Making Music in Branson
February 14, 2012
Bob Millsap and I almost never met. We were both mildly xenophobic. So, when Jean Cantwell, Branson, Missouri’s leading socialite called me one afternoon to invite me and Charlotte to dinner with their new friends, Bob and Sherri Millsap, I told her no.
“Bob is a song writer and record producer,” she said, “and I think you two ought to meet.”
“I don’t want to meet any new people,” I said.
“Jory, that’s just what Bob said. But, Clay and I want you to join us for supper.”
Jean was a budding writer and an oboist with the Springfield Symphony. Her husband, Clay was a leading attorney. They had bought Bonniebrook, the home of Rose O’Neil, creator of the Kewpie Doll, from her estate and donated it to the city.
With reluctance, I agreed to supper with the Cantwells and Millsaps. But I insisted on an ace in the hole. I instructed our baby sitter to call me during the evening so that I could bow out of the dinner.
We all rode in Bob’s new custom van. He had admired the one owned by a friend of his who played for the Dallas Cowboys and bought one just like it.
Bob and I hit it off right away, as it turned out. And, we laughed when we both got phone calls from our babysitters. He had used the same ploy to get out of Jean’s invitation.
Bob and Sherri had bought a 26 acre home right on Table Rock Lake, complete with a couple of guest houses and a dock for his bass boat.
They were now millionaires, since he had published Randy Goodrum’s song, “You Needed Me” and Anne Murray had made a hit record. Bob’s royalties from the recording were $125,000,000. And, he hated Nashville.
He told me that he wanted to write novels, so we got together at his home. He was working on HONKY TONK MAN, and I helped him over the rough spots. We began to fish on Table Rock every day, and he built Branson’s first recording studio, which he called Ironside Studios. It was state of the art and not his first studio. Bob was nearly blind, but he had an extraordinary ear.
He invited his friend, Chisai Childs to Branson from her Grapevine Opry in Texas. She brought with her, Shoji Tabuchi, the brilliant violin player, the twin Cody Brothers and an amazing young singer, Johnny Long. Chisai became the Belle of Branson and Shoji went on to stardom and now owns his own theater, the top one in Branson.
We became friends with all those people, and Bob soon invited Roy Clark, Mel Tillis, Jim Stafford, Mickey Gilley and others. More than anyone, Bob was responsible for Branson’s boom, drawing such entertainers as Willie Nelson, Andy Williams and others to open theaters on Hwy 76. The music business flourished and Ironside Studios was at the center of the renaissance.
Bob was a powerful force in Branson and he attracted musicians like a magnet. It would take a book to relate all that we both did there, with songwriters and music venues.
Later, he and Sherri divorced, and Bob sold the studio. It is now Caravel Studios and run by musician Rodney Dillard, who was part of the Darling Family on the Andy Griffith show.
Bob married again and was divorced again. He married Randee and they moved to NE Texas where they owned a home on a ten-acre private lake. Bob built a studio in his home and he is the reason I now live here. My audio publisher, Gary Challender, owner of Books In Motion wanted me to record my Baron series for his company. By that time, I had gone blind, but I went over to record with Bob in his studio. I could not read an entire line, so the venture failed. Bob has passed on now, but Randee still manages his studio from their home near Hughes Spring. Randy Goodrum, Sherri and her son, Kris all attended his funeral in Hallsville. Before his death, Bob was honored in Nashville by the Country Music Association for “You Needed Me.”
He was a brilliant musician, a great songwriter and an extraordinary record producer. A list of his accomplishments would fill many pages. He was also a superb bass fisherman and a very good novelist, although none of his books I worked on with him were ever published.
That’s a shame, because Bob Millsap had more talent than is usually granted to any one person. And, he had a cynical and humorous view of life.
One day, he and I were driving up Hwy 165 to Branson, and the scenery was beautiful. I remarked: “Bob would you look at those hills and the green trees. Gorgeous.”
“Yeah,” he said, “and filled with 80 billion ticks.”
I will never forget him.
Pulitzer-Prize nominee Jory Sherman is author of Hills of Eden.