When I first started working in radio, one of our station’s specialty DJ’s was a fascinating guy named Bernie Milton. He actually fronted a band called Bernie Milton and the Soul Patrol WAY back in the day. He had a dance hit called “The Waddle” back in the 60’s, and hit the charts again in 1985 with a song called “60/40.” (The chorus: “Sixty/forty, that’s how the world is treating me.”)
Bernie may never have reached the worldwide fame of some of his peers, but he enjoyed nearly six decades as a working musician and a radio raconteur. He, quite literally, had a story for everything, about everyone. Back in Bernie’s day, you’d play eight times a week on eight totally different bills with about sixty-four different acts. So, in a short period of time, Bernie and the Soul Patrol managed to open for EVERYBODY.
When Bernie didn’t quite make it to the top of the charts, he remained committed to his dream of entertaining everyone he possibly could. That meant gigging like crazy, playing lots of covers, and telling his stories on the radio.
We lost him to a heart attack four years ago, but his spirit infuses a lot of the work I do with musicians — he stayed true to himself and enjoyed a rich and meaningful life, where many other folks would have given up. Even when you’d ask him how he was doing, and he’d reply with his trademark, “Sixty/forty, lordy, lordy,” he did so with a spark that let you know he really loved music, and music was his life.
So, with all the American Idol hype around Taylor Hicks and his “Soul Patrol,” every one of those mentions brings back a different kind of memory for me, and for all of the folks that ever saw Bernie Milton live.
(Remember, what you’re doing now on stage carries an impact far greater than you realize. Who’s going to be writing about you fifty years from now?)
UPDATE: It’s a little tough to find Bernie on the web, since the folks in his hometown of Ithaca, NY named a performing arts stage after him. So when you search for “Bernie Milton” online, you get tons of event listings at the “Bernie Milton Pavillion,” and I think Bernie wouldn’t have it any other way.
UPDATE 2/6/13: Fellow IC grad Jim Roberston discovered a bootleg he recorded of a Bernie Milton live gig from 1987.
UPDATE 5/20/15: Eric Humerez, who ran live sound for Bernie during a period in the mid-1980s, recovered some rare video footage of Bernie Milton and the Soul Patrol performing live.