Steve Millikan – A Brief But Seemingly Endless History part 2

In 1975 I began dating Mary Wood from Kokomo, Indiana. We met at the Greentown Fair; she had grown up with Rod Robison, our lead singer, and had come to the fair to hear our CCM band Selah play at the Robison Realty tent. Clearly, we were almost in the big time. After the fair that evening I asked if I might give her a ride home (in her car, as it turns out) and the rest can be found in the historical documents.

We married in July 1978, and lived for three years in Xenia, Ohio. I worked odd jobs – pumping gas, substitute teaching in the local jr.and sr. high schools, and teaching piano, primarily to young students. I wish to go on record as stating that there can be no worse job than teaching piano to young students who do not wish to learn, unless you enjoy repeatedly banging your head against brick walls. Mary waitressed and did substitute teaching as well until she was too great with our first daughter Emily, who was born at Greene County Memorial in Xenia October of 1980.

Having finished this history part 2, and realizing the painfully dreary experience it will be to slog through the whole blame thing,  I plead with you to save yourself while you can. Exit this page. Go do something useful with your life, or at least go read a phone book.

I began to have a few opportunities to play keyboards and produce at Pinebrook studios in Alexandria, Indiana, and though it was clearly not worth the drive for the money I made, I was intrigued by the recording studio and continued to drive back and forth. By 1981 I was getting more chances to work at what is now called Gaither Studios. Mary and I, with  9 month old Emily in tow, moved to Indiana to a location between Pinebrook, Mary’s childhood home (and other family members in Kokomo), and Indianapolis, where I was getting occasional work with ASA productions as a player and occasional jingle writer.  Truthfully, to say I was a jingle writer is a bit euphemistic – I tried writing a few, and produced some demos, but I’m not sure I actually sold any. I worked with Rich Airis, his brother and another partner at ASA. Recording engineers back in the day that I remember would have been Kirk Butler, Mike Graham, and Mark Hood.

I had not considered a career in music production, arranging, playing, and songwriting, until these opportunities presented themselves in the late 70’s early 80’s. Truthfully, I had not given enough careful consideration to how I would support a wife and children. I recall after Mary brought me to meet her parents, Mary’s mom asked her (not within earshot) if I was planning to get a real job. Sadly, I never did. I suppose part of the concern was my disheveled and eccentric appearance; I was in the habit of not tying my shoes, my coat was some old man’s cast-off I had found, and my clothes were not shall we say well-coordinated. I had longer hair and a beard, which at that time to conservative, God-fearing Baptist parents, was not a good omen.

I continued to get more gigs at Pinebrook, producing and arranging albums for a variety of mom and pop groups, various quartets and trios, and solo artists. I was not a quick learner at the art of arranging, nor at understanding how a rhythm section functioned. But I had perfect pitch and could tickle the ivories quite well, and that was good enough to get me more producing work.

In 1982 or 1983 I was producing a record for a christian band, whose name escapes me, and a young aspiring songwriter and artist named Ray Boltz came to the session to watch it go down. He was impressed enough to ask me to produce his first recording. He was a local artist with a bent for storytelling, and sang at various functions, including prisons and retirement homes. His first recording included a 6 or 7 minute song entitled “Watch The Lamb.” Neither of us knew anything about the Christian recording industry, or how to make a hit record. We simply tried to make his songs interesting and to our liking.

Rhythm tracks and most of that first project were recorded at The Barn in Alexandria, with Darrell Powell engineering. Steve Dokken was on bass, Dane Clark on drums, and Rex Thomas on guitar. Rex also helped with the rhythm arrangements for a couple of the tunes. I think we cut most of the record there, but recorded strings and mixed at Pinebrook with John Bolt.

Heartland Records, a small label run by Jon Phelps, who now operates Full Sail Recording Workshop, picked up the project and did what distribution & promotion they were able to do with their limited resources. They released Watch The Lamb as a single, and though it didn’t do very well on the national charts, there were pockets of the country where it really took off and became a #1 hit. This laid the groundwork for Ray’s sophomore effort, “Thank You”, the record that really put him on the map.

“Thank You” was distributed by Diadem Records out of Nashville. Interestingly, the record was shopped to some major Christian labels who seemed to think he could be a songwriter, but probably wouldn’t have a successful career as a Christian artist, at least at that time. They didn’t quite get it right.

Thank You was a #1 song on both the AC and Inspirational charts, staying on top for quite a few weeks, and becoming the Gospel Music Associations’s Song of the Year.

Shepherd Boy was the next single from that album; it likewise went to #1 on both Inspo and AC charts. Bill Gaither owned half the publishing to some of Ray’s songs, and published an ill-fated musical entitled “Thank You.”

Musicians on that project were Dane Clark on drums, Jon Herington on guitar, and Randy Melson on bass. Herington helped with some of the arrangements, and pushed me to be more creative on a couple songs than I might otherwise have been, notably on the introduction to Lion Of Judah.

John Bolt mixed it at AireBorn studios, the new studio on the block. It was the first record they had cut strings on, in an office turned string room. For those keeping score, I had spoken with Mike Wilson and John Bolt about partnering with them at AireBorn some time previous, but that was not to be.

Ray was a masterful storyteller; I didn’t realize how good he was until after we had completed that second record and Thank You became a phenomenon. He wrote some of the hits on his own; but most of his songs were co-written. He would come to a songwriting session with a chorus, or an idea, or a verse and chorus. I functioned more as a song helper than a songwriter – but I was rather vocal where I felt he could improve his writing. There was ongoing tension beween his artistic flair for re-telling biblical stories and creating emotional and compelling songs out of thin air, and my Baptistic, literalist upbringing which led me to request absolute factual accuracy in his music. Sometimes he edited or changed his songs in accordance with my requests, and other times was unwilling to sacrifice the emotional impact to make them perfectly fit the facts and my theological guidelines.

I continued to produce for him until about 2000; our last record together was “Classics” and was a re-recording of some of his favorite gospel songs he wanted to cover. His last project, The Potters Field, was co-produced with Rich Morpurgo from Bloomington, Indiana in the early 2000′s.

As a studio keyboardist, my background as a classical pianist was helpful in developing an accurate technical approach. Having  little experience playing in bands (Selah was my only foray that direction), I was rather slow to get into the synthesizer world though. My first synth was a DX-7; I never learned to do much programming, being satisfied with the sounds that came out of the box on their own with some simple modifications.

It wasn’t until perhaps the middle 1990’s and some Roland synthesizers that I became a bit more familiar with that world, but I never developed the depth of understanding of the technology that most other keyboard guys in the area did – Chris Lieber, Scott Kemper, and others.

My greatest area of interest and skill gradually became the world of piano and orchestral samples; I use many orchestral samples extensively in my arrangements and productions. This is partly because of financial constraints, but also because when trying to complete arrangments as much as possible in my home studio, it was often impossible to get them to feel like music without some of the necessary orchestral elements. Recently I’ve added a program for strumming acoustic guitar that sounds a bit shaky on it’s own, but buried in the mix or as a mock-up tool works decently.

Looking back, some of those first sampled instruments were really nasty sounding. I remember buying my first Proteus 2 for some of the woodwinds and a few other instruments that I thought sounded pretty good. Today I can still pick out that painful, flat, lifeless, one dimensional sound of the Proteus 2 oboe when I hear it, generally in muzak. I can be in a crowded restaurant, music barely audible, but that sample always catches my ear and makes me want to run screaming from the room.

I’ve taken some rabbit trails in this riveting part 2 of mine life, and even my mom would probably have given up by now, but I plod on, determined to finish this breathtaking biography.

Mary and I have 4 children, 3 by natural birth, and a son adopted from Kiev, Ukraine. Emily was born in Xenia, Ohio as mentioned previously; as of this writing she resides in or near Ipswitch, Massachusetts. Elizabeth was born in 1982 in Kokomo, and is currently in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, working with Last Bell Ministries, helping to rescue older orphan children along with a team of 12-14 Ukrainian house parents and administrative staff.

Our entire family has been involved in this ministry over the years; Mary and I have both been on the board of Last Bell (a 501c3), and Mary served as chairman of the board and president.

Mary has taken perhaps 40 trips to Ukraine; Luke and I have been over 7-10 times each, and Emily and Jesse have been a few times as well. In addition to her regular employment in the Boston area, Emily works a few hours each week with Last Bell in an administrative capacity.

Mary and I moved from our first Indiana home in 1986 to one that is closer to her family in Kokomo and a bit closer to Aire Born Studios, where I am hired often as a player. It’s in the corn fields between Indy and Kokomo (our home).

My home studio (ZooWest) came into being sometime around 1990 I suppose, though that is a guess. The recording medium known as ADATs had been developed, and eventually, though I am not so visionary when it comes to recording equipment and possibilities, I decided it might be doable to record at least a few of the demos or overdubs I was doing at my own facility. As you might imagine, I slowly added to the gear that I owned, and within a few short years had a fairly functional ADAT based studio. Might I add that while ADATs became somewhat standard in most studios, it was a very imperfect and not-so-pleasant technology. By the way, if you clicked the link for ZooWest above, you may or may not have been magically transported to a website. As of this addendum to my biography in June 2011 there is not yet a functional website, though I own the domain name, for those who are keeping score.

It was probably near the end of the 90’s when I took the leap into the world of Pro Tools. I’d like to apologize to all my engineering friends who patiently answered my plethora of questions for a few years as I struggled to come to terms with this new way of recording. Though I didn’t quite get the way that it interfaced with our analog world, I was entranced and thrilled with this new, non-linear approach to recording and especially editing, and have never looked back. No matter that I didn’t have the logical thinking processes of some of my keyboard couterparts – I was able to make it do essentially what I wanted it to do, though often there was a better way than the one I chose.

When we decided to add the music room to our home, I didn’t have a vision for what it might become – I was thinking of it simply as a room to keep the piano and where I would do some arranging. Fortunately, we decided at the 11th hour to attach a small bathroom to this large room, and the room was large enough that many years later, when I decided it would be useful to separate into two areas, one for the singers and instrumentalists, and the other for the control room, there was adequate space.

Joe Rushton, a good friend, agreed to build the wall between the 2 rooms, and he just happened to have a rather large, double thickness window sitting out in his yard which he agree to install between the 2 rooms, the perfect touch. My dad helped me build shelves in the control room – we had built in a small closet area, but I was not bright enough to think about the advantage of building shelves in it. Dad did the same thing for us in the shed just off our back porch.

Regarding the “overdub” room as it now known, though it is not very spacious, it works quite nicely for recording, due to a generous amount of sound treatment, and a cathedral ceiling which lets the room breathe and means that at least 2 of the primary surfaces are not parallel. I did know enough to have the glass between the control room and overdub area installed at a slight angle to prevent the nasty results you will often get in a room with too many parallel surfaces.

I have been fortunate to work with Hal Leonard Publications out of Milwaukee in many different ways over the years. First as a studio player in the earliest years of my acquaintance with them, and later as an arranger and producer. As a player, there have been a couple ongoing projects I’ve worked on with them – their Essential Elements recordings, and the musicals for young children that have been for many years produced by John Higgins. Mom, if you’re still reading, you might find it interesting that John Higgin’s co-writer for these musicals is John Jacobson, who has achieved internet fame largely due to a viral youTube video from a few years back affectionately know as Double Dream Hands. Wait, you’re 91 and not really doing a lot on the interweb these days…but if you were, you would appreciate that little gem, as your sense of humor remains vibrant as it always was.

There was a rather monstrously large project a few years back for Uncle Hal, a collaboration with MacMillan McGraw Hill on new music textbooks for many of our nation’s children. They employed me, as well as some others, to produce the music that would be used in the classrooms to educate children and help teachers with that task. I believe I was responsible for about 125 of the songs for that project, and my family will attest to the fact that I should either have attempted less of them, or hired some additional help; I was in way over my heard for 6 months or however long that process lasted.

It has only been a little over a year since I began attempting to create and sell music via the internet. Again, I’m a little slow to get into the game. The initial site was weddingmusicproject.com; my son Jesse is the programmer and nephew Brian is the SEO guy and collaborates with Jesse on site design and functionality. Site visitors have enjoyed Storybook Love, the Theme from Princess Bride, and a few dozen other tunes I’ve released. One of our albums is 20+ versions of the traditional Wedding March|Bridal Chorus|Here Comes The Bride; the traditional pipe organ version seems to be the preferred version so far, though I favor the gentle piano version or the solo violin with piano and orchestra. I’m preparing to release some more uptempo tunes; some of them would make creative processionals or recessionals.

Since we started on that little adventure, I’ve been buying up domain names and developing other websites. You can find some of my lullabies at babylullabymusic.net; there are a few others that are in their infancy, and within a few months will be on the broadcast in some form. One particularly interesting one is cancionesdecuna.net, a Spanish language lullaby website that I’m creating with Mark Aspinall, recording engineer and friend. It’s not been developed as of this writing, but by the time you read this, it may be a functional website for distributing Spanish language lullabies.

I won’t list my recording studio gear except to say I’m using a  Pro Tools HD2 system with Mytek A-D conversion. On the virtual orchestra front, I use both EastWest’s Platinum Quantum Leap Orchestra, and some of the Vienna Instruments from VSL. Eventually there will be a website with a few pics of my studio at ZooWest.net.

As this enchanting story has unwound itself, I realize I’ve majored on the musical aspects of my life rather than family. Perhaps I’ll post more personal stuff elsewhere.

I did a post on weddingmusicproject.com, attempting to list all the artists I could remember that I’ve worked with over the years (decades). Click HERE to read that post. And by all means, if by some chance I have produced anything for you and you didn’t make that list, leave a comment at the end of this article or the one on the wedding site so I can add you to the list.

8 Responses to Steve Millikan – A Brief But Seemingly Endless History part 2

  1. Doug Haskin says:

    Enjoyed reading this brief but seemingly endless history (part 1 and 2) and happily say again that you didn’t embarrass the family. (smiley face)

    • admin says:

      You’re saying it was seemingly endless? I’m taken aback that such a riveting, jaw-dropping account of my life could in any way be viewed as long, or endless, or even lengthy. I felt it was abbreviated, sketchy, and severely edited; in essence, the Reader’s Digest version of the tome the entire world was breathlessly expecting.

  2. Hey Steve, I just came across your site. Remember me? You produced a song I wrote in the mid eighties. It was featured on the WXIR Radio yearly song writer’s contest. The song was “Take The Time”. Scott Kemper sang it, Dave and Sandy Noel sang back-up. Dane Clark, Randy Melson, and the usual gang played on the track along with you. I never got a chance to talk to you since then but want to say that you did a wonderful job with the arrangement and production of that song! Thank you for your expertise!

    Gary “Marshall” Rinker

  3. JOHN E says:

    I KNOW THAT IT IS LATE IN LIFE FOR YOU, BUT YOU SHOULD GET A REAL JOB SO YOU CAN EXPERIENCE LIFE AT IT’S FULLEST. ALTHOUGH ENDLESS, YOUR HISTORY HAS LACKED THE JOY OF RUBBING ELBOWS WITH THE “BLUE COLLAR” “WORK-A-DAY” WORLD. CAN YOU WASH CARS? HOURS ARE 9-5 M-F…IMMEDIATE OPENING FOR A GUY OF YOUR CALIBER…AND THE PEOPLE? WELL, I CAN JUST SAY THIS—ENDLESS MATERIAL FOR A SONG. (OR FICTION WRITING, OR COMEDY, OR JUST PLAIN OBSERVING). BEING STUCK MANY HOURS IN THE STUDIO HAS ROBBED YOU OF THIS JOY. LOVE YOU MAN!

  4. Ron Scott says:

    STEVE MILLIKAN ? I KNOW THAT GUY !! AFTER FINDING THIS NEW INFO. I THINK YOU ARE FAMOUS. LATER, RON

  5. Celeste says:

    It might be seemingly endless, but I would love to see another installment. By the way, I say, “Never get a ‘real’ job!”

  6. Bob melford says:

    Spud,
    I don’t know if you’ll remember me from Cedarville but I was there in 72-75. I can remember playing a little keyboard with you behind the “Lettermen” (of the ‘Ville)

    Bob

    • admin says:

      Hey Bob, great to hear from you. Of course I remember you, but primarily as a basketballer, not a musician…are your knees okay? I remember you had pogo sticks for legs, and now that I’m experiencing 59 year old joints, it makes me wonder how your joints have survived…

      Sorry it took so long to respond – this website is more a placeholder than a real website, and I don’t check comments very often!

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