Raised in western North Carolina, Milsap's rise to success is one of the most inspiring in all of show business. There were more than enough strikes against him when he was born into a family of modest means in the rugged Smoky Mountain region. In addition to being born sightless, Milsap's parents divorced when he was very young so his paternal grandparents raised him. He was fortunate that his elders were great believers in education, enrolling him in the Governor Morehead School for the Blind when he was five. His interest in music was encouraged there, beginning with the bluegrass and gospel indigenous to the area. He broadened his knowledge with ten years of studies of the classical music field, developing a love for such masters as Bach and Mozart. Milsap's interest in country music came naturally for he was in the heart of Carolina hillbilly country and the '50s airwaves were filled with music by Hank and Lefty, Webb and Eddy, Ernest and Red.
Ronnie had mastered the basics of violin, piano and guitar by the age of ten and in his mid-teenage years started his first band, Ronnie Milsap and the Apparitions, playing locally in the years before he moved to Atlanta to study pre-law at Young Harris Junior College. Though he had an opportunity to continue his legal studies with a scholarship to prestigious Emory University, Milsap chose music, opting for an uncertain future at the very tender age of 19. He married lovely blonde Joyce this same year, beginning a union that has lasted 33 years to date and produced son Todd, now in his late twenties.
Ronnie and Joyce lived a vagabond existence for the next eight years. He toured for awhile with J.J. Cale and also honed his musical skills and credits in Atlanta, Memphis, Houston (where these sides were recorded in the late '60s) and finally, Nashville, where he attracted the attention of artist manager Jack D. Johnson, at the time enjoying major success for steering the career of Charley Pride. By this time Milsap had accumulated plenty of experience and had already recorded for Scepter, Chips Records (run by eccentric Memphian Chips Moman), Warner Brothers and these sides for Crazy Cajun. His time at Chips actually produced in a minor pop chart record, "Loving You Is A Natural Thing", in 1970. In addition, Ronnie played on records by Elvis, Petula Clark and Dionne Warwick during his years in Memphis.
During those years, Milsap perfected his own blend of soul, country and rock and also developed a remarkable stage show that inevitably moved those in attendance to dancing, frequently on table tops or even onstage with him and the band. After a stint as the house band at TJ's in Memphis, Milsap moved over to claim the same spot at Roger Miller's King of the Road hotel in Nashville, drawing raves from the industry for his showmanship and seemingly endless repertoire of rock, pop, soul and country hits. Stumping him with a shouted request from the audience was next to impossible.
In 1973, Johnson convinced RCA's Chet Atkins and Jerry Bradley to take a chance on this blind, white r'n'b performer. It didn't hurt a bit that this was the same label that Charley Pride called home. Milsap fashioned his first country chart record, "I Hate You" in late June, reaching #10 on the Billboard chart. His next single, "That Girl Who Waits On Tables" hit #11, then, in March of 1975 Milsap released "Pure Love", written by Eddie Rabbitt. It raced to #1. "Pure Love" kicked off one of the most amazing success skeins in country music history: he released 54 singles for RCA between mid 1975 and 1991 -- every one made it to at least #6 and 45 hit the Top 3! He racked up strings of seven, ten and eight consecutive #1 hits and was such a radio fixture during this period that three of his old Warner Bros. and Chips sides even charted, with one, his version of Mickey Newbury's "She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye", reaching #15.
Milsap fell from grace with country radio in the early-'90s when country went through their "youth movement" that saw virtually all acts over 35 unceremoniously dumped, regardless of pedigree or past achievements. Though some would have considered this a disaster, Milsap found the silver lining in that cloud by viewing the break as an opportunity to escape the treadmill and reassess his priorities. "It seemed like there never was a break from touring and recording. It went on endlessly. I kept wondering how this thing was eventually going to stop. You need to figure out why you wanted to do this to begin with. Most of us that do this love music so much".
Rested and refreshed, with his priorities readjusted, Milsap signed with Warner Bros. in 1998. He returned to the studio later that year to work with acclaimed writer/artist/producer Rodney Crowell overseeing the sessions for an album expected early in 1999. But, until that album emerges, you can go back, back thirty years and listen to the fascinating music made in the very early stages of his career by one of the greatest country performers in history -- Ronnie Milsap!
John Lomax III, September 1998