Ronnie Milsap’s current concert tour, which arrives Oct. 3 at Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, is being billed as his final concert go-round.
But Milsap isn’t so sure about that.
“I think the best thing is to play it out and see what happens,” Milsap said by phone from his Nashville home. “I can’t imagine myself not touring. I don’t know what I’d do. I love to go out and play.”
Milsap, 72, has been one of the most successful stars in the history of country music, with nearly 40 No. 1 hits and six Grammy Awards. And his reach has extended to the pop and adult contemporary charts as well. Songs such as “Smoky Mountain Rain,” “No Gettin’ Over Me” and “Any Day Now” were popular across a wide range of audiences.
“I’ve had a reputation of being a crossover artist,” Milsap said. “A lot of people think that’s a dirty word. But it’s not. It just means you’re seeking a larger audience.”
Milsap, who was born with minimal sight and eventually went completely blind, first took up music while a student at a state school for the blind in North Carolina. He quickly mastered violin and piano, fell in love with R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll and formed his own rock band while still in high school. He had a hit on the R&B charts in1965 with “Never Had It So Good.”
It wasn’t until moving to Nashville in 1973 and hooking up with Charley Pride’s manager that Milsap launched a country music career.
Your first love was R&B?
It was. But once I got to Nashville, I found out what kind of music I was destined to record. I love it in Nashville. It’s a great place to be if you’re in music.
Ray Charles was one of your idols, and like he did in the early ’60s, you found a way to expand the boundaries of country music.
Ray Charles took these old songs and discovered a way to present them where it was very acceptable to the masses, to all audiences.
Your last album, “Summer No. 17,” was a collection of songs that influenced you. What were the emotions going back and recording those songs?
I love that album and loved recording it. The whole thing of recording “Mack the Knife” … I was singing that in a high school group. We’re going to dust some of these songs off and put them in the show.
How do you fit all your hits into a concert without disappointing anyone?
We pretty well know what folks want to hear. I even take requests during the show. Holler it out, and we’ll play it.
You’re recording a new album. Will this also be a collection of older songs?
Not so much. Actually, it has turned out to be a project of duets. We’ve recorded a song with Luke Bryan, with Jason Aldean. Keith Urban is going to come in and record with us.
A lot of these younger artists have been citing you as an influence on their careers.
I always appreciate that. I remember coming up myself, and I had influences like Hank Williams and Charlie Pride and Jim Reeves. I know what that’s like.