Millage Gilbert, one of Kansas City’s legends of the old, Mississippi down-home blues-style and his band,Millage Gilbert, on vocals, guitar and harmonica, is a veteran of the Mississippi Delta blues for well over 35 years – from to Kansas City’s award-winning Grand Emporium (for the last 12) to and through Memphis, to Blues Fest 2000 in Paris. Gilbert has played most of the summer festivals of this Jazz and Blues mecca, opened the Royals season for tens of thousands, and was crowned King of the Annual Kansas City Street Festival, 2004.
Millage Gilbert’s Bluerays co-founder/ sax player Frank Stinson is the grandson of J. Ray Stinson, veteran of Kansas City’s first- ever live-music radio broadcast; the Band’s other founder, drummer Eddie Lazaro Jr. at age 28, is the youngest member of The Bluerays, and bass guitarist Mike Bradsher is a veteran of two Philadelphia bands (First Choice and The Jazz Trio), and came to the group having worked with Millage Gilbert.
For 35 years, Millage Gilbert has taken center stage at the Red Hot, blues drenched clubs of urban Kansas City. For over five years, Blues, R & B and Soul aficionados have swarmed to his Saturday matinee at the world famous Grand Emporium.
He has chiseled out a solid style of Delta Blues, Memphis Soul, and Kansas City Blues.
Millage was born as the seventh son of Walter and Doris Gilbert on the 24th May 1938 in Jackson Mississippi and raised on the Juliaine Farm in the Gilbert neighbourhood of Madison. His grandfather, father and all six brothers were guitar players and Millage began to play by “messing around with my brothers guitar when I was five”.
All the family loved the blues and they would listen to records by the likes of Broonzy and St. Louis Jimmy or simply play for their own entertainment at home. Two years after beginning to ‘mess around’ he was inducted into his brother Marion’s band. As the airwaves and traveling musicians brought the post war electric sounds to Madison so Marion’s band plunged into the Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Wolf, Rogers and whosoever’s songbooks and Millage learnt harmonica. Downhome blues was hot and the Gilberts were at the top of the neighbourhood tree.
In 1962 Millage left Madison, Mississippi and farming behind and moved to Kansas City. On arrival he was immediately hired by the houseband at the ‘Last Roundup Nightclub’ on 12th & Vine and the following week became their band leader and held down a weekend residency there for just under ten years. As this was not going to bring much food on the table Millage joined a building maintenance firm and held down this job for the next 37 years.
During the late 50’s and through the 60’s the black blues market in K.C was kicking to the sound of B.B, Albert and Freddie King, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins. Millage had no problem keeping up. For the older clientele there was always Jimmy Reed and the Excello sound. Band members came and went but he just kept rolling on.
In 1972 he was poached by the ‘George’s Lounge’ where he worked weekends for eight years. Then he moved to the ‘Blues Alley’ for a further ten year stint. During the 70’s and 80’s, according to most white blues purists, the blues died but the black audience knew better and Millage simply ‘funked it up a little bit’ with the latest Little Sonny/Albert King Stax sound.
Then ‘Grand Emporium’ Kansas City # 1 Blues Nightclub hired him in 1990 for what became a twelve year stint. By now the blues market was demanding the latest hits by Latimore, Bobby Bland, O.V Wright, Johnnie Taylor or Little Milton and Millage eased himself into the wonderful lazy Malaco/Hi Sounds. Life was good and he sold a cassette ‘Live @ The Grand Emporium’ from the Bandstand.
In 1991 Millage laid down a number of tracks at Champion’s Studio in K.C and five years later went back again to finish a CD’s worth of numbers. These were issued on the Red Hot Label in 1997 as ‘3 Faces of M G’ showcasing the different phases of his blues career. Unfortunately the day after the CD was released the record label owner shot himself and the company folded.
When Millage retired from his day job two years later he decided to concentrate on his musical career. The active Kansas City Blues Society did and does champion his cause and helped him get regular work throughout the K.C metroplex. They also helped him expand his net to cover nightclubs and bars in Ohio, Nebraska and Missouri where he is a great favourite on the St Louis circuit.
He had also taken on festival work appearing at the King Biscuit Festival, The Mississippi Valley Festival, the Kansas City Blues Festival and in 2000 flew to France for a blues festival in Paris. His second CD of more recordings made ‘Live at the Grand Emporium’ was issued in 2003 and the following year the ‘Kansas City Street Festival’ organisers crowned him ‘King of The Festival’.
When David Popple and I discussed Millage we decided to present two completely different concerts to highlight the variety of styles that he has played over the years. For the Stamford concert we have booked Big Joe Louis Trio with Orlando Shearer, string bass and Peter Greatorex, drums to back him playing ‘down home blues’.