Terry McMillan

Dynamic harmonica player
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Terry Lee McMillan, harmonica player and percussionist: born Lexington, North Carolina 12 October 1953; married (two sons, one daughter); died Pigeon Forge, Tennessee 2 February 2007.

Terry McMillan was among the foremost harmonica players of the past 40 years. His dynamic playing was rooted firmly in the blues tradition, whilst also drawing on country, soul and rock influences, and is best exemplified by his exhausting performance on the Garth Brooks hit "Ain't Going Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)" (1993).

McMillan was born in North Carolina in 1953 and initially turned to music as an escape from the misery of life with alcoholic parents. By his late teens he was working as a drummer and, in 1973, found himself stranded in Nashville when the pop band with which he had been touring abruptly split. He rapidly found a job with the rising country star Eddy Raven and later remembered: "That was really the first country gig I had. I was basically a drummer who played blues harmonica."

Over the next few years he toured with musicians such as Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed, but was drawn increasingly to the stability of the recording studio. His skills as harmonica player and percussionist would lead to work with artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Eric Clapton. He was four times named Musician of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in its Speciality Instrument category.

In the early 1980s an effort was made to launch McMillan as a vocalist and he signed to RCA, but the deal yielded only one single, "Love is a Full Time Thing" (1982). He also played the Wembley Festival in London, though the blues sensibility with which he seasoned his act was clearly not to the taste of the many traditionalists in the audience. In 1993 he played as a member of the all-star band that performed at President Bill Clinton's inauguration ball.

In 1992 McMillan's Nashville home was destroyed in a fire and his wife and children were nearly killed. This event marked a turning point in his life and he became a born-again Christian. His début album, I've Got a Feeling (1992), on Step One records, featured Nashville's Christchurch Choir and he followed it with another gospel-flavoured disc, Somebody's Comin' (1997).

Paul Wadey