There's a lot of history behind Gregg McMillan's debut solo CD.
Sure, the tracks on the self-titled disc cover much ground, from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama to the long-time Gainesville/Nashville/Daytona musician's own life.
But McMillan's life behind the scenes - the making of this CD - crosses much local history, particularly in the Gainesville, Florida music scene. Fact is, this collection of gritty rock entangles many branches, if not actual roots, on Hogtown's musical family tree.
-The disc is produced by music store owner Jeff Sims, who, decades ago, was McMillan's bandmate in Gainesville's "almost famous" country-rock band The Dixie Desperados. The Desperados shared stages with bands from Pure Prairie League and the Allman Brothers Band to Molly Hatchet and the Charlie Daniels Band.
-McMillan's disc was a trip to make, but the album has a bittersweet edge: It is dedicated to three musicians and close friends who passed away within the past 15 months: Gainesville bassist Kevin Wilson, former Desperados drummer Steve Nelson and drummer Robert Simpson, who replaced Nelson when he left the Desperados.
The deaths - especially so close together - lit a fire under McMillan, who had always planned to make his own album. "It was just kind of a wake-up call," said McMillan.
-A primary player on the disc - on drums, guitar, keyboard, harmonica and even percussion from a hand truck found in the parking lot - is Stan Lynch, a current hit songwriter and former drummer for Gainesville-bred Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
The three go back a bit, with Sims and Lynch being close friends since their childhood in Gainesville. The two, McMillan recalled, were hard to miss; McMillan even admired the way Sims and Lynch swaggered through the halls of Westwood Junior High School.
"You would not believe how cool these guys were," McMillan said, sitting next to Sims at Gainesville's Rec Room Studios, where the disc was recorded. "They were the bomb."
-Rec Room itself resonates deeply into the Gainesville Music Family Tree. Many local bands, big and small, have laid down tracks there, and the studio is owned by Dan Dickhaus and Ronny Cates.
Cates, who has produced his share of music, was the bassist for the Christian-rock band Petra, pioneers in the genre, as I recall. They were big. In fact, upon entering the unassuming Rec Room in northwest Gainesville, you immediately notice Grammy Awards - as in HOLY-MOTHER-OF-BATMAN, THOSE ARE GRAMMY AWARDS!!! - in a lobby display case. Since Petra's Grammy days, Cates has left his imprints on music by Less Than Jake, Creed, Sister Hazel, Drew Copeland, guitarist Sam Pacetti and gobs of other recordings he can't remember offhand.
In his liner notes, McMillan thanks Dickhaus and Cates for "letting us have more fun than we paid for."
McMillan is known in these parts as a bass player, but this disc has him on lead vocals, bass, guitar, harmonica and mandolin. He wrote all songs on the CD except the track "Remember," which was written by former Desperado Mike Chasteen, also McMillan's cousin, who wrote the song for Nelson and Simpson. The CD rings of old-school rock and blues, punctuated with acoustic trimmings and - on one cut - a lap steel guitar.
"It's really organic," Sims said of the album. "It's not an empty record; it's spacious."
Lynch said the experience helped McMillan, long known as a member of a band, come out of the shadows. "He's finding his voice," Lynch said. "He has a point of view; his heart is in it."
With obvious Neil Young, Tom Petty and Lynyrd Skynyrd influences heard throughout, the CD is a must for new artist/music seekers as well as devoted TP&HB fans looking for Stan Lynch collectables.
Check out the artist's website:
1. My Life
2. 16th Street Baptist Church
3. What's Going On
5. Fix It Here First
6. Roll Around
8. Up To You
9. Only Gonna Be One Show Tonight