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Keep On Rock' n Me Baby

By: Mark Winston
Photography by Josh Hofer

The Steve Miller Band's rain delayed performance at Raleigh's Red Hat Amphitheater was a very enjoyable experience. On display were all the attributes that have contributed to Miller's 50+ year career as a rock-star. His concerts combine technical proficiency, superb songwriting, and killer vocal harmonies. When you add in the required work ethic, adequate stage presence and showmanship, it is no wonder that the results are highly entertaining and memorable.

It wouldn't be too fanciful to claim that Miller was born with a silver guitar in his mouth. As a child living in Milwaukee, Les Paul and Mary Ford got married at Miller's house. Per Wikipedia, "Les Paul was an American jazz, country, and blues guitarist, songwriter, luthier, and inventor. He was one of the pioneers of the solid-body electric guitar which made the sound of rock and roll possible." Les Paul was also Steve Miller's godfather and life long friend.

"In 1952 the family had relocated to Dallas Texas. At the age of nine, T-Bone Walker came to our house to play a party. I sat right next to T-Bone all night and watched him play. He taught me how to play the guitar behind my head and do splits. He became a regular at our house, and that's how I learned to play lead guitar." (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Interview)

"He showed up to the house in a flesh-colored Cadillac convertible with real leopard skin seats," Steve told Howard Stern. "I just thought he was the coolest guy in the world." Being cool had nothing to do with why Miller took a shining to Walker, though. He claims that the real takeaway from seeing him play music with his father was watching "grown men having a great time." (Howard Stern Interview)

As a thirteen year old in 1956, Miller and schoolmate Boz Scaggs were already in a successful working band. The group played gigs all over Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. In Dallas, they would often back up Jimmy Reed who also greatly influenced Eric Clapton.

After college Miller and keyboardist Barry Goldberg formed the Goldberg-Miller Blues Band, which was signed by Epic. In 1965, the act appeared on the TV variety show Hullabaloo. While working the competitive Chicago blues scene, Miller further honed his craft and rubbed elbows with many more stellar musicians such as Charlie Musselwhite and Harvey Mandel.

After relocating to San Francisco, Miller and his new band got another break backing Chuck Berry on a series of shows. Not only was the psychedelic scene taking off at The Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom, but San Francisco had become a musical melting pot.

It is no wonder that after working with and being influenced by Berry and T-Bone (two of the best entertainers of all time) that Miller’s live performances were soon gaining recognition and a following. Technically, the band was musically tighter than any of their local contemporaries. This resulted in an appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Miller then recruited Boz Scaggs and B-3 organist Jim Peterman as the band was signed to Capitol Records.

Their debut album, Children Of The Future was produced at Olympic Studios in London. Glyn Johns, who worked with the Beatles, was their recording engineer. Johns invited Steve to sit in on a Beatles session. In 1969, Paul McCartney secretly co-wrote and played on a 1969 Miller track called "My Dark Hour."

The debut record defied easy categorization and the music flowed one track into the next, making it a ‘concept album’ similar in nature to other contemporary recordings such as the Beach Boys Pet Sounds (May 1966), the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and the Who's Tommy (1969).

In 1973, Steve Miller released The Joker which was a departure from their psychedelic rock roots to technically crafted melodic oriented rock. The successful title track became a staple on fledgling FM radio and achieved platinum certification. In 1976, critically-acclaimed Fly Like An Eagle earned multi-platinum status in the US and Canada. “Rock’n Me” became a #1 hit and the title track went to #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100. 1977’s Book of Dreams contained hit singles: "Jet Airliner," "Jungle Love" and "Swingtown."

Earlier this year, Steve Miller was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Comments he made to a reporter resulted in a controversy which is a good read. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7333970/steve-miller-rock-roll-hall-fame-interview

At the Red Hat performance, the show opened with "Jungle Love", "Take the Money and Run","Abracadabra", "Living in the USA" and "Space Cowboy". Miller shared recollections of his career and paid tribute to Bill Graham, KC Douglas as well as Little Walter. After a blues oriented segment, the show then built back up with a reworked version of "Fly Like An Eagle" and the crowd pleasing "Rock'n Me". The encores performed were "The Stake", "Swingtown", and "Jet Airliner". After 50+ years Steve Miller is still at the top of his game and I encourage you to check out his fairly recent performance on Austin City Limits.

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