Happy 76th birthday today to country singer and Country Music Hall of Fame member Ronnie Milsap! A six-time Grammy award winner and past winner of Entertainer of the Year from the Country Music Association (CMA), Ronnie has, by some counts, scored 40 #1 songs, third behind George Strait and Conway Twitty. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ronnie and his music and interviewing him in August 1984 on his tour bus was a huge highlight for me. And amazingly, what he had to say about the state of country music back then is still relevant today, 35 years later!

At one point during the interview, Milsap talked about the changes in the business: “I think there’s been so many changes and there’s so many different kinds of country music with traditional country and with new country, with Southern country, and modern country, I mean I hear so many different categories. I think some of these changes have been caused by record companies, honestly, which impose themselves a little bit too much on an artist. I think if the artists are free to do their own kind of music, to sing the songs that you want to sing because the main thing, I gotta sing songs that I’m happy with because I’m probably gonna be singing these songs for the rest of my life, you know.”

One of the most successful crossover country artists, Ronnie became the first country singer to have a music video aired on MTV. It was the video “She Loves My Car.” And he talked about that during our chat: “I think I’ve been somewhat victimized occasionally, you know…as have many other artists with other record companies and I think consequently you find songs like “Stranger in My House” and “She Loves My Car” which are right on the edge. Record companies, in an effort to try to really to get a large audience I think sometimes they go a little bit too far and consequently it waters down the country music a little bit. But that’s just my humble opinion.”

The debate of what is country music always comes up when there’s something new added to the mix, whether it’s the production of “finger snaps” these days, or “bro country” recently, or country rap. But as Milsap noted 35 years ago, nothing seems to last forever: “I think it’s interesting though that things kind of come in circles, you know, and whatever you like, whether it’s fiddles and steel or whether it’s a singer singing with an orchestra or whether it’s a…whatever the kind of country music, the flavour of it that you like it usually comes around til that particular flavour becomes kind of up front and becomes the most popular.”

Happy birthday, Ronnie, and thanks for one of the most memorable interviews of my career!

You can hear Ronnie’s comments here…