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January 2003

 

H.E.A.R.honors Steve Miller

Steve Miller was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 5, 1943. His mother was an accomplished singer, and his father, Dr. George "Sonny" Miller, was a physician by profession and an amateur recording engineer in his spare time. Many members of Steve's family were musicians, and he received his first guitar at age 4. Steve put it to good use performing songs for his family and playmates.

Les Paul, the inventor of the electric guitar and multi-track recording, and his wife, Mary Ford, were regular visitors at the Miller house. In fact, Steve's father was best man at their wedding. Les and Mary taught Steve his first chords when he was five years old. Steve still uses some of the techniques they taught him at that time.

The Miller family moved to Dallas, Texas in 1950. Steve's dad continued recording various styles of music. Great musicians of the time continued to appear at the Miller house, including legendary blues man T-Bone Walker.

The Marksmen, Steve's first band, was formed when he was only 12 years old. This rock and roll band had a solid booking the entire semester playing mostly for fraternities. Steve taught his older brother to play bass so he wouldn't have to rely on his mother for transportation. The Marksmen continued to play for 5 more years. In high school, Steve asked his friend,"Boz" Scaggs, to perform vocals with the band. The greatest moment for them was when they backed blues hero, Jimmy Reed, at a local night club. However, at age 16 Steve left for college, which forced the band to break up. Steve attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and formed a new band called The Ardells. Steve taught Boz Scaggs some chords, and he joined The Ardells the next year.

Steve continued working with The Ardells through the school year and staying in Madison during the summers to perform with a group called The Knightranes. The next year, Ben Sidran was added on keyboards for The Ardells. Steve spent a semester at the University of Denmark during his senior year. He returned to the U.S. and spent the summer enjoying the Chicago blues scene, including working with a young musician named Paul Butterfield. Lacking 6 hours for a degree in literature, Steve decided to move to Chicago to play the blues. Steve was soon on stage with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Buddy Guy, who all encouraged him to continue playing.

Miller met Barry Goldberg and with bassist Roy Ruby and drummer Maurice McKinley formed The Goldberg-Miller Blues Band, playing Chicago clubs. The band was signed to Epic records during a convention in town. The recordings from this group are few and include a single called The Mother Song; however, there is one track on the box set performed by this band. They also appeared on Hullabaloo with the Four Tops and the Supremes.They took on a running gig at a club in Manhattan, only to return to a dead Chicago blues scene.

Disheartened, Steve went back to Texas in hopes of taking some music courses at the University of Texas at Austin. He was not admitted to music school, so he bought a used Volkswagen Microbus and headed to San Francisco. Upon arrival, he spent his last $5 to see the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore Auditorium. He jammed with Butterfield and announced his intention to stay in San Francisco.

Steve contacted Tim Davis, whom he knew from another band in Madison. Steve invited Davis and guitarist James "Curley" Cooke to come experience the San Francisco music scene. Adding Lonnie Turner on bass, the Steve Miller Blues Band was born. Miller was broke, sometimes sleeping in his van.The band landed a gig at the Avalon Ballroom, allowing Steve the money for an apartment.

The band debuted at the Avalon in January 1967, and they were an immediate success. They became a headliner at the Ballroom, playing at least once a month. They played the Fillmore in April, and they were booked for the Monterey Pop Festival in June. The week after Monterey, the Miller Blues Band backed Chuck Berry at the Fillmore Auditorium. This performance was recorded for an album (This is the only Miller Blues Band performance currently available on CD).

After Monterey, the band signed with Capitol Records. Steve negotiated a contract giving him complete artistic control. It was also one of the most lucrative contracts in music history, setting a new standard for future artists. Steve contacted old friend Boz Scaggs and invited him to join. Jim Peterman replaced "Curley" Cooke, and "Blues" was dropped from the band's name. The Steve Miller Band flew to England to record their first album with Glyn Johns as engineer. Children of the Future was released in May 1968 and was a staple of progressive FM stations throughout the country. Many would agree that this is one of the greatest debut albums ever.

The band did not see their first top 40 album until Sailor, released in October of the same year. This album featured Miller's first hit, "Living in the U.S.A." and also introduced us to the "Gangster of Love."

Peterman, tired of life on the road, and Scaggs, interested in pursuing his own career, left the group. Ben Sidran, who had worked with Steve in The Ardells, was invited to join. Brave New World was released June1969. Johns and Miller mastered the album in England at which time Steve was allowed to sit in on a Beatles recording session. Miller and Paul McCartney recorded "My Dark Hour" with Paul appearing under the alias Paul Ramon. This song features Steve on lead and rhythm guitar, and McCartney on drums and bass. This top 40 album also introduced us to the "Space Cowboy."

Your Saving Grace, released in November 1969, also made it in the top 40. This album, as well as the previous one, included some session work by keyboardist Nicky Hopkins whose talent is displayed marvelously on the track "Baby's House".

Miller was increasingly recording with others outside of the band, and tensions were high among many of the members. The next album marked the loss of Lonnie Turner, replaced by Bobby Winkleman. Ben Sidran also left to pursue his own career. Steve took what tapes that had been recorded to Nashville, where in between dates on the road with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead, he completed the album with harmonica player Charlie McCoy, fiddler Buddy Spicher, guitarist Wayne Moss and drummer Tim Davis. Number 5, released July 1970, was the greatest success to date.

The touring schedule was hectic, there was bickering between band members, and Capitol was constantly demanding new albums. Tim Davis and Bobby Winkleman both left the group, replaced by Jack King on drums and Ross Valory on bass. Rock Love was released September 1971.

The next album, Recall the Beginning...A Journey From Eden , featured session work by a variety of people. Released in March 1972, this album deserves a second look with great tracks like "Nothing Lasts," "Journey From Eden," and "Love's Riddle." Steve also introduced us to Maurice and the pompitous of love on "Enter Maurice." Neither this album nor Rock Love have ever been released on CD. Miller broke his neck in a car wreck in 1972 while on his way to the airport for a European tour. Steve went home to his parents in Dallas for eight months to nurse himself back to health. This was an important turning point in his career, and a time at which he did some deep reflection.

He returned to California, and with Gerald Johnson on bass, Dicky Thompson on keyboards, and Jack King on drums, emerged from the studio after 19 days with a brand new sound. The Joker was released October 1973, and was the first album Steve had produced himself. He finally had a number 1 song. Touring increased with opening acts such as Boz Scaggs and James Cotton.

Between touring, managing his career, writing songs, and recording 8 albums in 65 months, Steve was exhausted. He decided to take some time off, and spent the next year and a half writing and recording the bulk of his next two albums. Fly Like an Eagle was released May 1976, featuring Lonnie Turner on bass and Gary Mallaber on drums. One year and one day later Book of Dreams was released with the addition of Byron Allred on keyboards and session work by Greg Douglass, David Denny, and Norton Buffalo. The two albums contained a string of multiple hit songs. The band was now playing arenas rather than theaters. Both albums were certified quadruple platinum. Lonnie Turner was replaced by Gerald Johnson, and the band released Circle of Love in 1981.

With the addition of Kenny Lee Lewis on rhythm guitar, Steve reached platinum status once again with the release of Abracadabra in June 1982. A live album and video were released the following year. Italian X Rays, the band's first digital recording, was released November 1984.

Steve released Living in the 20th Century in 1986. This album yielded the hit "I Want To Make The World Turn Around" featuring a Kenny G sax solo. However, the best part of this album was side 2. Drawing from his Texas roots, Steve performed great renditions of blues standards by Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon and others. These songs were released on the video "Blues in the 20th Century".

Steve returned to his roots, in 1988 with the release of Born 2B Blue , with a completely new band. This album received much acclaim from music critics including Leonard Feather of the L.A.Times. This album earned respect and it displays the versatility of Steve Miller.

In 1988, Les Paul invited Steve to appear on a Cinemax special with other great guitarists, including B.B. King, David Gilmour, and Eddie VanHalen. This was the first live performance by Steve Miller since 1983 (This is available on video under the title Les Paul and Friends: He Changed the Music ). After the show, he attended a Pink Floyd concert at the request of Gilmour. Steve decided it was time to hit the road again.

Steve did hit the road in 1988, and continued for 12 consecutive tours of Amphitheaters across the USA until deciding to take a sabatical after the 2000 "Into The Future" tour.

During the 1990's Miller released, "Wide River" 1992 and "The Box Set" 1994, which included previously unreleased tracks and one new song. He recorded with the Neville Brothers, John Mayall, Seal and Shaggy and his music has been sampled by hundreds of new recording artists.

Miller is finally taking time to delve into the band's extensive recording, photo and video archives. In May of 2002 Steve along with King Biscuit Flour Hour released a Live Album of songs recorded in 1973 at Shady Grove in Washington DC and 1976 at the Beacon theater in Manhattan. Steve currently resides in Seattle where he is writing and recording new material, researching Texas music in the national archives and archiving his own extensive recording career. Plans for future tours and shows are in the works.

Steve Miller was one of the first artists to use Ear Monitor Systems from Future Sonics. Steve had his whole band tested and fitted for earmolds for their tours. Steve Miller has always been a big proponent of hearing loss prevention for his band and audience members.

For more information on Steve Miller go to www.stevemillerband.com





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