Parker Millsap's Oklahoma Stories on This Week's Biscuits & Jam Podcast
About Biscuits & Jam: In the South, talking about food is personal. It's a way of sharing your history, your family, your culture, and yourself. Each week Sid Evans, Editor in Chief of Southern Living, sits down with celebrity musicians to hear stories of how they grew up, what inspired them, and how they've been shaped by Southern culture. Sid takes us back to some of their most cherished memories and traditions, the family meals they still think about, and their favorite places to eat on the road.
Episode 20: September 28, 2021
Parker Millsap grew up in Purcell, Oklahoma, about 30 minutes outside Oklahoma City. He got his musical start playing in the band for his Pentecostal church, but he was also influenced by the likes of Lyle Lovett and Townes Van Zandt, and all those influences contributed to his first album in 2012.
Now living in Nashville, Parker's new record Be Here Instead was recorded during last year's quarantine, and it's full of introspective songs that feel intensely personal but also universal. This song from Be Here Instead, called "The Real Thing," is about missing his wife while out on tour, and how technology can only do so much to bring us together. On today's show, Parker tells me how his high-school English teacher influenced him as a songwriter, why chicken fried steak has become synonymous with Oklahoma, and much more on Biscuits & Jam.
On His Hometown of Purcell, Oklahoma
"I think there's about 8,000 people living there now. It's about 15 minutes south of Norman, Oklahoma, which is where, the University of Oklahoma is. So football is a driving cultural force. And it's also only about 30 minutes from Oklahoma City, so, you know, in the past 10 years the Thunder have also become a big thing. So, yeah, I always tell people, Oklahoma has lots of wheat, corn, oil, beef, and sports."
On Food Growing Up
"Chicken fried steak: I feel like it's a staple of central Oklahoma cuisine. There are multiple restaurants that, you know, their calling card is their chicken fried steak. And if you're not familiar with the chicken fried steak– you take a steak, usually a lower quality, you pound it out flat, and then you bread it and fry it like you would a chicken breast so it's battered and fried red meat. Really quite delicious. Usually served on like some toast with a bunch of white gravy poured on top of it, with a side of mashed potatoes. Everything on your plate is often between yellow, tan, and brown, and white…There was a restaurant called Kendall's, it might still be there. And their claim to fame is they serve these giant chicken fried steaks, which are, you know, they're like this big, it covers like your whole plate."
On the Cooks in the Family
"My mom usually did dinner and my dad usually did breakfast. On weekends my dad would always wake up early and do the classic bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, that whole thing. But then my mom was usually cooking dinner… We used to have these things my grandmom made called sausage balls. I'm still not 100% sure what's in a sausage ball. But it's delicious, they're like meatballs but they're made of breakfast sausage. And I feel like there's some jelly or something in it. There's like a sweet component to it."
On Church's Influence on Music
"The church that I went to for most of my young life was an Assemblies of God church. So it's a particular brand of charismatic Christianity or Pentecostalism. We went Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights so I was in church a lot. But, as soon as I could play six chords on a guitar (I was about nine or 10 years old), they started letting me play down in front. So for me church... I was there for the music… But it seemed like in my church the way that it went is like the ultimate service would be one where there was no preaching because the music service and the praise and worship service took over. And the music and the praise and worship became the service. Many, many, many church services I went to there was no preaching, there was just songs the whole time because people would get wrapped up in it and just like, "Here's what we're doing. We're praising God with our music and our voices. That was really beautiful…"
On English Teacher's Influence in His Life
"My junior year English teacher named Mrs. Dyson. She just made us write a lot. And I was already getting into songwriting and stuff like that when I was 13 or 14 before I took her class. But her class was two or three times a week, and we would have a writing assignment and I wanted to make good grades so I did my writing assignments. But, I just realized that I liked it before too long. And I wasn't always writing or anything, I'm still not. I do like writing when I get a good idea and I feel like something's worth pursuing. I like chasing it down. And I don't know if I would've recognized that in myself as much if I hadn't taken her class, you know. So thanks Mrs. Dyson."
This interview has been condensed.
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