A Six-Pack of Steve Miller

Steve Miller has been a practicing musician pretty much his whole adult life. I recounted in a recent post how he learned guitar from luminaries such as Les Paul and T-Bone Walker. Asked by an interviewer about his lasting moments he said:

“I would have to say my father’s relationship with Les Paul and T-Bone Walker when I was young. Growing up in Dallas, being part of that phenomenal music scene. I found a way to do what I really wanted to do, which is so important for a kid. Near the end of college, my parents said, ‘Steve, what are you going to do?’

I said, ‘I want to go to Chicago and play the blues.’ My father looked at me like I was insane. But my mom said, ‘You should do it now.’ So I went to Chicago. And that was a special time. I played with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. I got to work with adults and realized music was what I wanted to do, what I loved.”

While in college in Wisconsin at the tender age of 19 he formed the Ardells and then – with buddy Boz Scaggs – played the Chicago scene. (Boz played, sang and wrote on the first couple of Steve Miller Band albums then split to do his own thing.)

This tune, “Living in the USA” is from their second album Sailor. Tight, smokin’ rock and roll with a great harp solo by Miller – love this tune. Album produced by the legendary Glyn Johns. “Somebody give me a cheeseburger!”

Spotify link

“USA” was an underground hit but Miller wasn’t yet the monster he was to become. His next album, 1969’s Brave New World was – as mentioned – without Scaggs but with jazz and rock keyboardist Ben Sidran who had been a member of the Ardells. This album is notable for the participation on a few songs by one Paul Ramon aka Paul McCartney.*

I’m not gonna feature the song they did together but this anecdote bears repeating; “”My Dark Hour” was recorded in a late-night session on 9 May 1969 after an acrimonious argument between McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr over signing a contract appointing Allen Klein as The Beatles’ financial manager.

Lennon, Harrison, and Starr walked out, while McCartney remained at Olympic Studios. (By his own admission, Paul was incredibly pissed off and needed to drum to get it out of his system.) Miller was the only member of the band to attend the session, and the song emerged from him and McCartney jamming.”

Anyway, from Brave New World, here’s “Space Cowboy.”

Spotify link

I was by no means intending to go album-by-album but it just so happens this next song is what inspired this post. I heard it on the radio and I said, Damn I haven’t that one in a while. The song is “Your Saving Grace” and it was written by Miller’s drummer Tim Davis. (On the off-chance that English is your second chance, a person’s saving grace is the thing that redeems them.)

Spotify link

I mentioned earlier that Miller learned the blues early. But I can’t think of one single person who thinks of him as a bluesman per se. I think his basic strong sense of melodic pop overwhelmed any blues instincts he might have had. (Hence the McCartney-Miller bromance.)

But in 1986, he released an album called Living in the 20th Century which had a couple of nice blues tunes. No one will ever mistake Miller for Clapton but this is a nice Jimmy Reed tune. It’s called “I Wanna Be Loved (But By Only You.)”

Spotify link

The eagle-eyed reader (you know who you are) will notice I have assiduously avoided the more popular Miller tunes that you can hear every single freaking day on classic rock radio. Because sometime in the ’70’s after The Joker and Fly Like an Eagle, Steve’s ship came in and he’s never not been popular since then.

From neither album but from 1977’s Book of Dreams I give you “Swingtown.” (Co-written with actor/songwriter Chris ‘CB’ McCarty.)

Spotify link

Last but not least is a song I’ve always dug and would love to learn on the guitar. Also from 20th Century, it’s a cool little number called “Slinky.”

Spotify link

*McCartney used the pseudonym Paul Ramon on a tour of Scotland with the (then) Silver Beetles. The Ramones named themselves after Paul’s continental character.

49 thoughts on “A Six-Pack of Steve Miller

  1. I absolutely love Steve Miller. Although I do consider him a blues man at heart.
    I have a bunch of blues records with him as a guest musician. I feel he (and more likely his record company) knew the money was in the hits, so he developed into a 70’s classic rock hit machine.
    The first time I saw him live was up here and Colin James opened (another blues man at heart).
    I thought I was in for a night of their radio friendly hits.
    Then they both went on stage together and just slayed the blues guitar.
    It was awesome. I gained so much respect for both of them that night.
    It seemed like they played the hits, but seemed elated to play the blues tunes not many associate with their playing.

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    1. I totally agree he’s a bluesman at heart. But even if you listen to his earlier less commercial albums, they’re still not very bluesy even though they were coming out at a time when blues was arguably at its peak. (Sixties.) I think you’re right that the record company nudged him in a pop direction. But like Todd Rundgren, McCartney, Brian Wilson et al, guys like that just cannot not write melodically. Plus, blues is very limiting to play after a while which is why Ian Anderson got away from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s honestly been 40 years since I heard “Your Saving Grace” (thank you, Jim). The only Miller record I own is “Sailor,” but it’s a good one. Mr. Scaggs didn’t do bad as a solo artist, either.

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  3. I was one of those “underground” guys that liked Miller back when. I ate up everything until after ‘The Joker’. One of my first takes was ‘Space Cowboy”. He’s in line for an album take from CB. The one I listened to the most was ‘Anthology”. Brave New World and Sailor were my intros. My buddy moved to NY a few years ago and I sent him ‘Living In The USA’. He loved the “cheeseburger’ lyric. Tale of a couple careers. Glad he made some serious dough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was going to post “Dime a Dance Romance” from Sailor, the Scaggs tune but there was stuff I liked even more. Tough to come up with only six. It’s a short list but CB should try it out on his next long walk on the beach.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Because we both listen to a lot of music it really isn’t surprising when we are on the same vibe. Miller has been staring at me for a while and like I said I think I’ll pull the trigger with ‘Anthology’. I quit listening to old Steve a long time ago. (Is there a pattern with me Doc? I seem to be on board with a lot of bands/musicians at first then slide later. You being a doctor and all I thought maybe … )

        Yeah a walk is in order, cigar shoved in the face and I’ll add that Miller tune to one of the listes you made..

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        1. Yup. Good topic for a take. How does longevity and commercial success effect your liking of a band/musicians music? Miller is a good case so is McCartney.
          I think we go back and grab a lot of the same stuff.

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  4. Isn’t it great when a post flushes out high regard for an artist? Count me down as an early Steve fan too. Though not only early – I have a real soft spot for his gently jazzy ‘Born to be blue’.

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  5. I’ve always liked Steve Miller. He definitely had an ear for catchy rock songs. I like both the early stuff like “Living In The USA” and “My Dark Hour”, as well was more pop-oriented tunes like “Rock’n Me” and “Jet Airliner.” To me it’s feel-good music!

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    1. Yep. I read in an interview that all he wants to do is entertain and I think he’s succeeded at that. For whatever reason it never occurred to me to go see him. Now that tix are $8,000 (might as well be) that will never happen. Hey, do you know of a Miller tribute band?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. $8,000? Are they fucking crazy?

        Nope, I’m afraid I don’t know of any Miller tribute. While I generally think tribute bands can be fun and definitely have seen a number of very good ones, it’s kind of sad “regular guys” like you and I essentially have to rely on tribute acts to listen to some of the music we dig.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dude, I was kidding with the $8,000. I’m sure they’re nowhere near that. I’m saying it might as well be $8000 once it gets above a couple hundred bucks.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Ha, admittedly, you got me there – apparently, asking a rock & roll nut like me to comment prior to noon is way too early in the day!😀

          Having said this, when it comes to profiting from ticket prices these days, an $8,000 ask wouldn’t entirely shock me. There is just way too much greed in the concert business!

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        3. That said, people pay thousands for people like Streisand who rarely perform. And try getting a ticket to, say, the Super Bowl and see what that costs. The sad thing is that all those things used to be cheap. And rock ‘n roll by its very nature had an egalitarian “all-for-one” feel. Gone.

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      2. Steve Miller has been touring with Peter Frampton lately.
        I saw them together in the last year or 2.
        They are still touring together.
        The lawn tickets are under $20.
        Pretty cheap for 2 70’s hit machines.

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        1. Oh, yeah that sounds pretty sweet. Frampton’s an excellent guitar player. Did you know his father was David Bowie’s art instructor? I love those trivia things.

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        2. Imagine if you will the collaboration Bowie and Frampton could have had. Especially the guitar work Ronson and Frampton could have displayed and lyricism between Bowie and Frampton.

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        3. Frampton was invited onto the Glass Spider tour and.plays on Never Let Me Down, but unfortunately Ronson was long gone by then.
          I just wish early to mid 70’s when Ronson was still around and both Bowie and Frampton were at their peak, if they had worked together.

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        1. Again, joke. Doesn’t travel well on Internet. Making the point that it might as well be 8 large for all I can afford it. Anyway, ME will avoid hyperbole in future.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m only familiar with the hits, so this is definitely a character who’s music I’d be keen to explore further. I also like the fact that he offended the Black Keys.

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    1. All due respect, I don’t and i called that behavior out when he did it. Those guys flew all the way from Nashville to honor their hero and he shat on them. I like the Keys music but even if I hated it, it was just shabby star behavior. I think Steve is a great musician and I love much of his music. But I would have told him to go fuck himself (they pretty much did.) He want down a few clicks in my eyes as a person after that episode.

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      1. That’s fair enough. For clarity, I didn’t find that his sleight was aimed at Black Keys, but more the Hall of Fame shenanigans. Their response to it surprised me and they, particularly Dan, went down a few clicks in my eyes (it was all about them and the thing that offended them most appeared to be the fact that Miller called the whole thing a crock of shit). I still like him for calling it what it is, though.

        I actually like a lot of Black Keys music, though I think their last few albums have pandered a bit to mainstream radio.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hey, you wont get any disagreement from me, but the response from Dan Keys was a bit much and that’s what I find funny.

          “Sleepless nights”. That was a quote from him. Really? Cause Steve Miller was a bit of an asshole or uncomfortable to be around and he didn’t really know who they were (and he said to them that the whole thing was a bit uncomfortable)? And to then highlight that they went there unpaid, etc. only highlighted that Miller was right about the whole thing…

          Personally, I thought the reaction was a bit over the top. But I get that I wasn’t there. I’d maybe think he was a dick, but I probably wouldn’t have made such a big deal of it. The cynic in me thinks that was to preserve their own standing within the industry. I can appreciate that Dan has a flourishing career to look after.

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        2. I’d agree with that – absolutely. It was really quite a bizarre situation.

          But yeah, I guess folks do it for the fans. A lot of them like to see their favourite bands honoured.

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        3. I don’t know that it’s gasping its last breath. Like all institutions, it’ll probably wind up going on and on, relevant or not. Too bad that it falls so far short of any kind of Woodstock idea. I know a lot of people think it’s a joke. But I tell you what. If I’d struggled to make it an impossible field like music and I was asked to be inducted I’d be there with – as they say – bells on.

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        4. Yeah. I still kinda like the Hall. It ain’t perfect but it honors those people. I sometimes think they should have a big year where they sweep in a whole bunch of overlooked people who are deserving. But that aside, I don’t know if you ever get to the States much less Cleveland but visiting the Hall was, IMHO, well worth it.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. I dare say it perhaps started with best intentions, but has forgotten what it was all about. I don’t pay much attention to it, though I believe Jane’s Addiction were mentioned this time around. I cant recall the result of that, but I don’t remember them being inducted… which isn’t surprising.

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        6. I think Steve found out the bad side of the Hall once he got there.
          He was told strangers would introduce him. He had to pay for his band to show. It was all very cold. He was not allowed friends. It was all record execs he had previously sued. Bad experience all around.
          I feel Black Keys are always bitching about other musicians. Before this is was Jack White.
          Their music is decent but to me they come across as spoiled and entitled.

          Liked by 1 person

        7. That’s too bad about Miller. I hadn’t heard that. As to Keys, I think actually White believed they were ripping his style off.

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        8. It sounded like a very odd scenario. I don’t know what the outcome of it all was, but I assume it was quickly forgotten about by most (though not me, clearly!!).

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        9. Obviously I do not know, but my bet is this is how it has always been.
          Steve was the first to speak out and many shame him as being ungrateful or difficult.
          Hopefully since he said something it will force change for future inductees.

          Liked by 1 person

        10. Yes, maybe the Hall needed to be called out. Not sure if that was the right way to do it. I still love Steve anyway. It’s given a lot more than he’s taken.

          Liked by 1 person

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