Millage Gilbert has lived the blues his entire life.
Born 1938 in Jackson, Mississippi, Millage was influenced by the blues, possibly while he was still in his mother’s tummy. “I think I heard things before I was born that I recognized after I was born,” said Millage. “When my mother was pregnant with me my dad played blues. He worked all week playing in Jackson at fish fries, house parties, street corners, cotton fields, just about anywhere peoples would gather. He’d leave Friday nights to play in New Orleans and come home Sunday with money in his pocket. The climate I grew up in, blues was just as natural as breathing. I remember being three years old, suckin’ on a bottle wantin’ to hear some blues on my mother’s Graphophone. It scratched and made all kinds of static, but I used to cry for my sister to wind it up. I picked up a lot of blues off of 78 records.”
Millage’s influences expanded beyond his family, as he grew up in a time when blues legends were literally next door. “When I was pretty young, Muddy Waters played in a club in Jackson about a block from where we lived,” said Millage. “It snowed just about an inch, but it seemed like a huge amount of snow. I stood outside to listen to him [Waters] play and it was electrifyin’. I didn’t have a chill or nothin’ even though it was about 38 degrees, which felt like zero then.”
Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter would also come through Jackson. Millage got to sit in with Little Walter.
Then, imagine this one…”Elmore James used to come by the house and ask my mother if I could go with him when I was a teenager. When I was 17, Elmore had me and my brother Marin playing guitar in his band. I didn’t go out of my way asking lots of questions when I saw these musicians. It took me a while to realize how great they were. I was lucky to have come up through the blues at that time.”
Millage moved to Kansas City in his mid-twenties (1962) and began playing at George Harrison’s club, The Last Round Up, at 12th + Vine. He then followed George to 59th + Prospect in the ’70s. Today, he is revered as one of Kansas City’s Blues legends, inducted into the KC Blues Hall of Fame in 2015, and has outplayed (and lived) most of the clubs he has performed in over the past 50 years. But perhaps Millage is most locally well known for his 17-year, Saturday matinee gig at the Grand Emporium – before it closed in 2004.
Millage has a deep, strong voice – the kind that stops a blues listener in their tracks and makes ladies’ necks turn. Millage is a performer. He pushes and pulls on one string, releasing its spirit while he plays. “You just don’t make the note itself, make it mean something.” Versed in Delta and Kansas City blues, Millage’s performances vary but most appropriately simply jive for his immediate audience. “Your time belongs to the audience.”
Give your time to this legendary KC Blues Gentleman as he performs in Topeka on April 7 at Faces by Mayfield. Tickets are $10 and we highly encourage you to RSVP – or you’ll be outside singing the blues when the house is standing room only.
FACES BY MAYFIELD
APRIL 7 // 8p // $10