Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Steve Miller (born October 5, 1943, Milwaukee, Wisconsin) is an American guitarist and singer-songwriter. Beginning his career in blues and blues rock, Miller's music later changed to a more popular-oriented sound which earned him success with a series of singles and albums from the mid 1970s through the early 1980s.
Miller was born to Dr. George E. "Sonny" Miller, a pathologist, jazz enthusiast, and accomplished amateur recording engineer, and his wife Bertha, who was a remarkable non-professional jazz-influenced singer.
Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford were regular visitors at the Miller house and Dr. and Mrs. Miller were best man and maid of honor at their wedding.
Paul heard young Miller (about 5 years old) on a wire-recording made by his father banging away on a guitar given to him by his Uncle Dr. K. Dale Atterberry. Paul encouraged Miller to continue with his interest in the guitar ... and "perhaps he will be something one day".
In 1950, the family relocated to Dallas, Texas. At St. Mark's School, Miller formed his first band, "The Marksmen". Miller taught his older brother Buddy to play the bass (he was the only one with a driver's license). Miller also taught a classmate Boz Scaggs a few guitar chords so that he could join the band. After leaving St. Mark's; "I got kicked out", he recalled with a laugh in a 2004 interview — Miller graduated instead from Woodrow Wilson High School in the Lakewood area of Dallas in 1961.
In 1962, Miller returned to Wisconsin, and entered the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he formed The Ardells. Scaggs joined the Ardells the next year, and Ben Sidran became the band's keyboardist the year after. After attending the University of Copenhagen in Denmark for a semester in his senior year to study comparative literature, he dropped out six credit hours shy of a literature degree, opting to pursue a music career with his mother's encouragement and his father's misgivings:
[Interviewer:] When you look back over the span of your career, what are the lasting moments, the sweetest highs?
[Miller:] 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.
Upon his return to the United States, Miller moved to Chicago where he immersed himself in the city's blues scene. During his time there, he worked with harmonica player Paul Butterfield and jammed with blues greats Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Buddy Guy, all of whom offered the young guitarist encouragement to pursue a musical career. In 1965, Miller and keyboardist Barry Goldberg formed the Goldberg-Miller Blues Band and began playing on the Chicago club scene. They signed with Epic Records and released a single, "The Mother Song", and soon began a residency at a New York City blues club.
When Miller returned from New York, he was disappointed by the state of the Chicago Blues scene, so he moved to Texas in hopes finishing his education at the University of Texas at Austin. He was disappointed with academic politics at the University , so he took a Volkswagen Bus that his father had given him and headed to San Francisco. Upon arrival, he used his last $5 to see the Butterfield Blues Band and Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore Auditorium. Miller fell in love with the vibrant San Francisco music scene and decided to stay.
In 1967, he formed the Steve Miller Band (at first called The Steve Miller Blues Band), with Miller also handling vocals. Billed as The Miller Band, they backed Chuck Berry on his Live at Fillmore Auditorium album released that year. In 1968, they released an album, Children of the Future, the first in a series of discs rooted solidly in the psychedelic blues style that then dominated the San Francisco scene. Writing in Crawdaddy!, Peter Knobler called the album "a triple moment of experience, knowledge, inspiration". Boz Scaggs rejoined Miller for this album and the next one, before starting his solo career.
The group followed the release of their second album, Sailor, with the albums Brave New World, Your Saving Grace and Number 5. These first five albums performed respectably on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart but failed to yield a major hit single; the highest charted single being "Livin' in the USA" from Sailor. Songs from this period are also featured in a portion of the double album compilation Anthology, which includes a guest appearance on bass guitar, drums and backing vocals by Paul McCartney on the songs "Celebration" and "My Dark Hour."
In this first period Miller established his personae of the "Gangster of Love" (from Sailor) and the "Space Cowboy" (from Brave New World), which were reused in later works. In 1972, Miller recorded the album Recall the Beginning...A Journey from Eden, in which a third persona, "Maurice," was introduced in the tune "Enter Maurice."
In 1973, The Joker marked the start of the second phase of Miller's career: this work was less hard-rock oriented and simpler in composition. The album received significant radio airplay, which helped the title track reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The single also hit No 1 on the UK Singles Chart in September 1990 after it was used for a television commercial.
Miller followed up with Fly Like an Eagle in 1976, and Book of Dreams in 1977. (The songs for both had been recorded at the same time, and released over two single albums rather than one double-album.) This pair of albums represented the peak of Miller's commercial career, both reaching the top echelons of the album charts and spawning a lengthy series of hit singles, including "Fly Like An Eagle", "Rock'n Me", "Take the Money and Run", "Jet Airliner" and "Jungle Love". The Steve Miller Band co-headlined a major stadium tour with The Eagles in 1978.
Miller developed a high degree of music business acumen. Aware that songs earn individual publishing royalties no matter what their length, he separated the 57-second electronic introduction from the song "Sacrifice" on Book of Dreams, named it "Electro Lux Imbroglio" and published it separately, earning thousands of extra dollars as a result. On the heels of this massive success, Miller took a long hiatus from recording and touring, emerging in 1981 with Circle of Love. Sales were disappointing, however, and in 1982 he returned to the pop formula with another hit album, Abracadabra. This was Miller's last great commercial success; a series of collections, live albums and attempts to find a new style appeared in 1984 (Italian X-Rays), 1986 (Living in the 20th Century) and 1988 (Born 2B Blue), but after 1993's effort, Wide River, Miller gave up recording records altogether for some considerable time.
Although the Steve Miller Band had limited peak commercial success, his ongoing popularity has been notable. In 1978, Greatest Hits 1974-1978 was released. The album contained all the big hits from his two most popular albums, Fly Like an Eagle and Book of Dreams (plus the title track from The Joker), which were recorded during the same recording sessions in 1976 and subsequently released one year apart. This popularity also fueled successful concert tours throughout the 1980s and 1990s, often with large numbers of younger people being present at the concerts, many of whom were fans of the big hits and inevitably purchased the greatest hits album. Miller would often headline shows with other classic rock acts, and played a variety of his music, including a selection of his blues work dating from the late 1960s.
On hearing the news of the death of Les Paul in 2009, Miller responded "I can not believe he is gone, I will miss him very much, my prayers go out to him."
In 2009, Miller was inducted into the Woodrow Wilson High School Hall of Fame.
Miller released Bingo! on June 15, 2010. The albums of blues covers is his first in seventeen years. It is released through his own Space Cowboy label in partnership with Roadrunner/Loud & Proud Records.
Miller, currently married to his third wife Kim, has homes in Ketchum, Idaho, and Friday Harbor, Washington.