It’s almost like a homecoming as well as almost like a song when Ronnie Milsap returns to Augusta because of so many local people tied to his extraordinary career.
His current and past musicians have included former Augustans like Jamie and Steve Brantley, Warren Gowers and Bruce Dees. Native Augustan Archie Jordan wrote or co-wrote many of Milsap’s biggest hits including It Was Almost Like A Song, What A Difference You Made In My Life, Let’s Take The Long Way Around The World, Santa Barbara, In No Time At All and Jesus Is Your Ticket To Heaven. And the late Mike Stewart of Aiken, S.C., co-wrote Milsap’s No. 1 hit Don’t You Know How Much I Love You.
Milsap will be heading back to Augusta for another concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Miller Theater, 708 Broad St. Tickets range from $49 to $99. Call (800) 514-3849 or buy online at millertheateraugusta.com.
The multiple Grammy Award winner and Country Music Association Hall of Famer performed with Symphony Orchestra Augusta in Bell Auditorium in February 2013 for a Valentine’s concert.
How many of you remember when Milsap performed a free concert on a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1979 at Regency Mall that had thousands of people standing on the main floor and thousands more looking from over second level balcony rails?
He and Dolly Parton had just packed Bell Auditorium for two shows at 3 and 8 p.m. earlier in January 1976 sponsored by WGUS-AM (“Big Gus”) radio station. Parton had won the Country Music Association’s 1975 Female Vocalist of the Year award, and Milsap had won the CMA’s 1974 Male Vocalist of the Year award.
Many Augustans saw Milsap, a native of Robbinsville, N.C., who was reared just across the Georgia state line from Hiawassee and Young Harris, when he played with a local early ’60s rock band called The Oxfords with Buzz Newman, son of future Augusta Mayor Lewis A. “Pop” Newman. About a decade later, Milsap would be headlining shows in Augusta with Mayor Newman proudly joking about when Milsap slept in his basement.
One local musician, Lowell Dorn, himself a veteran of many ‘60s groups, remembers Milsap playing in The Oxfords at the Julian Smith Casino.
Some local residents even remember when Milsap was a student at Young Harris College with future Georgia Gov. and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller teaching him political science.
That’s where I saw him for the first time about 1963 when I visited Bobby Craddock, a friend from Chamblee (Ga.) High School. I distinctly remember seeing him walking with a cane and Craddock telling me that it was a student named Ronnie Milsap who played great piano.
Milsap told me a few years ago that he was a student at Young Harris College when he approached another blind piano player and singer named Ray Charles about whether he should pursue a lifetime career in music or something more stable.
“I had met Ray Charles in Atlanta, and I was in his dressing room and said, ‘Everybody in school is trying to counsel me and tell me that I need to do something that is academic like be a teacher or be a lawyer.’
“There was a piano in the dressing room, and I played him three songs. He said, ‘Let me tell you something, son. You can be a lawyer if you want to, but there is a lot of music in your heart. If I was you, I’d follow what your heart tells you to do.’
“And I thought, ‘Boy, that sounds like a great endorsement right there.’ ”
SAYING GOODBYE TO FARGO POPE: Just as expected, there was some great country music played at the recent Celebration of Life for A.J. “Fargo” Pope, the local pioneer performer who died at age 90 on Jan. 24 in North Augusta.
Pope and his then-wife hosted the popular Mary and Fargo live broadcast in the 1950s shortly after WRDW-TV went on the air. One of their regular guests was future Rock and Roll and Country Music Association Hall of Famer Brenda Lee.
The service featured a recording by Ray Price at the start, an Alan Jackson hymn in the middle and, at the close, a recording of George Strait singing, “And my heart is sinking like the setting sun. Setting on the things I wish I’d done. It’s time to say goodbye to yesterday. This is where the cowboy rides away.”
Pope’s sons, Clay and Andy, spoke as did Terry Stewart who said he was like an adopted son. Clay said his father could have gone on the road and become a star, but he chose to stay home and be a family man and use his musical talents to entertain his family and friends.
Among the flowers and a guitar on a stand nearby, was a framed certificate designating Pope as an inductee into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. His sons said that was one of Pope’s proudest moments.
JOHN ANDERSON IN NEWBERRY: You don’t get too much more traditional country sounding than Florida’s John Anderson who will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Newberry (S.C.) Opera House. His hit singles include (Just A) Swingin’, Seminole Wind, Money in the Bank, Straight Tequila Night and I Wish I Could Have Been There. Tickets are $40-$60 at (803) 276-6264 or newberryoperahouse.com.
THE NELONS IN CONCERT: Don’t forget Southern gospel group The Nelons performing at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, at Bethesda Baptist Church, between Grovetown and Harlem, off Gordon Highway at Old Louisville Road. A love offering will be received. Call (706) 556-6818.