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In a review of Palisade, Parker Millsap’s first album, Jivewired Journal raved, “At nineteen, the man (and his debut album) is already a true American classic.”
Photo by SAMANTHA LAMB
With a new album and buzz from Nashville to Norman, Parker Millsap can’t lose.
By Ryan LaCroix
Published March/April 2014
Editor’s Note: Ryan LaCroix is the assistant operations manager for KOSU Radio in Oklahoma City. Scroll down to listen to Ryan’s KOSU interview with Parker Millsap.
It’s New Year’s Eve 2013 in Nashville, and Purcell native Parker Millsap is standing center stage in a music mecca, the Ryman Auditorium, commonly known as “The Mother Church of Country Music.” It’s exactly where the confident young guitarist and singer/songwriter planned to be. At an age when many are figuring out what they want to do, Millsap—who turned twenty-one in February—is resolute.
“He’s got these stories, and he wants to share them,” says his former manager, Steven White of Norman. “It’s not just something he does on the weekend. This is something he wants to do with his life.”
Following graduation from Purcell High School in 2011, Millsap spurned college in favor of becoming a full-time musician.
“Since I was about twelve or thirteen, this is all I ever I wanted to do,” says Millsap. “I didn’t give myself a plan B. Why would I spend $50,000 in four years on my backup plan?”
Following a three-month internship at a California recording studio, Millsap returned to Oklahoma and took over a Tuesday night residency at The Deli, a live music bar in Norman, which allowed him to work out new material and develop a fan base. Joined by upright bassist and fellow Purcell native Michael Rose, he released Palisade, an eleven-track album the Oklahoma Gazette named the best local album of 2012.
Millsap’s gritty vocals have drawn comparisons to Tom Waits, while his music—a combination of blues, rock, and country—puts him in a class of performers with Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne. His new self-titled album, released in February, was produced at 115 Recording in Norman by Wes Sharon, who first met a fourteen-year-old Millsap at a rock band clinic.
“Even then, he was clearly a standout,” says Sharon. “He was really good.”
Millsap again was joined on the new album by Rose, as well as Norman resident Daniel Foulks, a thirty-two-year fiddle veteran. With backing vocals from Samantha Crain and a brass section named Weapons of Brass Destruction, the musicianship perfectly complements Millsap’s soulful voice. The album is earning national attention—American Songwriter magazine called it “terrific, even audacious” in January.
However, the initial recording sessions for Parker Millsap did not go according to plan. Fortunately, the singer recognized that he was missing the mark and changed direction.
“It didn’t really sound like the record I wanted to make,” Millsap says. “We invested six ten-hour days in this thing, and then we threw 90 percent of it out the window and started over. That costs money and adds emotional stress.”
Millsap’s reboot was worthwhile, however, and it shows in the resulting ten songs of love and redemption and twisted tales of real-life characters. There’s a reflection of Millsap’s Pentecostal upbringing in songs like “Truck Stop Gospel,” in which a truck-stop preacher “speaks in the Holy Spirit” and casts a demon from a “parking lot lady” looking for a good time. Many of the songs are written from a first-person perspective, lending each greater emotional pull.
Sharon, who also recorded Millsap’s Palisade, the Turnpike Troubadours’ 2012 album Goodbye Normal Street, and John Fullbright’s Grammy-nominated debut From the Ground Up, is proud of the album’s sound.
“I didn’t listen to it for a couple of months,” says Sharon. “When I did, I was over the moon. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever worked on.”
Millsap, however, isn’t satisfied. Just a few months removed from playing the Ryman on New Year’s Eve, the young musician seems unfazed.
“I try to have the mindset that my work is never done,” he says. “There’s always a better song to be written.”
Get There: Parker Millsap’s albums Palisade and Parker Millsap are available through iTunes. For more information, visit parkermillsap.com.