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Released from the hospital four weeks after the accident, Millard went to his father's house on Long Island to recuperate. A few weeks after that, he had a brainstorm. He taped a Tupperware spatula to his stub with masking tape. He hit a chord, but after a few strums the tape broke. He then tried duct tape, which was too stiff, then electrical tape, which worked perfectly. "I played 'I've Seen All Good People' by Yes -- that was the first song," Millard says. "I called my mother and grandmother in Florida and started playing, and they both broke down crying."
Music gave Millard temporary hope. Toward the end of 1985, he flew to Florida to compete in a state-level Star Search competition (winners went on to the national level) and came in second with "Child's Love," a song he wrote about a nephew. But old habits and new misfortunes proved too daunting, and he soon returned to freebasing cocaine. That led to smoking crack, and Millard spent the next seven years drifting aimlessly, homeless much of the time. He alternated between Florida and New York, starting construction businesses only to abandon them soon after. At one point he actually wore a prosthetic hand, but he left it in the apartment of a female drug buddy. Returning for the hand a few days later, he discovered that the woman had deserted the apartment, leaving the hand locked inside.
"Drugs can do amazing things," Millard says, laughing at the memory. "I might be the only guy in history to lose two right hands."
In 1991 came his first arrest for possession of crack, and he spent four and a half months in Broward jails because no one would post the $1500 bail. A second possession arrest in 1992 led to his joining Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Newly clean he performed for an open-mic night at the now-defunct Rock Candy in Fort Lauderdale. Because of the positive response, he turned the event into a weekly gig. Paying gigs followed, and Millard has made a living out of performing ever since. He's also remained clean since 1992 with the exception of a one-week relapse in 1996, which was cut short by yet another possession arrest. He was sentenced to three years' probation.
At the moment Millard plays only cover songs, a mix of straight-ahead '70s and '90s rock songs by acts like Live, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, and other radio-friendly artists. But he's also been writing originals, which he plans to add to his act within the next six months, as he gets used to performing with a new partner, guitarist Chris Caron.
"Kevin's a real natural," Caron says. "He doesn't have a big head. Everything's real easy with him. He just plays."
Rossella Lamendola, singer-guitarist for the band China Doll, has known Millard for more than five years and feels his no-nonsense attitude works to his advantage. "He's this rough guy, but he has a soft inside. He's also a great guitarist; he does some really nice harmonic work with the guitar."
While he won't perform originals live on stage, Millard agrees to play two of them while sitting on the dock of Tugboat Annie's between sets -- "Through the Trees" and "Too Much Sorrow." Both are influenced by the '70s artists Millard emulates and the rough times he's endured. "Trees," in particular, is an appeal to God to explain loneliness and sorrow. It was inspired by a real-life event that took place when Millard was in very bad shape.
"When I was living on the street in New York, I saw a street ministry," he recalls, "and a guy was doing a pitch for salvation. Fifteen feet away from him, another guy got hit in the head with a bottle. He laid in front of me with his head cracked open, and he died. This is the kind of yin-yang stuff I write about. In the midst of beauty, a guy gets killed in the street."
After what he's been through, though, one can hardly blame him for writing songs with a pessimistic tone. "With my experiences on the street and the shit I've seen," he notes, "songs just flow."
Yet Millard, who claims he's been in a "perfect" relationship for six years with a woman he met in NA, is optimistic enough to believe that the worst is over. "I walk into clubs to get gigs and people have already heard of me," he says. "Everything I build on nowadays, I keep, so things can only get better. You're looking at a guy who, even when he had two hands, couldn't do what he's doing today."
Gimme 5 plays every Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. at Tugboat Annie's, 815 NE 3rd St., Dania (954-925-3399); every Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Jaybird's Place, 909 Breaker's Ave., Fort Lauderdale (954-630-0051); and every Sunday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Smith Brothers' Lounge, 2651 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale (954-566-1992).
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