Jerry and Mary Ann Milam origins

Jerry and Mary Ann Milam (or the origins of Golden Voice Studio part 1)

The story of Golden Voice is the story of Jerry and Mary Ann Milam.  The couple was the driving force behind the studio.  Jerry had been a newspaper photographer and a television repairman but ultimately found success playing guitar in the local rock and pop combos. According to Jim Deverman, then photo editor at the Pekin Daily Times Newspaper and Jerry’s boss in the early 1960’s, “He was just as gifted in photography as music”.  Deverman said Jerry would have likely been successful at whatever he wanted to do.  Jerry was always driven by the leading edge of technology and this interest would drive his progression from photography to audio recoding.

After making the choice to pursue music over photography, he worked to supplement his musician’s income in a music store where his natural tendencies as a tinkerer saw him taking apart electronics to find out how things worked.   This curiosity with the inner workings of electronics would serve him well later on as he developed his studio and built audio gear by hand.  It started when he would take apart stock Fender guitars that came into the shop. He then would take the guitar bodies to a friend who was a skilled auto painter in Peoria, IL.  He would take the guitars and then have them painted with multiple layers of auto paint worthy of a top of the line hotrod.  The browns, tan and white stock fender colors were replaced with exciting reds and sporty blues and the guitars would fetch a substantially higher price with their jaw dropping looks.  

Jerry Milam in the first Golden Voice control room c. 1966.

Jerry Milam in the first Golden Voice control room c. 1966.

 In a story worthy of a Hollywood script, Jerry met Mary Ann while in that small music store where he was now working part time teaching guitar lessons.   Mary Ann came into the store with a portable turntable that needed to be repaired and asked if he could fix it. Jerry was blown away upon meeting her, recalling her style as a mix of Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette!  He thought to himself “It doesn’t get much better than this, how could I make an impression on her?” He told her without hesitation that he could fix the turntable although he didn’t have a clue how to go about it.   He asked her to leave it for a few days and that he would call her when it was ready. He recalls, “Some guys had trouble getting a pretty lady’s phone number and all that I needed was a broken turntable”. After some cleaning of the turntable’s idler wheels and a few other feats of magic he was able to get the turntable running in a couple of days. Upon calling Mary Ann to tell her that he had accomplished the task, she told him “I have been invited to a small social event on Friday, would you care to go with me?”  He stammered and stuttered for a minute while thinking: “Why in the world would she want to go with me?”  He summoned the courage to answer and agreed to go.   Mary Ann seemed happy to hear his response and then said, “I have something to say before you commit yourself.” He thought “Damn. I knew that there had to be more to the story”. After a long pause she stated, “I’m a widow and I have four children under the ages of six”.   Jerry paused for what seemed like an endless moment of silence. He then asked: “Are the children coming with us or are we going alone?” To his relief, her reply was that they would be going alone and she had arranged a baby sitter for the evening.   That was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted for more than 50 years.  The couple would go on to get married and Jerry adopted her children. 

They then moved into the house Mary Ann owned on Monroe Street in Pekin, IL where Jerry would set up his first studio.   Mary Ann had originally purchased the house from the Altman family of Pekin.  Notable for the fact that Scott Altman, son of the original house’s owners would go on to become an astronaut and fly the stunt scenes in the 1980’s film Top Gun.

Mary Ann would go on to be an integral part of the Golden Voice story. She was both wife and business partner encouraging Jerry in spite of his lack of higher education in the fields of music, electronics and business.  While he experimented with the idea of starting a recording studio in their basement, Mary Ann was the fabric that kept it all together. She worked as many as three part time jobs at a time while taking care of the children. According to Jerry “She was a total artist at convincing bankers that we were not crazy and that their loans to us would be secure”.  She was a savvy business person and had the courage to go where most women wouldn’t dare to tread. One notable example is her achievement of becoming a licensed pilot, even after her first husband was killed in a small airplane crash!  (Detailed in her 1991 book “Right Side Up”) Upon the meeting of Jerry and Mary Ann the seed of Golden Voice was in place and it would only be a short time before the first recordings would start to take shape.

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