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Guitar Mikey
View Magazine - June 7, 2012
by Ric Taylor

Guitar Mikey has been making music for thirty plus years but it all began in Hamilton before he was even a teenager. He returns to his old hometown with his first studio album in two decades, Out Of The Box, and plays as part of this weekend's tenth anniversary Blues With A Feeling tribute to Hamilton blues legend Richard ‘King Biscuit Boy' Newell.

"The last studio album I did was with A&M in 1990 so it's been quite a while," muses Guitar Mikey McMillan on his time away from recording and the road relocating from Hamilton to Mississippi. "I didn't really work hard enough to find another record company after I left A&M. I was focusing on playing live, which was the initial reason I moved to Chicago, had some other business opportunities in New England. Didn't like it so much so I moved to Clarksdale where it's a little more rural and a little more personal, personable and friendly. Clarksdale is the home of the legendary ‘Crossroads' [made famous in many a blues set]. There's a lot of history in this vicinity and Clarksdale is the centre of it. Now, I live five minutes from where Muddy Waters grew up."

Twelve years in the making, Guitar Mikey and the Real Thing return to form with his latest CD inspired perhaps as much by his recent locale so steeped in blues history as his own history growing up in Hamilton so similarly steeped in the blues. We reminisce about McMillan venturing forth thirty-five years ago at eleven years old to see his idol Waters play at Hamilton place.

"I still have that autographed program hanging in my studio," smiles McMillan. I don't' know what made me do that, I just thought, ‘I want to meet him, why not go backstage and do it?'

It was that gumption and a raw talent that showed itself at a young age that made a big name for Guitar Mikey around Hamilton. At sixteen, McMillan started the Steel City Blues Band and would perhaps get to meet an even more influential blues legend. "I was sixteen and backstage for an after party at the Festival of Friends main stage," recalls McMillan. "Long John Baldry and Richard were jamming backstage and I was just listening. Richard had heard about me I guess and started talking with me. I connected with Richard and we became really good friends. It'd probably be a year before I started playing with him. He started playing with me as a member of the Steel City Blues Band but when his Mouth Of Steel album came out, that band became his band.

"Richard was my mentor and just about everyone I know from the area's mentor," he adds. "John Lewis, Jack de Keyzer and all of those guys owe a lot to Richard. My fondest memories of Richard are just he and I hanging out, listening to records and laughing a lot. We had some really good times playing; we had some not so good times. It was really an experience. It was amazing the wealth of knowledge he had about music. It was always great to go into his record library and see where he'd scratched out a musician's name and wrote someone else's name in place because he knew that the credits were wrong.

"Richard taught me a lot about playing guitar but he probably taught me more about singing," continues McMillan. "When I first started singing, my approach was more like Johnny Winter and do that growling kind of singing which was fine for Johnny. I really needed to find my own voice and Richard taught me to do that. He taught me some good philosophies on singing and introduced me to a lot of singers that influenced me to find my own style."

Guitar Mikey's style is what makes his newest collection of songs, Out Of The Box, so special. Not confined to anyone type of blues, McMillan is able to make whichever direction he takes, just seem so right. He's been a natural from the beginning, and with the tutelage of Newell and many more, Guitar Mikey has become a legend in his own right. While it's been 35 years since he last saw Muddy Waters at Hamilton Place, his own return to those hallowed performing halls was a resounding success and perhaps it gave Guitar Mikey a chance to think about what he's missed in his old hometown.

"I'm thrilled to be playing the tenth anniversary of BWAF," smiles McMillan. "It's a significant milestone for the event. I did play the first one but, well maybe I've played twice but it has been a while. I'm especially thrilled about this one because Billy Gibson who is one of the premier harp players in the world today, who played a significant role in making this album what it is, he's also coming up to pay tribute to Richard, which is awesome for me. There is a certain authority and maturity that Billy and Richard have and of all the harp players I've played with, and there are a lot of then, he and Richard are the top two.

"We did our record release at Hamilton Place back in April and that was an incredible experience," adds McMillan on his hometown return.

"I was excited about playing Hamilton because it would be ten years since I've played Hamilton. It was a magical night because I really felt the support of Hamilton like I never had in my life. It made me think that I ought to start doing this more often. This BWAF show for Richard is almost like an encore to that show for us. We're very jazzed about coming up and why we're coming up is just the icing on the cake. At this juncture, I've decided to make an annual appearance in Hamilton, whether it works out tour-wise or not, I'm just going to get there to revisit my alma mater and let everyone know in Hamilton how much I appreciate what they've done for me and how much I appreciate coming back and performing for them." V

Guitar Mikey plays this Saturday June 9 at the Leander Boat Club with Steve Strongman, Shrimp Daddy and Ronnie Copple.
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