The Former CMA Entertainer of the Year Tells Why Analog Tape “Smells Like Solid Gold!”

Several weeks before releasing his latest album, Summer Number Seventeen on Legacy Recordings, the legendary Ronnie Milsap, former CMA Entertainer of the Year, sat down for a chat with CMA Close Up. The conversation touched many bases, including these recollections of his early, somewhat intimidating days after arriving in Nashville from Los Angeles and the virtues of both analog and digital recording.

You’ve been influenced by many singers in many genres. But which Country artists had the strongest impact on you?

Jim Reeves had a huge influence on me as a Country singer. He was a very quiet kind of singer. I did a tribute album to him one time, called Out Where the Bright Lights Are Glowing – a great album. That record went Gold. I went to Jerry Bradley and I said, “Are we going to release another single off of that?” He said, “No, we’ve already gone Gold. We don’t need to come up with another single. You just get back in the studio and record me another album.” I said, “OK, I’ll do that.” Jerry and Joe Galante, the two heads of RCA when I was there, were great coaches. They really gave me their opinions about what they expected me to do, and I always tried to do it.

I was so fortunate to get to work with all of the best players in this town on those Country Music sessions. There were so many wonderful musicians in Nashville. They really knew how to make records. (Hargus) “Pig” Robbins was so good, I thought, “I don’t know if I can play up to that level.” I kept trying to work up to that. I didn’t actually get to the point where I could play piano on my own records until “It Was Almost Like a Song” (written by Hal David and Archie Jordan). When I got to that, I’d been playing it at home so much that, when we went to record it, I played piano on it and it turned out great. So I eventually found a way to make it work. My wife always tells me, “It’s important that you play piano on the records.”

Do you enjoy recording?

I love it so much. Making records is a fun thing for me. I just love the whole process of making records back in those days, with analog tape. I used to love the way analog tape smells. It just smells like solid gold! But then it went to digital. I think (producer and record label executive) Jimmy Bowen got all that started – 32-track digital tape.

How do you feel now about digital recording?

The whole thing of recording is still very exciting for me. The first time we cut a record just using Pro Tools, I found that really does work. Neil Young was over at my house a few months back, and we were talking about the virtues of recording analog versus recording digitally. We all know that sound of analog is so warm and friendly. But digital is just so convenient that I don’t think I could ever go back to just recording all analog. I’ve gotten so used to saying, “I love that verse, so let’s put it over here instead of the third verse, and let’s put that first verse over there.” Being able to cut and paste and going all those fun things, that’s part of record production today.

CMA Members: For more conversation with Ronnie Milsap, see your April/May 2014 issue of CMA Close Up!

Check back at on Feb. 10 for more from Ronnie Milsap, including the inside story on his new album, Summer Number Seventeen.

Also, take a look back at the official music video for one of Milsap’s classics, “Stranger In My House” below.


  • David Bucy

    A great entertainer, who should have been in the country music hall of fame along time ago, A true country Legend.