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!”
“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.”
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.)
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.)”
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.)
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.”
*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.