves in 1957 and a Number One for Milsap in 1981.
“That’s a favorite of mine,” Milsap says fondly. “I was a true fan of Jim Reeves and I knew a lot of his songs. The closing song [written specifically for the LP], “Dear Friend,” says how I felt about Jim Reeves. Chet Atkins wrote the liner notes for it. I used to ask Chet all the time, ‘What did Jim Reeves do in the studio?’ He said, ‘Well, he liked to sing very close to the mic and the engineers would always ask him to back up. One day he kept getting close to the mic and there was nobody to tell them to stop. The engineer that had said that had passed on. From then on, he worked the mic like he always did.'”
Like Jim Reeves, Ronnie Milsap is now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. A new exhibit spotlighting Milsap’s career is due to open at the downtown Nashville museum on February 6th.