By Lindsay Eckert
Although he’s only known the world for barely a decade, when Raven Milligan sits behind a drum set it’s as if the world has known him for lifetimes. As the 10-year-old nestles his ear buds in his ears and gently bobs his head, an older soul takes cover; erupting through the youthful fingertips gripping worn drumsticks and creating a beat never heard before.
“I write out the song lyrics then read over it until I hear the beat in my head, I usually hear it about halfway into the second read,” Raven explained as he paged through his “Cars” notebook, home to the lyrics of more than 50 songs written and recorded by the Sycamore Elementary student. “Then I hear a simple beat for my sister, Rhea, (7) to play on the keyboards.”
“It’s a God-given talent,” said Raven’s mom, Stacy, whose dad and late brother were born with the beat in their blood as well. “He’s never had a lesson,” as her eyes glistened with tears of pride.
Four recorded CDs and 37 live performances later, Raven is taking his first drum lesson with Chad Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer, after the fellow percussionist spotted Raven rocking out in a video the Milligans posted on Smith’s Facebook page earlier this month.
“We posted the video of me playing ‘Monarchy of Roses’ and after I played the drums I said I’ll see you November first,” Raven said about the video his parents, Stacy and Shaun, posted on Facebook under the name “Raven wants to meet Chad Smith.”
Stacy said after posting Raven’s performances five days in a row Chad Smith himself took his turn and a dream-come-true quickly followed.
“We kept posting and posting videos so I commented on one of them and said: ‘Hey, you need to check out Raven on YouTube. He’s 10 and he really wants to meet you at the Milwaukee concert,’” Stacy said as she relived the moment all over again. “Not even 10 minutes later, Chad Smith reposted a video of Raven playing, then I got a phone call the caller ID didn’t recognize, it was Chad’s manager. I couldn’t even focus on her conversation, I was shaking I was so excited. I got off the phone and just started screaming for Raven. Our house was really loud that night, we all flipped out. I just couldn’t believe it, I’m like, this stuff doesn’t happen, you know?”
Raven said he was speechless after his mom ran upstairs with the phone still in her hand, but he says he knows exactly what he’ll say when he meets his lifelong idol.
“I didn’t say anything, it was unreal Chad Smith tried to locate me for 10 minutes,” Raven said with a tone of humbled flattery. “The first thing I’m going to tell him is I’ve been listening to his music for a really long time and I’m really thankful to meet him.”
Stacy and Shaun, who have been fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers since the 1980s, said Raven started “listening” to Chad Smith’s beats before his ears were fully formed
“He was listening to them when he was in the womb,” Stacy said. “When he was a baby, I took him on drives to go take a nap because he wouldn’t sleep. I’d put in [Red Hot Chili Peppers] and we’d drive in the country for his nap; he was listening to them when he was a baby, he just didn’t know it.”
Although Raven’s eyes were sleeping during his Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired naps, his dreams were circling around a beat he’d create just months later.
“The first time I sat on a drum set I was 6 months old, I’ve always been excited just hearing the beat of the drums. So, I tried to play on my dad’s [drum set], but I was too small to reach the floor and fell off the back of the seat,” Raven said about how he ended up receiving a junior drum set for his second birthday.
Shaun, the bassist for local rock band Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel, said he knew Raven needed to play from the second the then-toddler crafted his first beat.
“He would play my drums and just bang on them, you could hear he had the rhythm but he couldn’t reach the pedals. I said we were holding him back if we didn’t get a set that fit him,” Shaun said. “We got him his own a week before his second birthday, but I couldn’t just leave these drums sitting in the car. He came downstairs and they were sitting right there and he just killed it.”
By five years old, Raven was “killing it” playing in live shows at Cincinnati Reds games and other all-age venues with his uncle and dad.
“The first time I saw him play with them he was five, I cried. It took me back to my childhood of hearing my brother play the drums. He never took lessons, he just naturally played like Raven does,” Stacy said as she endearingly connected her brother’s and her son’s natural talents. “I think [my brother] had a lot do with [Raven being able to meet Chad], I think from the other side he had a lot do with this. He’d be amazed.”
As Raven’s passion for the drums carries on a family legacy and propels him into his future, Chad Smith is on tour preparing for their meet and greet.
“Get ready, Raven,” Chad Smith posted on his Facebook wall about their Nov.1 meeting when Raven will play with his favorite musician.
Ready, indeed. The kid was born ready.