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Ronnie Milsap Reflects on Departed Friend: Ray Charles

The two piano men shared a special friendship.

photo courtesy Gold Mountain Entertainment

Ronnie Milsap has been thinking a lot about the past. On the upcoming 40/40 Vision Tour, he’ll perform 40 of his biggest hits from the past 40 years, crooning his way through one of the most timeless catalogs in country music. He’s also gearing up for the Jan. 28 release of Summer Number Seventeen, a tribute to the classic songs that filled the airwaves during Ronnie’s high school days.

Like most of Ronnie’s albums, Summer Number Seventeen is a little bit country and a little bit rock ’n’ roll. The best performance, though, is a cover of Ray Charles’ R&B classic “Georgia on my Mind.” Ray and Ronnie were longtime friends, swapping songs and shows from the 1960s through the early 2000s. They even talked about doing a residency in Las Vegas together, but plans fell through when Ray’s health began to suffer.

"I loved Ray so much,” Ronnie says, “and it was just a tremendous blow when he got sick. I played the last show with him in Houston, at Alliance Stadium. We played that show together, and I was talking to Ray, and he just seemed real frail at that time. I thought, ‘There’s something wrong. Ray’s not feeling right.’ He said, ‘Ronald, I want you to talk to your agent, and let’s play some shows in Las Vegas together.’ I said, ‘I’d love that. I’ll talk to them, I sure will.’ But before we could do that, he passed away."

There ain’t no getting over Ray. On Summer Number Seventeen, though, Ronnie pays his respects the right way. 

Look for more on Ronnie, his friendship with Ray Charles and his new album in the Feb. 3 issue of Country Weekly, on stands Jan. 27.

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