‘An Evening with Frank Mills’ is set for the Memorial Centre on May 1st.
Known the world over for his megahit Music Box Dancer released back in 1978, Mills, who hails from Montreal, will be sharing tunes from his vast collection during the performance, which begins at 7 p.m.
“Life is great – so much fun,” he says during a recent chat from his home in Vermont. He lives on a 41-acre farm there with his wife, and the lifestyle suits him just fine. He explains that in the earlier years, he used to hit the road three times a year for 30-dates each time out. And those treks could take him around the world.
These days, the tours are shorter and he’s loving it.
This particular one covers 13 dates around western Canada, and he’s pleased to be visiting his home country in the spring. He laughed when he considered the fact many of his past tours have here have taken place in blustery November and December.
“I think this will be my first May concert there in almost 20 years,” he said. Whenever he visits, a concert with Mills is a true trip down memory lane.
And this time around, it will be even more so. The coming concert has been described as being like spending an evening in his living room as he shares the music, memories, humour and wisdom that come from over 40 years at the piano, in the studio, on the road and on stages around the world.
“I think that people are interested in what motivates songwriters,” he said, adding that pianists are often keen to also hear about the more technical aspects of song construction. Whichever the case, he promises something for everyone during the varied show which will features a range of Mills classics, including of course Music Box Dancer combined with songs he likes to call ‘After the Dancer’ – tunes from his career that folks may not have heard in a while.
On a personal level, Mills will also share incredible stories – from growing up in a house full of music, the struggles and the humour of breaking into the music business and most certainly the story of one special song that almost never got released, but would eventually skyrocket his career to international fame.
Another cool thing is that Mills will be playing along to some wonderful tracks from past times of terrific sessions recorded with members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, some of whom played as studio musicians back in the day, too.
These particular tapes have been remastered and sound terrific, he said, and he’s excited to be performing some cuts along with that kind of rich sonic background. “I was knocked out by them,” he said of landing the boxes and boxes of tapes from many memorable recording sessions.
“We’ve also transferred them all to a digital format.” So Mills will be touching on several classics in a fresh new way, complete with some fascinating stories about the context to how a given song came together in the first place.
Ultimately, a love for the music came early to Mills. It was a familiar presence in the family home as his mom was a piano player and his dad a businessman known for his tenor voice.
His formal training in music continued at McGill University in Montreal.
And it was in 1971 his professional career got its first taste of success. He was a member of a Canadian group, The Bells, whose recording Stay A While went to number one on the U.S. and Canadian music charts.
He left The Bells in 1971 to focus on making an instrumental album of his own compositions.
Within months of its release in Canada, he had his first personal hit, Love Me, Love Me, Love which sold over 100,000 copies and launched his solo career.
According to his biography, in 1973, he recorded another album on his own which was initially leased to a recording label that dissolved in bankruptcy, forcing his effort to lie in limbo for several years.
“On the dormant album, a track named Music Box Dancer resided unnoticed.” But it of course would be later released and of course the rest is history.
Mills is always happy to talk about that magical tune.
He didn’t ever dream the song would impact folks the way it ultimately did. But it was special because it was a happy song.
“My kids used to jump around to it,” he said with a laugh. “It carried itself onward and captured the hearts of people,’ he said with unmistakable gratitude. He joked adding that he will still hear the occasional shopper humming it in a grocery story for example. “I think maybe I should go up and tell them it’s my song, but they probably wouldn’t believe me,” he added with a laugh.
For the record, Music Box Dancer became the number one record in 26 countries selling millions of singles along the way.
It also landed a 1980 Grammy nomination for ‘Best Instrumental.’ And of course, many doors opened wide after that too – media appearances plus reams of new music for decades came from his prolific pen. He’s thankful for every bit of it.
Meanwhile, when he’s not on the road, his Vermont farm is likely where you will find him keeping very busy with all aspects of a rural lifestyle. He certainly isn’t sitting around when he’s not on the road wondering how to fill his time.
He’s a supremely friendly, affable guy. But he loves the quieter times too.
“I’m very fortunate – I get to live my life in total privacy.”
For tickets to his Red Deer show, check out www.blackknightinn.ca or call 403-755-6626.