Take the Highway!
It's More Than Just a Song Title - It's a Way of Life
An interview with Rusty Milner
by Craig Cumberland
In the fall of 1999 I had the chance to interview Rusty Milner, lead guitarist of the MTB. While many fans may consider him one of the "new" band members, he's been with MTB since 1984. His tenure is longer than any other band members' except Doug and Jerry. He's written numerous songs for the band and helped engineer their last 4 albums as well as co-producing the most recent, Face Down in the Blues.
YOU'VE BEEN WITH THE BAND FOR 15 YEARS NOW?
Yeah, since '84. It all started in the winter of '83. Doug called and asked if I'd be interested in playing in the band because he said something was getting ready to go down. I didn't really take it to heart, but he called back in January and said it happened and we'd start rehearsing in February of '84. And I've been with them ever since.
Rusty and MTB circa 1984
AND I BET HE DIDN'T HAVE TO ASK YOU TWICE?
No, it was a good opportunity. I never imagined I'd be playing in Tucker. I guess you could say I considered myself more of a pop/rock player in those days. And I considered Tucker more of a country/southern band, which I really wasn't interested in at the time. But you get a chance to play, and at that level - I was willing to play anything. But it fits my style real well and I fit into it real well I guess... I've managed to hang around this long anyway.
I BET YOU COULD HAVE NEVER IMAGINED THAT 15 YEARS LATER YOU'D STILL BE DOING IT.
Well, before I got into the band I was working on alot of my own stuff and even attempted to push it and that really helped me develop my writing. I've tried to make some of my songs work for the band and get them on the CDs whenever they fit in. It's so hard to play music and make a living. I've got so many friends I played with back in the old hometown and now they're working full time and some stopped playing music all together. You get married and the music becomes more of a hobby. I've been fortunate.
YOU WERE IN THE ARTIMUS PYLE BAND FOR A WHILE, RIGHT?
Yeah, from about 81 - 83, then we split up. The band had been together for a year or so and had just done their first album when I joined. They were recording their second album. Shortly after recording it MCA came in with a whole new management team and cleaned house, and we were gone. But that's how I got to know Doug and Jerry, we recorded the APB album at Creative Arts Studio, which was owned by the two of them and George. Then after that Doug was working on some stuff and I played a little on that. We got to know each other better and then things happened with Marshall Tucker and here I am...
Rusty jammin' in '99
YOU'RE ALSO FROM SPARTANBURG, RIGHT?
Yes. I graduated from Dorman High School in 1976. (The original band, except for Paul, also graduated from Dorman). I used to ride motorcross and play in basketball leagues quite a bit growing up. As a matter of fact I sold my motorcycle to buy my first guitar and amp.
SO ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE SUCCESS OF THE FACE DOWN IN THE BLUES CD?
Yeah, it's kind of, I don't know... The band was so popular, so naturally, I kept up with the band growing up even though I didn't personally know 'em. It was such a big deal. You saw these guys all of a sudden driving Mercedes around town so ya knew things were going real good and when I got into the band I always hoped it would get back to that point, though things had already started slowing down a little bit. They'd had their hey day, but you always hope things can get back to the way things were. When I first joined the band they hired some great Nashville musicians and took them out on the road with us. They were great players, but it didn't feel like a band. It took alot of time to get to where we are now and I feel like we've got a great band now and it's the best CD I've done since I've been in the band. We did it in our own studio so this CD was more hands on than the others we'd done, so naturally I'm pullin for it. Over the last few years I've learned to not get too excited, ya just got to wait and see what happens.
THE SINGLE "THE LOVE I GAVE TO YOU" JUST WENT FROM 40 TO 34 ON THE NATIONAL CHARTS.
Yeah, that was a real surprise. Originally it wasn't on the record because we thought it was too pop, and this was supposed to be more of a rhythm and blues thing. But the record company wanted 12 songs so we added this one and "Face the Music" and that just rounded it all off.
Rusty and Jerry, 1985
"AIN'T NOBODY'S FOOL" WOULD MAKE A GOOD FOLLOW UP SINGLE.
I feel the same way, I'd love to see that happen. That's one of my favorite songs. The other little kick that would help this thing get off the ground is videos, but I don't know if the record company is willing to spend money on that. Video would be that last link to let people know that we're still out here.
"MEAN MISS SWEETIE" WOULD MAKE A GREAT COUNTRY HIT
That was the one I originally picked to be the first release. That's a really good song, too.
THERE'S SO MANY GREAT SONGS ON THE NEW CD, "THE LONG GOODBYE" WOULD MAKE A GREAT SINGLE, TOO. YOU GET A GOOD FEEL FOR ALL THE SONGS ON THE CD THEN "DRIFITN BLUES" JUST COMES OUT OF LEFT FIELD WITH SOMETHNG TOTALLY DIFFERENT TO END THE CD.
Yeah, I like that for a good ending too. I love CDs that end with something different and light.
I THINK THE NEW CD BROUGHT ALOT OF FANS BACK WHO MAYBE DIDN'T KNOW MTB WAS STILL OUT THERE AND ALOT OF NEW FANS HAVE GOT INTO TUCKER THE PAST FEW YEARS, EVEN YOUNG FANS IN THEIR TEENS AND TWENTIES. THE NEW CD HAD OPENED ALOT OF EYES I THINK.
Yeah, we've noticed alot more fans out there this year and that's always nice to see.
SPEAKING OF VIDEOS, IT LOOKED LIKE THE BAND MUST'VE HAD A GOOD TIME FILMING "AND THE HILLS" (IT FEATURED PLAYBOY PLAYMATES).
Well, our wives sure gave us a hard time about it. But honestly, it was one of the earliest videos we'd done so I spent alot of time watching what the crew was doing and trying to learn as much as I could.
ARE YOU WORKING ON ANYTHING NEW?
Yeah, the gospel CD. It's a K-Tel project. It's just something Doug's always wanted to do. We actually started on it before we started on Face Down. We've already got 5 or 6 songs done. We got about 5 more we're gonna do. There might be a couple of our songs on there. We're mainly doing old southern gospel tunes like "Eye of the Sparrow", and "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad". A gospel CD fits in real well with where we are right now with the music and our lives.
THE BAND'S DONE SONGS LIKE THAT BEFORE, THE MOST RECENT "CLOSER TODAY" WHICH YOU HELPED WRITE, OFF THE SOUTHERN SPIRIT CD.
That's just a special song. Believe it or not every now and then I get a royalty check for that, (laughs) and believe me it's very small, but it's real consistent. Folks just like that song and somebody's covering it. It's just got a very special meaning, a special line "may we be closer today than yesterday" and thing's will get better. That's what it's all about.
ANYTHING PLANNED FOR AFTER THE GOSPEL CD?
We're always hopin' a major label will pick us up, with major money (laughs). It always takes money to get things really going again. It seems that if we're not on the road we're in the studio working on something new. We're always busy.
IT SEEMS LIKE THERE'S BEEN TIMES THE BAND STARTED TO TAKE OFF AGAIN BUT BECAUSE OF YOUR RECORD LABELS YOU'VE HAD TO CHANGE DIRECTIONS. SISAPA FOLDED, THEN YOU'RE NEXT LABEL, CABIN FEVER, GOT OUT OF THE RECORD BUSINESS.
Yeah, these independent labels get into it, they have a tough time making a go of it and it takes more money than they think. And that's happened to us a couple of times. K-Tel is a big label, but they've always released compilations, but they're just getting into releasing new music, but they're still a popular label with good distribution.
DRIVIN YOU OUT OF MY MIND GOT SOME CMT AIRPLAY AND WALK OUTSIDE THE LINES GOT EVEN MORE - IT SEEMED YOU WERE BUILDING MOMENTUM IN THE COUNTRY MUSIC MARKET, THEN CABIN FEVER GOT OUT OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS - THAT HAD TO HURT A LITTLE BIT.
Yeah, it did 'cause we were just startin to get into that video market, and I feel like it's something we could use right now. Ya know, "video killed the radio star." It really did. Live performances, that's what the music survived on with the original band, they gave such great live shows, big concerts, all over the United States, all over the world. That's what kept the band going, more so than the actual albums. When the fans come out to see us they don't expect to see a three minute song. They expect us to get out there and jam, and that's up our alley - that makes it fun.
I'M GLAD TO SEE STUART BACK IN THE BAND.
Yeah, Stuart's a great player. I grew up watching him play before I ever got serious about playing. I don't think he even remembers this, we were probably barely high school age, but a buddy of mine told me about this hot guitar player so we went over to his house. Stuart had a little band and they practiced in the storage room of their garage. Ya know that was a big inspiration 'cause I wasn't a big southern fan at the time - Stuart's band covered alot of Tucker, Allman Brothers and I thought that was some cool guitar stuff, he was really good. We saw each other here and there from time to time then later on in the mid-80s we got him into the band - we had been looking for someone that fit that bill, someone that grew up with the music.
Rusty, Stuart & Tim, 1998
TIM HAS BEEN A NICE FIT TOO.
Yeah, he's another guy from Spartanburg, growing up with the music and just being raised in the same area, I guess we just have a feel about it. And Tim's such a good writer.
BB AND DAVID SEEM TO HAVE BROUGHT SOME NEW ENERGY TO THE BAND.
Yeah, BB drives us real well. He just keeps it going. Dave's a great soloist, probably the best I've ever worked with. His solos just blow me away. He's got a lot of jazz influence, which I like. He just gets up there in front of everybody, kinda like "here it is", and he just goes and takes ya for a ride.
I'M GLAD THAT DAVID IS PLAYING THE KEYBOARDS ON SOME OF THE SONGS IN CONCERT.
He's extremely talented, and plays alot of different instruments. Hornsby's (Paul, the producer of the band's first six albums) thing was always to go back over the recording and lay down this big bed of piano and it really made the record, just jelled things. MTB's never used piano live much, except when Ronnie Godfrey was with them for a couple of years. It was mainly always a guitar band, thank goodness (laughs).
I'D LOVE TO HAVE THE CURRENT LINE-UP RELEASE A LIVE CD. A LOT OF FANS HAVEN'T HAD A CHANCE TO SEE YOUR LIVE SHOW. THE CURRENT LINE-UP HAS ADDED SOME REALLY NICE TOUCHES TO THE TUCKER STANDARDS. I LOVE THE SLIDE GUITAR STU PLAYS ON "SEARCHIN FOR A RAINBOW" & "FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN". AND THE TRADE-OFFS YOU BOTH DO ON "CAN'T YOU SEE" GIVES THE SONG A NEW DIMENSION. AND THE BAND HAS WRITTEN SOME NEW TUCKER CLASSICS LIKE "STAY IN THE COUNTRY" AND OTHERS.
We've talked about it. We love to jam, sometimes I tell the guys "don't be surprised, we might get into anything tonight."
YOU GUYS STILL PLAY A LOT OF SHOWS, OVER 200 A YEAR. THAT'S ALOT OF MILES.
And our schedule can get crazy, especially around the Fourth of July. Just this year we played in Southern California on the 1st and then on the 2nd we were in Sparks, Nevada. After the show we took a red eye flight to Baltimore for a show on the 3rd and on the Fourth of July we played Alabama. We were hurting at the end of it all. It makes for long nights and long days.
LIKE THE BELLAMY BROTHERS SANG "IT'S A HARD WAY TO MAKE AN EASY LIVING"
Yeah, that's a good way of putting it. Leland Sklar, a bassist who's played with James Taylor and Phil Collins and others, once told me "you get paid for the travel, the show's for fun."
DO YOU REALIZE YOU'VE DONE OVER 3,000 SHOWS WITH TUCKER NOW...
Really? Now I know where all these gray hairs come from (laughs). I never thought about it that way.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY
I've been married for ten years and I've got a six-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy. I've struggled with that and beat myself to death alot of times over that, 'cause you miss out on so much. And now that my little girl's in school all year and then when she's off in the summer we're gone. We only made it home 7 or 8 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day. But you gotta do what you gotta do. You know, children teach us not to be so selfish. Before the kids when I got home all I'd think about was working out, playing golf, or working on new songs. I used to have a studio at home but when my son was born we turned it into a bedroom. Now all think about doing is getting home to them, and where I can take them and what we can do; just playing out in the yard - just ordinary stuff. It's just so special to spend that time with them. Now the only time I play much golf is when I have free time on the road.
WHERE'D YOU MEET YOUR WIFE?
I walked in Wendy's and this girl just smiled at me and I knew right then... something told me she'd make a good mother. Really, I even told a buddy of mine that. I ran into her again when she started working at the bank I used. I asked her out several times and she kept saying no because I was a musician. She finally said yes and the rest is history.
SO WHAT'S YOUR HANDICAP?
(Laughs) You gonna print this? About a ten, a few years ago it was down to 8. The best I ever shot was a 73. I was under 80 most the summer. Then in September I lost it, it got so bad I went to a teacher. But I love it, it's my new drug, it's my therapy. Those 4 or 5 hours you don't think about anything. I go out and play and then a few days later I'm ready for another fix. It just clears my mind. I've got a little black book with all the places I golf when I'm on the road. I've met alot of great folks, it's amazing. A lot of people think that golf is a rich man's game, but it's not. When you get out there on the course everybody's the same. A good putt is a good putt. A good drive is a good drive. Sports teaches you a lot, teaches you how to interact with people. Now I'm taking my daughter with me when I'm at home. She hits a few balls and likes riding around in the cart. I get cabin fever in the winter when I haven't played in a while. It's one thing I really look forward to these days. Back in the old days we'd party just to pass the time and now I just golf - it's a lot more positive thing. Being able to golf and get outside is kinda like the other side of the world compared to what I'm doing. Like Jerry said a few years ago "I'm remodeling my house and I'm gonna make my bedroom look like a hotel room so I feel at home." It didn't make much sense to me when he said it ten years ago, but now I know what he meant.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO TO PASS TIME ON THE ROAD?
I carry a little 8-track recorder that records to a hard disk drive. It's a "sketch pad" for my song ideas. Last night I started playing and next thing I knew it was 3:00 a.m. so I decided I'd better get to bed.
THROUGH THE YEARS YOU'VE CONTRIBUTED A LOT OF SONGS TO THE BAND, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE?
A song I really like and that I wrote several years ago is one on the new CD, "Face the Music". We started working on the new CD and I brought it out. Doug added a few lines, came in with the hook - that's a really good song. I'm always so critical of what we've done and there are things I'd like to do differently, like "The First to Say Goodbye" which was on Walk Outside the Lines. I'd love to go back and record it the way we originally played it live, with more sax. When we cut it we went for more of a country feel, so we cut alot of the sax.
YOU CO-WROTE "I LOVE YOU" ALONG WITH DOUG AND TOMMY. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
We were in Denver during Thanksgiving. It was about the time we were working on the "Still Smokin'" CD. Doug had this old tape of him and Tommy doing this song. All they had were the verses and the chorus. They needed an arrangement, which I did. I also added the bridge. I was disappointed I couldn't be at home for Thanksgiving but a buddy of mine from back home, who was now living in Denver, called me up and asked me over for dinner. I wasn't able to make it, but it made me feel alot better. I started working on this song and everything just came together real quick. That's another one of my favorites and something I'm really proud of.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE SONGS TO PLAY LIVE?
We just started playing "Hillbilly Band" with Stuart singing it, and that's a lot of fun. Naturally, "Highway" and "24 Hours", the songs we jam on. One of my favorite songs of all time is "Last of the Singing Cowboys". We haven't done it for a few years but we've been talking about bringing it back.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MTB RECORDS?
Together Forever. It had so many flavors in it. It's just such a great fusion of so many kinds of music. Just that whole album, they were into a really cool fusion - Together Forever just kind of sums it up. I guess being a musician I just like fusion. I'm a big fan of Larry Carlton and I'm a Jeff Beck fan, too. Another favorite is Tenth. Just recently a friend of mine just happened to have it on when I walked into his shop and I happened to catch that. It brings back alot of memories. You could tell they were evolving into something else. Songs like "Last of the Singing Cowboys" from Running Like the Wind, which was sort of in that direction, I just enjoyed that jazzy, funky spirit. That was an era of the band I just really liked.
"Thanks to all the fans for a great year and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year. It looks like 1999 will be another great year for MTB with the Volunteer Jam tour with Charlie." - Rusty Milner.
The Songs of Rusty Milner
Southern Spirit (1990)
Destruction; Modern Day Man; Special Lady (with Stuart Swanlund); No Mercy; Love Will
Still Smokin' (1992)
Tan Yard Road (with Jerry Eubanks); Carolina Party; I Love You (with Doug Gray and Tommy Caldwell); Let Me Come Home; Can’t Take It Anymore; Frontline (with Don Cameron)
Walk Outside the Lines (1993)
I'll Be Alright Without You; The First to Say Goodbye; Lost in Time (with Doug)
Face Down in the Blues (1998)
Face the Music (with Doug); I Like Good Music (with Doug and Tim Lawter); Ain't Nobody's Fool (with Doug); Southern Belle (with Doug and Tim Lawter)
Beauty of Life
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