More thunder on the piano — Ronnie Milsap relives Memphis days with Elvis Presley

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Eighties country pop crossover phenomenon Ronnie Milsap holds nothing back in a comprehensive profile recalling his halcyon days spent trading piano licks and harmonies alongside Elvis Presley on “Kentucky Rain” while struggling to make ends meet in Memphis, forever enshrined as the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll. Here a 33-year-old, smoking hot Presley dons a black suede jacket, pale yellow scarf, and white shirt for a photo session plugging his 30th film, “The Trouble with Girls,” in December 1968 for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. An alternate shot from this same session graced the cover of the naturally-gifted actor’s iconic “Suspicious Minds” / “You’ll Think of Me” single 45 vinyl record some eight months later. Photography by Virgil Apger / For Elvis CD Collectors Forum
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A 22-year-old Ronnie Milsap tickles the ivories in his first publicity photo for Scepter Records in November 1965. Image Credit: Gusto Records / appears in Milsap’s 1990 memoir, “Almost Like a Song”

The Ronnie Milsap Interview

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Memphis Boys pianist and frequent Garth Brooks sideman Bobby Wood, who lost his right eye in a horrific car crash, stands alongside Elvis Presley inside American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 13, 1969, the first night of Presley’s sessions. The “Promised Land” rocker clutches a 1959 Fender Precision bass used by session ace Tommy Cogbill. “Kentucky Rain,” featuring harmony vocals and piano from Ronnie Milsap, would be waxed to vinyl the next month. Photography by Dan Penn / For Elvis CD Collectors Forum
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A fan snaps a quick photo of the always fashionable Elvis Presley, sporting a purple crushed velvet jacket and red scarf, arriving at his invitation-only New Year’s Eve 1969 party at T.J.’s nightclub in Memphis. Ronnie Milsap supplied a groove-inspired setlist. Photography by Margie Thornton / Paul’s Elvis Page: Candid Central
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On November 4, 1981, Ronnie Milsap made his second and final appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” performing “What A Difference You’ve Made in My Life” and “[There’s] No GettinOver Me.” In matters of trivial pursuit, Carson was not present on August 18, 1981, when Milsap debuted on “The Tonight Show.” Instead, David Steinberg served as the guest host. Image Credit: NBCUniversal / appears in Milsap’s 1990 memoir, “Almost Like a Song”
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A psychedelic red, blue, and yellow side profile of Ronnie Milsap’s face adorns the cover of the blind keyboardist’s debut self-titled album in August 1971. Image Credit: 45Worlds user Hideki Watanabe / Warner Bros.
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His hands do the talkin’: Presenting the rear LP jacket of Ronnie Milsap’s debut album, the self-titled “Ronnie Milsap,” which left virtually no impact when quietly unleashed in August 1971 on Warner Bros. Records. Image Credit: 45Worlds user Hideki Watanabe / Warner Bros.
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A seductive 39-year-old Elvis Presley sports the exotic Chinese Dragon jumpsuit and black 1968 Ebony Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar featuring a Kenpo Karate decal on October 6, 1974, during the superstar’s evening show at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. Photography by Keith Alverson / For Elvis CD Collectors Forum
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Guitarist Jennings Bristol and a chill 19-year-old Ronnie Milsap tentatively venture out West to play a joint called the Five Sisters Lounge near Sheridan, Wyoming, in July 1962. Image Credit: The Ronnie Milsap Collection / appears in Milsap’s 1990 memoir, “Almost Like a Song”
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Ronnie Milsap, wife Joyce Reeves and Scepter Records head of A&R and promotion Steve Tyrell pose around the “Do What You Gotta Do” R&B belter’s piano circa 1968. Thirty years later Tyrell surprisingly established a second career as a suave interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Image Credit: The Daily Pipe Blogspot
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Scepter Records recording artists Dionne Warwick, B.J. Thomas, and Ronnie Milsap converge inside the American Sound Studio office of producer Chips Moman in this rare May 1969 candid. Left to right are Warwick, Scepter head of A&R and promotion Steve Tyrell, a seated Milsap, Thomas, Moman, and American Sound co-owner Don Crews. Image Credit: The Erick Crews Collection
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Priscilla Beaulieu dabs husband Elvis Presley’s jet black hair as they arrive at the “Little Sister” rocker’s invitation-only New Year’s Eve 1969 party at T.J.’s nightclub in Memphis, Tennessee. Incidentally, Ronnie Milsap was personally chosen by Presley to provide live entertainment. Photography by Margie Thornton / Paul’s Elvis Page: Candid Central
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“Between love and hate, there’s a little thin line, and I’m trying to hate you, right out of my mind:” Presenting the late night hazy blue cover of “Where My Heart Is,” Ronnie Milsap’s second studio album unleashed in September 1973 on RCA Victor Records. The No. 5 C&W Billboard-charting LP contains the soul-drenched pianist’s first country hits — “I Hate You” and “That Girl Who Waits on Tables.” Image Credit: Music-Bazaar / Sony Music Entertainment
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“Pure love, baby it’s pure love, milk and honey and Captain Krunch and you in the morning, pure love, you’re the picture of pure love:” Presenting the LP cover of “Pure Love,” entertainer Ronnie Milsap’s third studio album unleashed in April 1974. Charting at No. 8 C&W on RCA Victor Records, the Tom Collins and Jack D. Johnson co-produced album also yielded another number one single besides the title cut — “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends.” Image Credit: El Rancho blogspot / Sony Music Entertainment
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“Stranger in My House” purveyor Ronnie Milsap rediscovers his country roots in an innovative, sparkling shot which graced the cover of “Country Again”, the blind pianist’s 25th studio album distributed on July 26, 2011. Image Credit: Bigger Picture Music Group
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Ronnie Milsap and Joyce Reeves, married way back in 1965 and still devoted to one another, experience the Ronnie Milsap Exhibit opening reception at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on February 5, 2015, in Nashville, Tennessee. Photography by Rick Diamond / Getty Images
Check out Elvis Presley singing a solid, soul-inspired cover of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” during his historic January 1969 American Sound sessions in Memphis featuring a burgeoning Ronnie Milsap on piano and harmony vocals. Video Credit: YouTube user BruceEllis1964; Music Credit: Sony Music Entertainment

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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