Rocky Milino Jr. is playing chords on a keyboard only he can see. He bounces his fingers on the desk in his Port Moody home studio, running them up and down invisible scales to the raw, bluesy sound of a slide guitar. “Evil woman, you’re making me lose my mind,” he sings in a soulful rasp.
Milino spends much of his time making music and, over the last year or so, he’s been busy fine-tuning the tracks on his latest album, Pleasant Side Blues. Now, though, he’s shutting down the computer and heading out to Horseshoe Bay for a night shift as engine room assistant on board the Queen of Oak Bay. “I love mechanics and pulling things apart,” he says. “I’ve got to have that outlet to make this [music] industry work.”
Striking the right chord
Milino has discovered that the musical and mechanical sides of his career are in perfect harmony with each other.
“I’ve always worked in music and had a full-time job, too,” he says, then laughs a little while pondering his demanding schedule. “I’m 34 and single—I guess it makes sense.”
An engine room assistant with BC Ferries since 2013, Milino knows his two ships—the Queen of Oak Bay and the Queen of Capilano—down to the smallest rivet.
For much of each shift, he can be found down in the engine room with the rest of the engineering team, maintaining the ship’s engines. There, he’ll carry out a variety of monitoring tasks, keeping track of the machinery, checking gauges for pressure readings and taking note of any irregularities that might crop up. The rest of the time he is performing various mechanical and maintenance tasks throughout the ship—and every once in a while, he’ll even help a customer with car trouble.
Milino loves the varied tasks and challenges that come with the job. “I’m a heavy-duty mechanic, but since working here, I’ve had to learn a lot,” he says. “Everything is very surgical. It’s very strategic.”
Milino was born in Duncan, BC, and raised in Port Moody. His dad, Rocky Senior, is also a heavy-duty mechanic; his brother Pat is a singer, too. “I’m the rock ’n’ roller, he’s the Frank Sinatra. We’re polar opposites,” Milino says.
He was in Grade 6 when he first picked up a guitar; since then, he’s learned piano, drums, bass and harmonica. “I played years of ice hockey, but guitar, it’s the most natural thing. I’m completely self-taught. I do everything by ear,” he says.
In high school, he started playing the blues in downtown Vancouver, a “totally clean-cut” kid with his mom or dad always chaperoning him. By Grade 9 he was writing and recording. By Grade 12, he had a publicist and a band named CAUSE4DRAMA.
Over the years, Milino has played with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Cheap Trick, Loverboy, The Payolas, Kim Mitchell and Colin James, in venues from Northern BC to Mexico, first as CAUSE4DRAMA’S frontman and, later, as Rocky Jr. He even got to perform the U.S. national anthem on slide guitar for 60,000 San Francisco Giants fans at Pac Bell Park (now AT&T Park).
But by his late 20s, he found himself growing frustrated with how much harder it was to make money with his music. “I was at a crossroads with my music stuff. I needed a bit of a break.”
A harmonious balance
So, Milino decided to focus on another of his long-time interests.
“I’ve always been interested in mechanics. I grew up around heavy machinery,” he says. “My dad was always adamant about me getting a trade ticket.”
Milino had spent years picking up mechanic skills working alongside his father. But now it was time to take it seriously. When he was 28, he went to the British Columbia Institute of Technology to earn his heavy-duty mechanic certificate. Shortly after graduation, he joined BC Ferries.
Now he’s working toward his fourth-class engineer’s certification through BC Ferries’ apprenticeship program, which will allow him to work with high-pressure boilers. He’s also planning a series of live shows throughout 2017 to support his recently released album. The rest of the time, he enjoys boxing at North Burnaby Boxing Club.
“You’ve got to have an activity that sweats you a little bit. You’ve got to have a job that works your brain. And then,” Milino says, playing one last invisible chord, “you have to have a passion.”