Ronnie Milsap has built an award-winning career by selecting great songs and delivering them in his own inimitable style. At 78, the Country Music Hall of Famer returns with A Better Word for Love, a new collection that demonstrates his unerring song sense and creative drive are stronger than ever.
“Our vision with this latest album is to find and introduce great songs,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville. “And I believe that when you find great tunes, you better get into the studio and record them!”
Milsap did just that. Teaming with longtime friend and producer Rob Galbraith, they returned to Ronnie’s Place, the Music Row studio Milsap built many years ago. “I love recording there,” he says. “That’s the best studio in town. I helped design that studio and was fortunate enough to have cut a lot of big hit records there. It was like coming home.”
During his decades long career, Milsap dominated country and pop radio with such hits as “Stranger in my House,” “Lost in the Fifties Tonight,” “Smoky Mountain Rain,” “I Wouldn’t Have Missed it for the World,” “Any Day Now,” “(There’s) No Getting’ Over Me” and many others. Milsap won CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1977 as well as an unprecedented four CMA Album of the Year Awards and three CMA Male Vocalist honors. He has won four ACM Awards including 1985 Song of the Year for “Lost in the Fifties Tonight.” He has 35 No. 1 hits to his credit and has won six Grammy Awards.
On A Better Word for Love, Milsap once again delivers songs from some of Nashville’s top tunesmiths, including Mike Reid (“Stranger In My House,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me”), Gary Nicholson (“One More Last Chance,” “The Trouble With The Truth”), Al Anderson (“All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” “The Cowboy In Me”), Jim Weatherly (“Midnight Train To Georgia,” “Best Thing To Ever Happen To Me”), Brent Maher (“Why Not Me,” “Lesson In Leavin’”), Allen Shamblin (“The House That Built Me,” “Life’s A Dance”), and David Ball (“Drinkin’ Problem”).
“I have been blessed to work with some of the very best songwriters in the world,” he says. “Over the years, they’ve kept bringing me unbelievable songs, and in some cases, they’ve let me hang onto them because I loved them so much. When Rob and I started this project a few years ago, we decided some of those songs were so special… We wanted to build this album around them, so they wouldn’t be treasures only [my wife] Joyce and I could hear.”
Great songs have always been the bedrock of Milsap’s career, and he’s devoted his life to finding hidden gems and bringing them to life with his own unique style of R&B-influenced country. “Looking for good songs takes time,” he says. “They should say something of course, about love and real life.”
The title track, “A Better Word for Love,” was written by Al Anderson and Gary Nicholson. “This song has been around town a while, a lot of people tried it,” Milsap says. “I think we actually got the definitive cut on ‘A Better Word for Love.’”
His producer agrees. “We were doing a different album years ago when I found this song and I had like 14 songs I was going to play for Ronnie,” Galbraith recalls. “I went over to his house and I told him, ‘Ronnie, if you don’t like this first song, I’m done.’ So I played him that one and he loved it. We played that song for people and we decided we couldn’t be friends with them if they didn’t like that song because we liked that song a lot. It was a criteria song.”
Galbraith and Milsap have a friendship and creative partnership that has been going strong for many years. “Rob was working at WNOX up in Knoxville and I heard him on the radio when I was over at college in Young Harris, GA,” Milsap recalls. “I heard him on every night. I got called to do a show for WNOX and I said, ‘Who I want to meet is the Rob Galbraith.’ So I got to meet him and we’ve been friends ever since.”
“We were playing that ‘Never Had It So Good’ that was on Scepter [Records], kind of a R&B record,” Galbraith says of an early Milsap single. “We met and from then on I went down to Atlanta to meet him and Joyce, and when he was playing the clubs down there. We got to be friends and then later on, he went to Memphis and I used to drive to Memphis and visit him down there.”
One of the highlights of the new album is “Big Bertha.” It is the last song written by the legendary Carl Perkins, and Perkins’ wife sent it to Milsap to record, knowing he could do it justice. Milsap then recruited Vince Gill to join him on the song. “First of all, Vinnie is an avid golfer, so with his dedication to his craft, like I am to mine, recording ‘Big Bertha’ was a breeze and a lot of fun,” Milsap says. “Working with Vince Gill was easy. I love Vinny!”
“Too Bad for My Own Good” was penned by Joe. H. Hunter, Jim Whitehead and the Jim Weatherly. “This song I got it from Janie West, who I had met when I was with Capitol,” Milsap says of the noted Nashville publishing/song-plugging veteran. “Jimmy Bowen introduced me to her and she can always find me a great song. Kim Parent sings on this. [She’s an] incredible singer.”
A Better Word for Love follows 2019’s Duets, a critically acclaimed project that found Milsap duetting with Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Little Big Town, George Strait and others. His new album, which debuted on April 30, further solidifies the legendary entertainer’s place as one of the greatest song interpreters in popular music.
When asked about his legacy, the North Carolina native’s response is simple and eloquent. “My music will define what I want to be remembered for,” he says.
Ronnie Milsap A Better Word for Love Track Listing:
“Big Bertha” featuring Vince Gill (Randy Moore, Carl Perkins, DJ Perkins)
“Wild Honey” (Jim Weatherly, Nigel Wright)
“A Better Word for Love” (Al Anderson, Gary Nicholson)
“Almost Mine” (David Ball, Randy Goodrum)
“Fool” (Thomas Cain)
“This Side of Heaven” (Brent Maher, Allen Shamblin, Mike Reid)
“Civil War (Live)” (Cindy Richardson, Carol Chase)
“Fireworks” (Steve Dean, Don Gatlin, Mike Ulvila)
“Now” (Thomas Cain, Tim Nichols)
“Too Bad for My Own Good” (Joe H. Hunter, Jim Whitehead, Jim Weatherly)