Ronnie Milsap, appearing Friday night at the Bacchanal nightclub in Kearny Mesa, is to country music what Stevie Wonder is to pop. They’re both prodigious hit-makers, they’re both considered legends in their respective genres and they’re both blind.
Tracing back each artist’s career, one may or may not be surprised to find these parallels springing from the same point. Like Wonder, Milsap got his start as a professional musician in the middle 1960s, cutting rhythm-and-blues records and playing scattered dates--mostly in the South, mostly before black audiences--with veteran R&B; heavyweights the Miracles.
In time, however, Milsap drifted back to his country roots--he was, after all, born and raised in North Carolina, home of such celebrated country pioneers as Earl Scruggs and the “Hillbilly Waltz King,” Clyde Moody--and, in 1972, he moved to Nashville. There, he hooked up with Charlie Pride’s manager, Jack Johnson, who helped him get a record deal with RCA Records.
Milsap’s first single, “I Hate You,” was a Top 10 hit on the national country charts. Since then, virtually everything he’s recorded has turned to gold. Milsap’s country-chart hits, according to the Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, “are too numerous to list in full.”
Not only that, but, over the last decade, a half dozen of his singles have crossed over onto the Top 40 pop charts, including "(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” and “Any Day Now.”
One small aside: In January, 1981, Milsap scored his second Top 40 smash with “Smoky Mountain Rain.” That same month, Wonder scored his 36th with “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It.”
The best way to get over the death of a pet is to get a new one. And as far as San Diego promoter Bill Silva is concerned, the same applies to the loss of a perennially popular outdoor concert facility.
A month after he was formally shut out of San Diego State University’s 4,800-seat Open Air Theater, which since 1977 has been the site of a tremendously successful annual concert series, Silva has announced plans to produce a competing series at the 4,300-seat Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park.
As many as 18 big-name pop, rock, jazz and reggae acts are on tap for this year’s inaugural Concerts in the Park series, Silva said. Saturday’s appearance by Cheap Trick was something of a preseason exhibition game; the actual series will begin in April and continue through the fall.
Silva readily admits that he’s hoping to outbid, and out-book, Avalon Attractions of Los Angeles, which has produced the Open Air Theater’s annual concert series since 1984. In January, Avalon’s exclusive was extended for up to 20 years, despite a vigorous challenge by Silva and an out-of-town promoter.
“We’re vying for a lot of the same acts that they’re hoping to get,” Silva said. Among them, he added, are pop singers Al Jarreau and George Benson, jazz saxophonist Kenny G, and “various rock and reggae bands. . . . I don’t want to name until the contracts are signed.”
“If the competition knows I’m interested in a certain act, they may go after that same act, either because they want the show themselves or simply to get the bidding up,” Silva said. “In any case, I’m not willing to pay the extra 10 grand.”
The Starlight Bowl was built more than 50 years ago by the Ford Motor Co. to show off new car models during the California-Pacific International Exhibition of 1935, which was held in Balboa Park. Since then, the amphitheater has hosted everything from union meetings to San Diego Civic Light Opera musicals; the only caveat was no amplified music because of the proximity of the Naval Hospital.
With the recent relocation of the hospital a mile or so away, the noise restrictions no longer apply. Last fall, Silva introduced rock ‘n’ roll to the Starlight Bowl with concerts by the late Roy Orbison and Steel Pulse.
“And we got such a great response--both from the artists, who loved the setting, and from the fans, who loved the central location, the easy freeway access, the sight lines, and the comfortable seats--that we decided to put together a full-blown concert series for 1989,” Silva said.
LINER NOTES: San Diego’s The Jacks have a new look and a new sound. Ken Layne, formerly with local roots rockers the Outriders, has signed on as singer, songwriter and rhythm guitarist; Brian (Custard Pants) Clark replaces Giacomo (Jack) DiMatteo on drums. And, after three years of playing blue-eyed soul, said band leader Buddy Blue, the Jacks are headed toward a more rootsy, country sound. “I miss the kind of music I was doing with the Beat Farmers,” Blue said, “and I think some of our fans do, too.” A charter member of the Beat Farmers, Blue recorded two albums with the group before leaving in early 1986 to form the Jacks.
Thursday night’s concert by hometown heavy-metal heroes Ratt, at the San Diego Sports Arena, has been canceled because of poor ticket sales. . . . .This year’s eighth annual Concerts by the Bay series at Humphrey’s on Shelter Island includes a rare concert appearance by rock ‘n’ roll legend Gene Pitney (June 23). The melodramatic crooner, whose early-'60s hits include “Town Without Pity” and “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” hasn’t toured nationally in 17 years.
Neil Diamond’s April 17 concert at the Sports Arena sold out less than three hours after the box office opened last Monday. A second show has been added for April 18.