By ERIN SHULTZ [friday] editor 7-21-06 Kokom Tribune. Kokomo, IN
“I’m going back home to that factory town where people know your name ... I’m going back home to Kokomo. Those blues can hardly wait.”
That’s what local blues artist Mike Milligan sings on his latest release, and that’s what his band, Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel, will be doing this weekend as the hometown favorites return for much anticipated stop at Miller’s Tavern, 125 W. Elm St., on Saturday night.
Far from the bright lights of Chicago and Indianapolis, this weekend’s show will be a testament to what Milligan is all about — good stories, told with soul to a lot of people Milligan counts as friends.
“It’s like sitting in my living room when we play Miller’s,” Milligan said. “I can look around and know every person in the crowd.”
“It’s like a treat,” Milligan said. “ I feel like it’s a treat for them and a treat for me.”
From K-town to Chi-town
A longtime Indianapolis staple, Milligan worked his way up to gigs at Chicago’s Red Fish when he discovered he had a hunger for something more.
That something more was just down the road at Chicago’s House of Blues.
“I didn’t want to play the bars. I didn’t want to play the dives. I was to go from here to there,” he said. “And amazingly, it happened.”
After opening up for Robert Cray and blues legend Buddy Guy in Indianapolis, it seems the pieces are falling into place for the trio. Up next on their agenda is a September performance at the Chicago House of Blues with Tower of Power.
“Everything that’s ever happened to me has happened at the right time. Maybe not when I deserved it, but at the right time.”
It’s safe to say music runs in Milligan’s family, from his brother Shaun, who is the bassist in Steam Shovel, to both Shaun’s and Mike’s sons. But Milligan readily admits it all started with their dad.
“One of the earliest memories I have was growing up and being on the bus with my dad,” he said. His father, Mike Milligan Sr., played with The Drifters in the mid-1970s.
He got his first guitar at age 5, and the rest was history. Music has been a part of his life ever since.
With sixth grade came two new discoveries: Brian Setzer & the Stray Cats, and girls.
“In fifth or sixth grade was when I really started to notice music affecting me,” Milligan said, changing how he felt about things and reacted to the world.
And, like in the story of every would-be musician, there was a girl — “a little red-head girl,” he said.
“She was cute and I didn’t think she’d have anything to do with me,” Milligan said.
Then he heard Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It,” off “An Innocent Man.” He sang it to her, and the rest was history.
“She was my first girlfriend,” Milligan said with a chuckle. “In seventh grade, she would have nothing to do with me.”
It’s these kinds of small town tales — ones that could have happened in Kokomo or Kansas — that make Milligan equally effective as a storyteller and a blues artist.
“It’s the stories,” he said. “[Blues music] is about life, really.”
In 1993, Milligan formed the band, though it’s taken different incarnations since then. Six years ago, Milligan’s brother joined the band and three years ago, drummer Robert “Tiny” Cook came on board.
Life father, like son
Milligan said these days, he’s finding more than just a love of music run in the family. So does stage presence.
“I guess I used to get on stage and do what my little boy just did to me,” Milligan said.
Milligan’s 2-year-old son surprised him with a guest appearance at a recent show.
“I’m doing this guitar piece and I’m into it. I’m really into it. I’ve got my eyes closed, and the crowd is going wild, and I’m thinking ‘they’re digging it. They’re really feeling it.’
“And then I hear ‘Awwwwww’ and I open my eyes and there’s my son with his ukulele singing along.”
And if the respect and gratitude Milligan has for his musical family isn’t evident when you talk to him, it will be when you listen to his music or attend one of his shows.
The lyrics to “Like Father, Like Son” say it all, and Milligan is known for pulling his dad on stage to play at the spur of the moment during live performances.
It’s that reverence and pride for both his hometown and his family that’s laced throughout his latest release, “Live!,” a live show recorded in August 2004 at the Slippery Noodle Inn in Indianapolis, where Milligan is a frequent performer.
The disc is filled with nods to family and friends, including a shout-out to Mike’s wife, Suzanne, who celebrated a birthday on the day of the disc’s recording. (Fun fact: Milligan and his wife were high school sweethearts.)
This weekend, Milligan said, he just wants to jam with his friends in a town where “everybody knows your name.”
“I would like to invite the entire town of Kokomo to Miller’s on Saturday,” Milligan said with a smile.
If you go:
• WHAT: Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel
• WHERE: Miller’s Tavern, 125 W. Elm St.
• WHEN: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday
• RECOMMENDED IF YOU LIKE: Music with soul. Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye
• OUR TIP: Get there early. Miller’s fills up fast, and you’re not going to want to miss this.
Local — OK, sort of local — upcoming shows:
• Aug. 5: 7 to 11 p.m., Rathskeller Biergarden, Indianapolis