Tag Archives: Local 257

Ronnie Milsap Cover

Ronnie Milsap: Still Going Strong­

Iconic Musician Ronnie Milsap Is Ready to Hit the Road

Ronnie Milsap of Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

Legendary musician Ronnie Milsap of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) discovered his love for performing early on. By age 11, he was already a favorite at his family’s church. “I grew up in the Primitive Baptist Church and I started singing in church pretty early,” he recalls. “That was my first taste of theater. I’d sit at the piano and sing, and they would start shouting and rolling in the aisles.”

Born in 1943, Milsap was raised by his paternal grandparents in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. As a child he attended the North Carolina State School for the Blind, where his teachers encouraged him to develop his talent. He began playing the violin at age 7 and the piano at age 8; soon after, he learned to play guitar.

He found inspiration on the radio, and though the school’s curriculum emphasized classical music, he came to love a variety of genres. “I was really fortunate,” he says. “A lot of kids don’t have access to music and arts education, but that was a great school with a good music program and a good vocal teacher.”

Encouragement came from other places, too, like the time a man came to his home with an unexpected gift. “He said, ‘Ronnie, I’ve seen you playing guitar at church, and I think you need a new one.’ He brought me a Gibson guitar, brand new. I put some Black Diamond strings on that thing and started singing and playing. I couldn’t believe how good that guitar was,” says Milsap.

Still, when Milsap enrolled at Young Harris College in 1963, he had no intention of becoming a professional musician. On the advice of well-meaning family members and teachers, he’d come to believe that it wasn’t a practical pursuit. Instead, he studied law, and was particularly fond of a political science course taught by Zell Miller, whom he describes as “charismatic and bright.”

The two remained friends even as Miller went on to become governor of Georgia. Milsap says that, ultimately, he realized that music was “where I belonged.” He joined a band and began playing in local venues, turning down a full scholarship to law school. He’s never looked back.

A Signature Sound

Milsap is most often categorized as a country artist, but his signature sound seamlessly blends traditional country and bluegrass music with soul, R&B, and jazz. In the early days of his career, he thought he’d focus on R&B. In fact, in 1965 his first single, “Never Had It So Good,” reached number 19 on the R&B chart.

“I’d been fired up with R&B music for a long while,” he says. Some were surprised to find a white musician performing soul and R&B during that time. He recalls a few DJs who stopped playing his music after his record label sent out publicity photos of him, though Milsap says he always found acceptance and community in that world.

Milsap played often at the renowned Peacock Club in Atlanta, where artists like James Brown and Aretha Franklin got their starts. “One night I got to meet Jackie Wilson there. I got to shake his hand and tell him what a big fan I was.” Milsap played with Stevie Wonder of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) and Ray Charles, forming a strong friendship with the latter. “I had a real good relationship with Ray,” he says. “He was a big influence on me. We’d write Braille letters to each other; we both felt very strongly about preserving Braille literacy.”

Milsap saw his share of struggles as he worked to build a name for himself but says it’s important to stay focused. “To have success in music you have to want it; you have to work for it.” He says that, as he moved from Atlanta to Memphis and eventually to Nashville, his local union offices were a big help. “I think the musicians’ union has always been a good thing for me. And for anyone starting out. A lot of young musicians will give up everything to try to make it, sleep in their cars and everything.”

It was a chance encounter with Charley Pride that set Milsap on his eventual path to stardom. Pride saw something special in Milsap and suggested that he turn his attention to country music. In the early 1970s, Milsap signed on with Pride’s manager, Jack Johnson, and launched the newest chapter of his career. It was a gamble that paid off.

He went on to win six Grammy awards and more than a dozen other country music awards and honors. In the 1980s, Milsap enjoyed crossover success on the pop charts with hits like “Smokey Mountain Rain” and “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World.” In 2014, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Milsap scored his first US gold record in 1977 with Almost Like a Song. In April 2021 he released A Better Word for Love, his 30th studio album.

Sharing New Songs

The new album is a carefully curated collection of songs chosen with the help of Milsap’s longtime co-producer, Rob Galbraith. Many of the songs had been waiting for just the right project to be recorded. “I get songs all the time, and some songs I’ve had for 20 years,” he explains. He likes to spend time workshopping a song at home, putting his own spin on it before taking it into the studio; his wife, Joyce, is a trusted sounding board.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, and
something…bluegrass! Ronnie Milsap’s newest studio
album, A Better Word for Love, showcases the musician’s uncanny ability to blend genres and create something uniquely his own. The 10 tracks include long-hidden gems, revisited classics, and newly discovered tunes destined to become fan favorites. Among them are Carl Perkins’ final composition, “Big Bertha,” and a live performance of “Civil War.”

Choosing songs has always been a painstaking process for Milsap, who says he could go through hundreds without finding one that fits. “If the song coincides with my life, that means a lot to me. These songs, they’re like children. I love them all. And when it comes to making records, I am very much into a standard of excellence, and I will not accept anything less,” he says.

One song he hadn’t been saving was “Big Bertha,” a fun homage to a beloved golf club. The tune was the final one written by singer-songwriter Carl Perkins before his death in 1998. Perkins’ widow sent the song to Milsap as the album project was coming together, believing he would be the one to do it justice. He loved the song and was excited to record it.

There was just one problem—he doesn’t golf. “But,” he says with a chuckle, “Vince Gill does.” Though the pandemic forced Milsap and Gill of Local 257 to record their parts separately and combine them later, Milsap is proud of the result. “We got a great duet out of that,” he says.

Whether it’s the bluesy, upbeat first single “Wild Honey,” the tender, heartfelt title track, or the classic country sound of “Almost Mine,” Milsap shines on this album. All 10 tracks feature the rich, velvety voice fans know so well, and showcase his unique blend of musical styles. Also included on the album is a 1993 live recording of the song “Civil War,” which originally appeared on the album True Believer.

A Better Word for Love was recorded at the historic Ronnie’s Place studio in Nashville. First built in 1968, the studio was owned by Roy Orbison before Milsap bought and customized it in 1978, naming it Groundstar Laboratories. He sold the studio in 1995. While it changed hands and names several times over the years, it was still known lovingly as “Ronnie’s Place” by those who recorded there. In 2015, the name was made official by Black River Entertainment, Milsap’s label and the current owner of the studio. Recording there is especially meaningful for Milsap. It’s also where he recorded 2018’s Duets album, which saw him collaborating with artists like Willie Nelson of Local 433 (Austin, TX), Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton of Local 257, and Billy Gibbons. “Black River, I have to brag on them a little bit,” he laughs.

Back on the Road

At 78, Milsap shows no sign of slowing down. In the coming months, he plans to tour, and has dates scheduled across the US. He’s concerned about the risk of COVID but is staying optimistic. “I hope they don’t put another shutdown on us,” he says. “I want to be back out on the road. I like working.”

He looks forward to making more music with his label Black River Entertainment and says they’re the right company to move his career forward. Most of all, Milsap wants to get back in front of an audience. Performing recently to a packed house in Tulsa, Oklahoma, left him feeling reinvigorated and ready to dive back in.

He says, “The audience always makes the difference. You can be out there one night, and they can get so excited that you find you can sing a lot better than you thought you could! It’s a give and take. And the fans have always been real good to me.”

Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something…bluegrass! Ronnie Milsap’s newest studio album, A Better Word for Love, showcases the musician’s uncanny ability to blend genres and create something uniquely his own. The 10 tracks include long-hidden gems, revisited classics, and newly discovered tunes destined to become fan favorites. Among them are Carl Perkins’ final composition, “Big Bertha,” and a live performance of “Civil War.”

‘Right to Work’ Really Means ‘Right to Work for Less’

The post-WWII legislation known as “Right to Work,” which is still on the books in 28 states, is one of the great misnomers of all time. It sounds kind of noble, but what it really means is “Right to Work for Less.” In other words, you have the right to work for as little as you choose, give up your intellectual property rights and all future revenue streams from your work. If you have a choice, why would you do that?

You do have a choice, and AFM contracts are the solution. There are many ways for projects to fall through the cracks and end up without a contract. Maybe no one brought it up, or everyone assumed that it was being taken care of by someone else, or perhaps someone thought they could get away with paying you far less than you deserve. One thing is for sure: When you work without the standards of pay and protection of an AFM contract—or “off the card” as we say in Nashville—what you make that day is all you will ever make, and you are definitely leaving money on the table.

Despite Tennessee being one of those 28 “Right to Work” states, the music industry brings a lot of money to the state’s economy. Even so, a Tennessee legislator who works for an anti-union law firm in another state wants to make it more difficult to remove the 1947 Right to Work law from the books by embedding it into the state constitution. The industry-funded supporters of this self-serving and redundant legislation claim that low wages and no workplace guidelines are why companies come to Tennessee—like that’s a good thing.


Many of our legislators obviously do not seem to understand that Tennessee became a music center in spite of, and not because of, Right to Work.

Ironically, this organic system of mutual respect between creators and employers evolved in the decade after Right to Work was passed in 1947. When Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley were hired by RCA and Decca to run their new Nashville divisions in the 1950s, they immediately established that their recording work would be done under AFM contracts. Because of this simple concept, musicians and their beneficiaries have been getting paid for additional uses of classic records by Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Roy Orbison. That tradition continues with new uses of classic and contemporary records paying musicians additional money at a time it is most needed, proving the lasting value of putting your work on an AFM contract.

This is what made Nashville into Music City: mutual respect and cooperation, not intimidation. No one is forced to be a member of Local 257. People like Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, Larry Carlton, Ray Stevens, Trisha Yearwood, Peter Frampton, and more than 2,200 other musicians are AFM 257 members because they want to be. We have signatory agreements with rock icons like Dan Auerbach, Dave Stewart, John Oates, and Jack White, who live and record in Nashville. They know that the AFM looks out for musicians, and they want to be responsible employers, so they do the right thing by putting it “on the card.”

We have seen that most employers who avoid working under AFM contracts do so because they do not want to pay musicians what they deserve. You can find many of them on the AFM International Unfair List elsewhere in this magazine. Sometimes all it takes is a respectful conversation with the employer and/or your fellow musicians, but someone has to speak up.

I was that person many times, and it does get easier with time. If you need help having that conversation, we can give you the talking points you need. For starters, you can explain that AFM contracts protect the employer as well as the musicians, which is absolutely true. Legitimate licensing agencies know they are supposed to pay musicians for their work, and not just the artist and label. The AFM contract gives us the ability to go get that money directly, and let the artist and label keep their share. We can “clean up” some projects after the fact, but it is always better for everyone if it’s done right on the front end.

The refusal of some employers to discuss the possibility of a union contract makes it obvious they have no respect for musicians. We will continue to do what’s right and promote responsible behavior and mutual respect, but it’s more important now than ever to know that you can make a difference. Let us help you protect yourself.

Self Made Fool

George Marinelli

Self Made Fool is the latest solo album by George Marinelli, a longtime session player, writer, and producer, and AFM member for 48 years. In addition to his numerous solo projects, Marinelli, of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), was an original member of Bruce Hornsby (Local 125, Norfolk, VA) & The Range, and has been a member of Bonnie Raitt’s (Local 47, Los Angeles, CA) band since 1993.

“As usual, this album reflects my love of rock & roll along with Afro, reggae, and everything else,” Marinelli said. “It started as I was rebuilding my studio, WingDing, in our new house. I had to record something to see if anything worked, and nine months later it was an album.” Marinelli did all the instruments and vocals; he recorded, mixed, and mastered the album; and he also created the artwork.

All proceeds from Self Made Fool are being donated to Habitat For Humanity, the charity that builds homes for the needy.

Starting Over

Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton, of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), has released his fourth solo album with Starting Over, an album featuring 14 tracks that examine life’s simplest joys and most serious struggles.

Finished in late February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, Starting Over offers southern rock, southern soul, and country ballads with American roots influences, as well as covers of Guy Clark and John Fogerty tunes.

Once again produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb, also of Local 257, the album features Stapleton’s trusted collaborators as well as some new faces. In addition to Cobb (acoustic guitar), the record features work by Local 257 musicians J.T. Cure (bass) and Derek Mixon (drums). Special guests include legendary musicians Benmont Tench (Hammond B3 organ) of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and Paul Franklin (pedal steel) Local 257.

john prine

John Prine Honored at 2020 AMA Music Awards

The Americana Music Association honored the late John Prine during the 19th annual Americana Honors & Awards on December 15, 2020. Prine, a member of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) before he died in April 2020 at age 73 due to complications related to COVID-19, was named the AMA 2020 Artist of the Year.

john prine
John Prine pictured at the AMA music awards in September 2019, where he won Album of the Year and Song of the Year.

The 2003 Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting honoree became the first artist in Honors & Awards history to be posthumously nominated in this category and this was his fourth Artist of the Year win since 2005.

The Americana Honors & Awards program provides a unique platform for commemorating the best and brightest musicians in the Americana music scene. The awards are usually handed out during a ceremony at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, in an effort to preserve the safety of musicians, fans, and other members of the close-knit roots community, the Americana Music Association chose to forego having an in-person ceremony this year.

Nashville Symphony Reaches Agreement on Weekly Stipend

After three months of negotiations, musicians of the Nashville Symphony, who have been furloughed since July, accepted an interim stipend agreement beginning January 3, 2021 and lasting through July 31, 2021.

Musicians will receive a $500 weekly stipend and will commit to performing community concerts and participating in other projects. Health care coverage will be provided for the duration of the agreement.

“The July 1 announcement of the extended furlough of all Nashville Symphony musicians created an untenable situation for many of these world class players,” says Dave Pomeroy, president of Local 257 (Nashville, TN). “Like so many unemployed Americans, they were faced with heartbreaking decisions in order to survive—some of which involved not being able to stay in Nashville at all. It is fortunate that we were finally able to reach an agreement with the Nashville Symphony to give some assistance to these world-class musicians, and help them get through this unprecedented time.”

“Orchestras and ensembles around the country have been finding creative ways to sustain their artistic mission, and we’re happy to see the Nashville Symphony reemerging to do the same,” says Melinda Whitley of Local 257, who serves as orchestra committee chair and as a member of the negotiating committee. “The musicians are glad that the end of the furlough is in sight, and we look forward to working together again with the Nashville Symphony to provide music for our beloved audiences and communities in middle Tennessee.” Negotiations for a longer-term contract will continue, with the goal of reaching an agreement by the 2021-22 season.

Oates Live in Nashville

Live in Nashville

Oates Live in Nashville

John Oates

John Oates, of the best-selling duo in rock history Hall & Oates, has released his second album performing with The Good Road Band: Live in Nashville. Oats, of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), along with fellow 257 musicians Sam Bush (mandolin), Russ Pahl (pedal steel), Nate Smith (cello), and Josh “Daddy” Day (drums/percussion) recorded the album last January 9 at Station Inn, the legendary listening room in Nashville where the band first took shape. 

Inspired by Mississippi John Hurt, Live in Nashville features songs performed by him like the gospel-blues opener, “Lord Send Me,” the Delta blues of the standard “Stack o Lee,” and an electrified take on “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor,” dubbed “Pallet Soft and Low.” Oates pays tribute to his own childhood with a cover of Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me,” the first song he learned to sing and play on guitar as a six-year-old after hearing it on the radio. Oates describes the sound of the album as, “Dixieland, dipped in bluegrass, and salted with Delta blues.” 

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics

As told by Dolly Parton, of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), in her own words, explore the songs that have defined her journey. Mining over 60 years of songwriting, Dolly Parton, Songteller highlights 175 of her songs and brings readers behind the lyrics. Packed with never-before-seen photographs and classic memorabilia, this book explores personal stories, candid insights, and myriad memories behind the songs.

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, by Dolly Parton
with Robert K. Oermann, Chronicle Books, www.chroniclebooks.com.


Taylor Swift

Lover is the seventh studio album by singer-songwriter Taylor Swift of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), who also acted as executive producer.
Described by Swift as a “love letter to love,” Lover’s 18 songs celebrate the ups and downs of love and incorporates brighter, more cheerful tones, departing from the dark sounds of her previous album, Reputation (2017). Swift said during a chat with fans that she wrote the album from an “open, free, romantic, whimsical place.” While her last album was “all cityscape, darkness, full swamp witch,” Lover “felt aesthetically very daytime.”
Musically, it is a pop, pop rock, electropop, and synth-pop record that contains influences of country, dream pop, pop punk, funk, and R&B.
Lover features collaborations with the Dixie Chicks and Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco.


Vince Gill

On his 15th studio album, country singer Vince Gill of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) offers up the most personal collection of songs yet in his 40-plus-year career. The album’s title is taken from the once-derogatory term used to disparage migrants from Oklahoma to the nation’s west coast during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression eras. A proud Oklahoman, Gill has appropriated this term on an album that embraces his roots and explores some of the most important issues of our time, including sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, and race. 
“I thought this was going to be a songwriter record, not a concept album,” says Gill, who wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs on Okie. “It wound up being more information than I’d envisioned. A friend sent me an email saying, ‘You could have only written this record after living a 60-year-plus life.’ He said, ‘There’s no struggle in these songs, just truth and your experience.’”