[Interview] Parker Millsap

Writing songs anybody can listen to and relate to.


If you are already on the Parker Millsap bandwagon, hold on to your spot tightly. It’s about to overflow.

Quick history lesson. Three years ago, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter released his eponymous debut of blues-based country folk tunes and played the Bacon, Blues & Brew Festival in Batesville, Indiana, on the bed of a semi-trailer. A year later, he left an audience at the Southgate House Revival slack jawed after his first performance there. Last year, “The Very Last Day,” was nominated for the Americana Music Association album of the year. His competition: Grammy Award winners Jason Isbell, Lucinda Williams and Chris Stapleton.

Then this happened. Millsap sang with Elton John at the Apple Music Festival in London in September on “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “The Very Last Day.” Less than a month later, Sir Elton saw Millsap and Sarah Jarosz in Atlanta, and took to Facebook: “Last night I saw one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Parker Millsap and Sarah Jarosz. Both were astonishingly good. And their respective musicians too. It restored my faith in music. Bravo to you both.”

“Yeah, that was kind of wild,” says Millsap, who grew up in a house where the Pentecostal church took precedence over pop music. But he began his due diligence.

“I actually got a bunch of his records from my aunt, who was a big fan. And they weren’t his best ones,” he laughs. “I had to go out and buy ‘Captain Fantastic’ and all the good stuff. Then we actually wrote a song together that will be on the next album.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is the headline in that anecdote, but the collaboration with Jarosz might prove more fruitful over time. The 26-year-old Grammy winner sang harmony on “The Very Last Day” with Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan (the women recorded their vocal remotely), and both work with producer Gary Paczosa. The pair recorded two songs (and videos) for a Third Man Records project and co-wrote “Comin’ Undone,” which appeared on Jarosz’s “Undercurrent.”

“We met when he came over to Gary’s house (in Nashville) when I was working on ‘Undercurrent,’ ” Jarosz says. “It was just fast friends. I feel like we had a similar (background), him growing up in Oklahoma, me growing up in Texas. There was definitely a connection there.

“Then we toured together for about two weeks last fall, that’s when we really became good friends. I love all the guys in his band (fiddler Daniel Foulks, bass player Michael Rose and drummer Paddy Ryan). We had so much fun. Then we capped that off with Elton John coming to the show, which was totally unreal.”

Unreal events like that lead to life getting real, well, real. That’s what is happening for Millsap and Jarosz, who played to a sold-out crowd at Memorial Hall June 9. He might not sell 550 tickets this week, but he’s not playing on the back of a flatbed truck, either.

So, if you want to be a cool kid hip to Parker Millsap before he blows up, this is your last chance. This (expletive’s) gettin’ real.

Parker Millsap performing “Truck Stop Gospel”.



Parker Millsap spent his childhood singing in the Pentecostal church, absorbing his parents’ love of blues music at home and developing an inquisitive spirit for the world from his perch in Purcell, Oklahoma.

By the time he released his self-titled debut album just before his 21st birthday in 2014, he had begun to build a reputation as a force of nature. Now, 2½ years later, both “Parker Millsap” and this year’s “The Very Last Day” have reached No. 1 on the Americana music charts and the latter is nominated for album of the year with those by Jason Isbell, Lucinda Williams and Chris Stapleton.

Did I mention he’s 23?

Millsap returns to the free stage at the Bacon Blues & Brew festival in Batesville, Indiana, Saturday. He played there in 2014 and is the only person featured in the recent Americana NYC event in New York City who will be in Batesville.

“If I remember correctly, Batesville has a giant casket company or something like that,” he says with an easy laugh, a sound that accompanies almost every sentence. “I remember somebody telling me how much money they (Batesville) make off of dead people and I was confused; then they explained it.”

Millsap sees the symmetry in that symbolism with the subject matter of many of his songs. The singer’s voice is filled with fire and brimstone, and though he doesn’t preach the gospel, it’s impossible to ignore the influence the church has on his music and performance.

“When you’re singing in a congregation, you’re not so self-conscious,” he told NPR’s “Morning Edition” on the release of the new album. “You’re just singing. And when you’re singing in a congregation in church, the reasons you’re singing are kind of different. You’re not singing to impress somebody. You’re not singing to win ‘American Idol.’ ”

Then he laughed that infectious laugh, maybe because he realized he probably wouldn’t get out of the audition stage of the television show, which isn’t known for rewarding originality.

These days, if you want original music, a good place to start looking is Oklahoma. Millsap moved to Nashville last year, joining band mates Michael Rose (bass) and Daniel Foulks (fiddle), but home will always be the state that is producing roots music heroes by the bushel.

“I have no qualms about that,” Millsap says about being labeled an Oklahoma singer. “I think what’s cool about the music scene is it is small enough that everybody is aware of each other and familiar with each other’s stuff. But it’s big enough that bunch of people are really going out and doin’ it.

“Everybody is kind of pushing each other. I listen to (John) Moreland’s record and I think, ‘Damn, I gotta write a better song.’ Same thing with (John) Fullbright and all of them.”

Millsap is well versed in state history – “The cover of the new record is actually a wood cut of a dust storm coming in over a small town or farm” – but his world view includes an appreciation of very different folks. Howlin’ Wolf might seem to be an unlikely role model, but it’s great bluesman’s story as much as his music that intrigues Millsap.

“He was this giant guy who was just terrifying on stage, but was also capable of being very gentle,” Millsap says. “He taught himself to read in the back of (Chicago) clubs in between sets. Those guys managed themselves; they were black entrepreneurs. It’s just a really amazing story.”

Maybe not so dissimilar from the one the small-town Oklahoma kid is writing for himself.

Parker Millsap performing “You Gotta Move”.



Each week, Bob Hust and Bill Thompson feature the best songs – old and new – from artists they have loved for many years and others they have just discovered. The best songs transport people to a time and place. That’s the foundation of BS&B.

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