NORMAN — “I’ve been trying to get into The Deli since I was in high school,” Parker Millsap said.
That’s not long considering he’s 19 years old. He still can’t drink liquor in the Norman saloon that features live music 365 nights a year but has scored a regular gig there based on his singer/songwriter virtuosity.
Millsap has made a splash in a music scene where standing out among a wealth of talent is no small challenge. He has been booked for shows at OKC’s highly selective Blue Door listening room and picked to play a slot on Norman Music Festival 5’s Jack Daniels stage on April 28.
Millsap’s upcoming concert with high school best friend Michael Rose at The Deli is in celebration of his newest CD “Palisade.”
Wes Sharon of 115 Recording Studio in Norman engineered the new disc.
“Wes really knows what he’s doing and has a great musical as well as engineering mind,” Millsap said, of the recording with Rose. “Seventy percent of it we did live and tracked the entire record in 17 hours which I think is a big deal.”
Millsap is a vocal stylist. It’s his growling rasp in songs like “Jesus Loves Gypsies” that give him his distinction, and it’s no surprise that Millsap is a Tom Waits fan.
Despite not having a vast store of experience to tap into, Millsap is working on his own songbook. He has a strategy for overcoming his lack of life seniority — stories about other people often figure into his lyrical narratives. His original composition “Central Pacific” entailed historical research about a man working on the railroad in the 19th century.
“They started laying rail in Sacramento and went all the way to Promontory, Utah,” he said. “These guys worked extremely long hours and there were no labor laws so pay was low.”
The song focuses on love letters his protagonist wrote to a sweetheart he wants to wed. Other more personal and introspective of Millsap’s tunes are what he referred to as typical “sad sack singer/songwriter” fare.
Millsap’s earliest musical memories, and what he now credits for his current stage presence, come from growing up in a Pentecostal Church.
“I started singing gospel songs in front of people at church was I was 5,” he said. “In the movie ‘Blues Brothers’ when they go to a church, that’s what Pentecostal culture is like with speaking in tongues, loud organ, hand-clapping and dancing around.”
Millsap now brings that abundant verve and firm conviction to saloon sets. In an often rowdy joint like The Deli, singer/songwriter shows can be easily overwhelmed by loud, tipsy chit-chat.
“Michael’s upright bass is kind of a full rhythm section filling in for drums too,” he said. “We have to be high energy. For a long time I sang these sad songs really quiet but in a bar you can’t do that.”
On stage Millsap alternates between rhythm and resonator guitars and lap steel. He’s a finger-picker who cut his teeth as a student of celebrated Norman musician Travis Linville.