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The Blues Star - January 10, 2010
By Sam Styers
Canada native and Clarksdale resident Mikey "Guitar Mikey" McMillan performed with his band, The Real Thing, Friday night at Ground Zero to celebrate the 75th birthday of rock-n-roll legend Elvis Presley.
The King has had a strong influence on Guitar Mikey's musical development, and he performed some of his favorite Elvis selections Friday night as well as some of his own interpretations and original music as well as a few traditional blues covers.
Guitar Mikey coaxes sound from his instrument with a combination of delicate precision, intense emotion and steely concentration; the image of him playing evokes a feeling of summoning, as if through his music he brings the spirits of the musicians that he loves to the forefront, revealing his own soul in the process.
Though he started playing guitar at seven years old, Guitar Mikey got serious about the instrument at 10 and hasn't looked back since, making headway in the blues scene over the years, called "one of the best slide guitar players I've ever seen by blues vocalist Paul Butterfield.
I knew when I was about five years old that I was going to be doing music", said Mikey. "I started recording myself when I was six, singing Trini Lopez and I just knew that music was going to be it for me."
Eric Fowler, who performed on the drums with the Mauldin brothers Christmas night, performed seamlessly Friday night. He comes to Clarksdale to perform from Leland where he runs Studio 61.
Fowler has been playing with Guitar Mikey for about three years, in addition to performing with several other bands.
Steve Autenberry plays bass for The Real Thing, and his professional attitude and talent with a guitar makes him an indispensible member of the band.
"Eric actually brought him into the band" commented Mikey. "He's a really good guy, really easygoing and a pleasure to play with."
Mikey and Pamela McMillan, his wife, moved to Clarksdale over three years ago, coming from southern Ontario by way of Boston.
"I moved to Chicago for the music, and an opportunity came up outside of the music business and I moved to Boston for six years," recalled Mikey "Then Mark Yacovone my keyboardist and I met in Boston. We came down as tourists to Clarksdale with our wives, because of the blues history, and we just fell in love with the people and the way of life and this pace and the sanity of it all. We just couldn't wait to leave Boston.
It took us three years to do it, but we kind of fantasized and talked about it hypothetically, and one day Pamela just said, 'let's go.'
We just had a feeling it was the right thing to do and we've never been sorry."
In addition to serving as the band's manager, Pamela is involved with the Garden Club, works at the Crisis Pregnancy Center, is active in the Community Bible Study, works on several committees and is invested and involved with the community in a variety of other ways.
"When we came here to the South we were so grateful for the friendly, wonderful people that we thought that it was a lot more like home," said Pamela.
Mikey has put out three albums, and is working on a fourth.
"I did my first independent album which came out in 1988," said Mikey. "In 1990, I put out an album with A&M records called "Caught Between the Squeeze", and I didn't put out another record until 2007, and that was a live Ground Zero gig.
I'm happy to say I'm active in the studio right now. I will have a record complete this year. I've been very focused; I've re-teamed up with a guy I used to write with back in Canada in the '80's Doug Carter who used to work with King Biscuit Boy back in the '60's.
Carter played the blues scene in Ontario from 1962 until the mid-1990's and is a talented visual artist.
"I'm happy to be writing with him again. We've got some very unique sounds; we're breaking new ground with blues-based music. It's not going to be a hardcore blues record – there're songs on there that I can't even tell you what kind of music it is, but it's still very blues-based. I'm a blues guitar player and I always will be, but there're other influences outside the blues world."
Many of his early influence came from his parents, who were avid jazz fans and took Mikey to a plethora of live music events.
I was just surrounded by jazz, all the time. I was more lured into blues because it was more primitive, more guttural, kind of the rock-n-roll rebellion to jazz I remember my parents taking me to concerts, to see Joe Williams and Count Basie and Ray Charles, and I've been very lucky to be exposed to a lot of great music in my lifetime."
Guitar Mikey's combination of traditional blues influences, an early exposition to jazz and live performance, and his desire to push the blues forward as a genre makes him not only a fantastic performer, but one of the most interesting musicians in Clarksdale.
"As far as traditional blues goes, it's all been done, so I think it really serves the music to try and take it somewhere else. Blues is the roots and everything else is the fruits – Willie Dixon said that. I like to say that blues is a language and everything else is a dialect", finished Mikey.