Welcome to State Of The Union, appearing each month in bluegrass now magazine! This column provides the spouses of professional bluegrass musicians with a forum in which they can share their insights, observations, and experience with fans and other bluegrass spouses.
May 2004: Debbie Mills on FAMILY SUPPORT
Debbie Mills practically cut her teeth on bluegrass music. She grew up in Reidsville, North Carolina, just shouting distance from Bluegrass Park, the location of the Camp Springs festival that has become the stuff of legend. While kids in other parts of the country were watching Sesame Street, Debbie was treated to local programs featuring Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley, and other classic artists. And she grew up to marry a professional musician: Allen Mills, bassist and lead singer of The Lost & Found.
“I was raised in a bluegrass family; I knew it all my life,” she says. “We just ate, slept, and breathed it.” Debbie's family has been supportive of her marriage to a professional musician from the very beginning. “In my family, there was never any concern about what Allen did for a living, or what my nephew is continuing to do.” (Debbie's nephew, Jason Moore, plays bass with Mountain Heart.)
As an RN, Debbie has contributed more than her share to her little family's resources. In 1980, the Millses bought 35 acres in Patrick County, Virginia. They bought a mobile home from their pal, musician David Parmley, and lived in it for a while. “We didn't owe anybody anything for several years. I worked part-time and Allen played his music. When I decided it was time to get serious about getting a house and more substantial material things, I went to work full-time.” That was in 1983. Their daughter Melody was born in 1984, and Allen and Debbie had their house built the following year.
Allen's own contribution was just as important as Debbie's steady salary: he took an active role with little Melody. “Allen did everything, because I was working so much. He would get her up, get her breakfast, do her hair, take her to school . . . he did it all!” Father and daughter have remained close. As the interview for this article was being conducted, Allen was rushing home from a show in Colorado to help Melody and her husband, Mike, welcome their first baby.
These days, Debbie works full-time in the intensive care unit of a small corporate hospital based in Roanoke. “I've been a nurse for 27 years; I've done it all. I just work three days a week most of the time, in 12-hour shifts; that way, I'm able to maneuver my schedule.” Often, she works weekends, at the same time Allen is on the road, so they can spend weekdays together.
Allen and Debbie Mills celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in March, and life is sweet. “Everything has come around and gone around,” Debbie reflects. “We've been through good times and bad times, and now it's a really good time. We're working together for the good of the whole gamut-the family, the band, everything.” Three years ago, they gave their home a facelift and built an addition. “We enjoy it so much! We love having friends over. Scottie Sparks, our guitar player, lives five hours away from us. So now we've got a room-Allen calls it his Otis Room, like on The Andy Griffith Show! Scottie comes in and wanders back to his bed, and stays until the bus leaves the next day!”
The Lost & Found has had three different busses since 1980, and mileage on the current coach is somewhere in the millions. They're about due for a new one, Debbie reports. “It won't be the bus of our dreams; we can't afford that!” she laughs. “It's like maintaining two houses.” She expects the shell of their next bus-a used coach in fair to good condition-will cost about $35,000, and that's before the modifications that will customize the coach to the band's needs.
The bus has enabled Debbie and Allen to help their friends when it mattered most. They have become very close to festival promoters Darrel and Phyllis. “Their daughter, Mandy, was sick with cancer, and going back and forth to St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. We told them, 'Any time, day or night, just call us if you need anything.' They called, and Allen drove from Virginia to Columbus, OH to pick them up and take them to Memphis.” The Millses chauffeured the Adkins family to Memphis several more times before the little girl lost her battle with cancer in 2001. Lost & Found has helped support The Bluegrass Classic, the Musicians Against Childhood Cancer festival organized by the Adkins as a benefit for St. Jude's.
Visit Debbie and Allen online at www.lostandfoundbluegrass.com.
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