Elvis Presley: A Future Star Played Piano on ‘Kentucky Rain’ Because There Was Nobody Else in the Studio to Do It

“Kentucky Rain” is one of Elvis Presley’s most famous country songs. A future star played the piano on the track. During an interview, this star revealed what it was like to watch the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll perform “Kentucky Rain” in the studio.

Elvis Presley with a microphone
Elvis Presley | Frank Carroll/Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Elvis Presley embraced country music near the end of his career

Country music was a major influence on Elvis in his early years. In the 1960s, he left his original sound behind and started making pop music. In her book Elvis and Me, Priscilla Presley wrote that a revival of the country genre caused Elvis to return to it in the last leg of his career.

Predictably, country singers started working with Elvis. For example, country star Eddie Rabbitt co-wrote the singer’s classic ballad “Kentucky Rain.” Despite that, a different country singer played the piano on the song.

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How a country star felt when he watched Elvis Presley perform ‘Kentucky Rain’

Ronnie Milsap is a country singer who made it big with songs like “It Was Almost Like a Song,” “Smoky Mountain Rain,” “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me.” At the time the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll released “Kentucky Rain,” however, Milsap didn’t have a hit to his name. During an interview with Goldmine Magazine, he explained how he came to play piano on “Kentucky Rain.”

“That session with Elvis for ‘Kentucky Rain’ came about because there was no one else there to play piano,” Milsap recalled. “It came about because there was nobody else there at American Studios that night to do it. Chips Moman who was running that studio and producing the Elvis sessions said, ‘Ronnie Milsap’s here in the building, bring him in.'” 

Ronnie Milsap with a piano
Ronnie Milsap | Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Milsap’s introduction to the “Can’t Help Falling in Love” singer was brief. “[Moman] introduced me to Elvis. ‘Elvis, this is Ronnie Milsap.’ And that was about it.” Milsap was still amazed when he watched the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll perform the song.  

“I played on that record and sang on that record, too,” Milsap recalled. “I played grand piano on ‘Kentucky Rain’ while Elvis was cutting his vocal live. It was just incredible. To know that Elvis had decided to come back to Memphis and record. His producer Felton Jarvis was excited about it and he was partnering with Chips Moman who ran American Studios down in Memphis.”

How the world reacted to ‘Kentucky Rain’

“Kentucky Rain” became one of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s most famous late-period hits. The track reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for nine weeks. Originally, he released “Kentucky Rain” as a standalone single; however, it later appeared on the compilation album Elvis: 2nd to None. That album reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chat for 16 weeks.

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“Kentucky Rain” was a more modest hit in the United Kingdom. The Official Charts Company reports “Kentucky Rain” reached No. 21 in the U.K., staying on the chart for 12 weeks. Meanwhile, Elvis: 2nd to None reached No. 4 in the U.K., staying on the chart for 12 weeks. Elvis’ “Kentucky Rain” impressed Milsap — and it seemed to impress an international audience too.