The numbers speak for themselves. With 35 No. 1s on Billboard’s Country Songs chart, only George Strait, Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard have had greater dominance on the charts than Ronnie Milsap. With a career that includes membership in both the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame, his music has inspired fans and other artists for decades.
Now, Milsap is revisiting his greatest hits with some notable friends on Ronnie Milsap: The Duets, out Friday via Riser House. The album, which was several years in the making, is believed to contain the last recording sessions for Leon Russell and Troy Gentry. Other artists on the set include Dolly Parton, Jason Aldean, Billy Gibbons, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Little Big Town and Strait, whose duet with Milsap on his 1989 traditional country hit “Houston Solution” premieres below.
“Some might ask me why I decided to do this,” said the singer. “What the hell else am I going to do? I’ve got great brand-new songs that I love, so when you do, you record them,” Milsap says. While the album is primarily hits, it also includes his duet with Nelson on a new song written by Mike Reid, “A Woman’s Love,” and even a song that Milsap received from his CPA, “Southern Boys and Detroit Wheels,” where he partners with ZZ Top’s Gibbons.
Ronnie Milsap: The Duets is also memorable for the singer as he recorded the disc at Black River’s recording studio. It’s a location he knows very well: He once owned it and recorded many of his biggest hits there, including “Stranger in My House” and “She Keeps the Home Fires Burning.”
“One of the first things I did when I got enough of a good royalty check to come in was to build my own studio. I bought it from Roy Orbison,” Milsap says.
Year ago, Milsap brought up his desire to record a duets album to longtime producer Rob Galbraith and engineer Mark Lambert, who quickly lined up one of music’s most iconic figures for the project. “Mark was close friends with Leon Russell,” Milsap says. “He told him about it, and Leon said, ‘Well, can I get on this album?’ The first session I had was with Leon on Jerry Reed’s ‘Misery Loves Company.’ It’s powerful. Probably the last thing he ever recorded.”
The pairing with Strait was also special.
“A good friend of mine down in Houston knew George Strait’s road manager. He asked if the next time George comes to Nashville, would he record ‘Houston Solution’ with me,” Milsap says. “He’s one of my favorite artists. I got to do a tour with him a few years back. Doing a tour with George Strait, you get to really play for a big audience. They had that tour really set up right – and they treated us well, which is always a big plus.”
Parton, one of his former fellow RCA label mates during his 20-year tenure at the imprint, joins him on “Smoky Mountain Rain” – albeit with a little bit of a twist.
“Dolly came in and recorded it, but she became the girl that I’m looking for in the song. So she changed the lyrics to make that happen. I’ve known her forever. We grew up about a stone’s throw from each other.” The Dennis Morgan /Kye Fleming composition became one of Tennessee’s official state songs in 2010.
Milsap began a tour behind the music from Duets Wednesday (Jan. 16) Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. His prowess as live performer has been documented in several live albums and DVDs over the years, but, 1977’s Ronnie Milsap Live – recorded at the Grand Ole Opry House – remains a special memory.
“Jerry Bradley, who ran RCA, told [producer] Tom Collins and me, ‘I notice Ronnie’s got some shows out there at the Opry House in August, and we want to bring our 24-track [console]out there and record both of them, because I want to put out a live album. You get in there with your band, and rehearse three or four, five, six, seven, eight, however many days it takes to put this show together, the way you want it.’” We put that thing together and asked Ralph Emery to emcee the show. [Ralph] said that’s why it sold so well and became a gold record, because of him. I wouldn’t deny that,” Milsap said with a laugh.
Ronnie Milsap’s tour dates
Jan. 16 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
Jan. 17 – Mayetta, KS – Prairie Band Casino & Resort – Great Lakes Ballroom
Jan. 18 – Stafford, TX – The Redneck Country Club
Jan. 19 – Bossier City, LA – Horseshoe Bossier City – The Riverdome
Jan. 27 – Fort Lauderdale, FL – Country Music Cruise 2019
Jan. 28 – Key West, FL – Country Music Cruise 2019
Feb. 9 – Glasgow, KY – Plaza Theatre
Feb. 16 – Shelby, NC – Malcolm Brown Auditorium
Feb. 21 – Morgantown, WV – Metropolitan Brown Auditorium
Feb. 22 – Madisonville, KY – Glema Mahr Center for the Arts
Feb. 28 – Lexington, KY – Opera House
March 1 – Lorain, OH – Palace Theater
March 2 – Lancaster, PA – American Music Theater
March 8 – Hinckley, MN – Grand Casino Hinkley
March 9 – Lac De Flambeau, WI – Lake Of The Torches Casino
March 22 – St. Louis, MO – River City Casino
March 24 – Austin, TX – Travis County Expo Center
April 4 – Mobile, AL – Saenger Theatre
April 5 – Beaumont, TX – Jefferson Theatre
April 26 – Hopewell, VA – The Beacon Theatre
April 27 – Cincinnati, OH – JACK Casino – Event Center
May 3 – Eustis, FL – Lake County Fairgrounds Expo Center
May 10 – Quapaw, OK – Downstream Casino Resort
May 11 – Hinton, OK – Sugar Creek Casino
May 17 – Riverside, IA – Riverside Casino and Golf Resort
May 23 – Charenton, LA – Cypress Bayou Casino Hotel