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Over one Million Miles Chasing a Piano

We don't know for sure, but it is thought that Bob Milne was the busiest piano player in the world for over 25 years. He averaged 250 performances per year, which is about f five performances every week using 50 weeks. It was nothing for him to play between four and nine performances (include matinees), and to drive 400 miles overnight to get to the next gig .

His record "overnight" drive was 1241 miles: from Deerfield, Massachusetts, to Newburgh, Missouri. He said he "never wanted to disappoint anybody..."

This page will include photos from his 22 years of saloon & nightclub playing in the Detroit area, to the 25 years of stunning stages, concert halls around the world, and the little church basements where he played countless fundraisers for various causes. The story below was a common occurrence. 

A little church from Montana called him up once. The conversation went like this:

Lady: "Mr. Milne, we're having a fund raiser but we can't afford you but they told me to call you anyways."

Bob: "I see you're only 20 miles off the expressway. Can you do it on a Tuesday night in October when I'm going by?"

Lady: "Uh, yes, but how much do you charge?"

Bob: "Sell as many tickets as you can, keep what you need, and if there's anything left over give it to me." 

The Dakota Inn Rathskeller

Bob's 1st full time piano gig began in 1964 at the Dakota Inn Rathskeller, a German beer hall and restaurant in Detroit. 

It's on the corner of John R & Dakota St. 

After Bob's two cousins "threw him up onto the piano stand" because he was too nervous to play, manager Wayne St. John hired him on the spot.  

Photos by David Milne, Bob's father. 

The Mackinaw Island Convention

At the national convention of senators at the Grand Hotel in 2004, Bob & Bo Schembechler were the program. 

Bob plays the piano on stage.

Bo played football. Bob lost. 

Bob finds his old friend Chris Buckley (Forbes Magazine) the next day at the lawn breakfast. Chris is the speaker for the 2nd night of the convention. Acting like teenagers, they switch name tags (hard to see).  

Performance at the Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island. 

The Chautauqua Amphitheatre 

In August of 20044, Bob played the America concert for an audience of 5000 at Chautauqua Institute Amphitheatre. The concert is a 45 minute medley of American songs which he improvised shortly after 9/11.

Known as The America Concert, the audience was moved to tears. 

It affects Bob the same way every time he plays it.

The Chautauqua Amphitheatre hosted the Boston Symphony the next night.

The Erie Canal

It goes from Albany ... Buffalo. 

The Octagon at Orchard Beach, Maine

The Octagon was built in the 1880s as part of a Methodist church camp. 

Bob played here for many years. It seats 1100. 

The ceiling used to be supported by a single pole. This was changed in the 1920s when someone engineered a series of rods connected to the upper walls and attached via a metal ring around the pole. Then they torqued the heck out of it. Finally someone went up on a ladder and cut off the pole. 

The People you Meet...

Some guy named Bush called Linda and asked if Bob could play him a tune or two at his house somewhere in Maine.

Following the performance at their home in Kennebunkport, Mr. Bush was thrilled. We were invited to "stay at our place anytime you're in Maine." 

There's a touch of wry humor around this place. 

Mr. Bush took us to Mabel's for seafood. When we left there was a huge crowd of people being held back by the Secret Service. They were wondering ,

"Who is that guy walking out with Mr. Bush?" 

Mrs. Bush wanted to see our van. When she opened the door a bag of dirty laundry fell out. Mrs. Bush asked Linda what it was, then offered to take about 15 such bags into the house and "do them up."

Linda would not allow the 1st Lady to do our laundry. 

The Bushes, friends, and Bob and Linda pose in front of Bob's little motor home. 

This photo actually got me across the border into Canada one time when the Canadian customs officer demanded proof that I was an American citizen. After I showed him this one he shut down his lane and spent 20 minutes with me looking at pictures and talking. 

I got through the border and continued on to the next gig. 

The Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island

William Vanderbilt, shamed because America didn't have any grand palaces like Europe, built the Marble House in the late 1800s. 

Bob was asked for a special performance in the Gold Room. It was part of a fundraiser to maintain the house on Mansion Row. 

Two fireplaces such as this stand across the room from each other. 

The paintings dwarf the people coming in through the main entrance.

The grand staircase to the upper levels.

Vanderbilt had ordered marble walls for every room in the house. When the architect told him that a particular marble for the dining room walls was no longer available because the Russian mine had been long closed, Vanderbilt told him to tell the Russians to reopen the mine and get him what he wanted. 

Li Lu

This is my friend Li Lu. You know him. Or at least you will in a moment.

My wife, Linda, and I attended his birthday party in Pasadena, California.

But in the past:

 Li Lu was the leader of the student rebellion in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Unarmed, he faced military showdowns. Many people who dared criticize the communist government were killed.  

When the uprising was squashed he spent ten weeks hiding in the mountains. His face was on China's 'Most Wanted' posters.

Back at the birthday party, a Chinese traditional band played for us. 

Pictured here is our mutual friend Tony Tjan, who flew in from Boston.

Suddenly someone was yelling and screaming:

"Everyone look up! Li Lu! Look up!"

A squadron of Chinese warplanes was approaching.    A voice suddenly called out,

"Li Lu! These are the same kind of warplanes that came for you in the mountains!"

As the planes came in closer above us, the voice kept on yelling:

"Back then they came to kill you, but... those are friends who are flying the planes. They have come to say,

'Happy Birthday Li Lu! We love you!'"

The planes dipped their wings as they went roaring over us. Li Lu's friends had planned this great surprise for his birthday party. This was so emotional there are no words.

Li Lu's escape from China was a ten-week long nail-biter. He made it to New York City not knowing one word of English. Three years later he graduated from Columbia University with three degrees in economics. He went on to become one of the most successful business adventurers in America. 

The State Theatre, Auburn, California

Good friend Fran Haynes saw the Brain Study articles in 2011. She immediately arranges a concert for Bob at the State Theatre. 

In true Fran style, the Marquee is weird. 

Fran & Shirley introduce Bob

Bob plays the concert but he's got his eyes on the prize. 

Prize. Any questions?