On his latest album, Summer Number Seventeen, Ronnie Milsap takes a stab at some of the songs that influenced his early years. Classics by Hank Williams, Wilson Pickett and Bobby Darin are all given the Milsap treatment, but he saves his best performance for Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind,” singing the song with a tender croon one minute and a fierce, bluesy howl the next. It’s a moving tribute to his longtime friend and mentor, who remained in close contact with Ronnie all the way until his death in 2004.

Before becoming one of the most successful names in country music, Ronnie Milsap was a half-hearted college student in upstate Georgia.   Looking for inspiration — or maybe just a good excuse to ditch class — he hitched a ride down to Atlanta, bought a ticket to a Ray Charles concert and sweet-talked his way backstage. The two musicians met in the dressing room. Ronnie, who’d grown up listening to people like Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis transform the piano from a classical instrument into a rock & roll weapon, introduced himself and asked for some career advice. After listening to the kid play a few songs on piano, Ray told Ronnie to follow his dreams.   read more at americansongwriter.com