Ronnie Milsap would be lying if he said that the possibility of being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame hadn't entered his mind -- but, when he got the news, he tells Billboard it still took him by surprise.
"I was here at the house," he recalls, "and some folks from the Hall of Fame came by, knocked on the door. They said 'You are going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.'"
That announcement took him back to a conversation he had once upon a time with former RCA Nashville label head Jerry Bradley. "I had won Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year, I asked him one day what came next. And he said, 'There's only one more, Milsap... and that's the Hall of Fame."
Sunday afternoon, the performer will be officially inducted into the Hall during the Medallion Ceremony in Nashville. He says that hearing the "Country Music Hall of Fame member" tag before his name is something he is still getting used to. "I keep hearing Eddie Stubbs on WSM at night talking about it being the highest honor they could bestow on you, and it's something I wanted. So, I just kept on doing what I've been doing. I'm very honored."
The next few weeks are very momentous for the North Carolina-native. In addition to the Hall of Fame enshrinement, Milsap's career will be further celebrated with the Nov. 4 release of The RCA Albums Collection -- a 21-CD collection that includes every studio album he recorded for the label, starting with 1973's Where My Heart Is and ending with 2006's My Life. He says he is pleased with how the set came out.
"It's my history. When I signed with RCA, there was a gentleman named Paul Randall, who worked in artist development. I asked him 'What can I do to make sure that I'm successful here at RCA?' He said 'As long as you do everything the label asks you to do -- be up at 6 in the morning to do those radio drive times, stay up late at night to do the overnight drive shows. If you'll do whatever we ask, you'll have a twenty-year career at RCA.' I did them, and I had a twenty year run at RCA."
Milsap admitted that it was his wife Joyce who got the ball rolling in helping to make the powers-that-be in Nashville aware of his talents in the early 1970s. "We lived in Memphis for a while, and came to Nashville. I was working at the King of the Road Hotel. She made a phone call to Tom Collins and Jack Johnson. They worked together in publishing, and Jack became my manager. He also managed Charley Pride, and he got me a deal. Magic was in the air from that first session on. "A lot of my early records like 'That Girl Who Waits On Tables' and '(All Together Now) Let's Fall Apart' were all demos," he says proudly.
The set contains all but two of Milsap's Billboard chart-toppers (1980's "Smoky Mountain Rain" and 1985's "She Keeps The Home Fires Burning" were singles released off of greatest hits collections), including a song that became a game-changer for him -- 1977's "It Was Almost Like A Song." He recalls he had to convince his wife of the song's merits.
"I was playing the demo on a cassette tape all the time when I was out on the road. My wife asked me 'Why do you keep playing that song?' It's terrible.' Later that fall, when we came in from off the road, I was back at home in the living room, and I started playing that song. Joyce comes into the room and says 'What is that?' I said 'That's the song that you hated so much out on the road!' She couldn't believe it. She ended up calling Tom Collins to come over to the house, and he says 'We've got to get into the studio quick.' We cut it within a day or two, and it was my first million selling single."
Milsap is quick to credit his friends at radio for helping him to achieve his dreams. He admits that he has never lost his passion for the medium -- even as a listener.
"Radio has always been like a friend to me," he says. "I get to tune in and listen to St. Louis, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York, and I've always enjoyed it. I know where they are on the band. I counted the frequencies on the AM dial, and the first time I heard my record being played on the Bill Mack Show on WBAP, I was so excited. When I found my songs on any station, it was a real thrill for me."