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Steve Miller Band - Biography
|last update : 04-12-2013 03:58|
|One of music's most interesting and prolific artists, Steve Miller, born Oct. 5, 1943, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been making records of nearly every genre since 1968. A well-traveled blues guitarist who arrived in San Francisco in 1966, just one year prior to that city's fabled Summer Of Love, Miller signed a lucrative deal with Capitol Records that resulted in some of the most substantial, texturally interesting music of the era. In the course of 20 years at Capitol, Miller and a varying cast of musicians--always billed as the Steve Miller Band--would produce music that was alternately psychedelic, bluesy, R&B-inspired, country-tinged, gorgeously poppy, discofied, highly synthetic, and straight-out jazzy. Even more remarkable than that variety was his ability to perform skillfully in those modes without submerging the core of his sound or his own personality. In short, Steve Miller's 17 albums sound nothing alike--but always very much like the work of Steve Miller.|
The son of a music-loving physician, Miller had a childhood that any musician would envy: world-class instrumentalists such as Les Paul, Red Norvo,Tal Farlow and Charlie Mingus would often drop by to visit his father while performing in the Milwaukee area. "[They'd] just come and eat and hang out on a Sunday afternoon," Miller has said, "I saw the respect my dad had for them, and it seemed like musicians were just the neatest people of all." By the time he was 12, his family had moved to Dallas and Miller had formed his first blues band, the Marksmen Combo, soon to include later Miller Band stalwart Boz Scaggs. The pair continued to be bandmates while attending college at the University of Wisconsin, where Miller led local blues-rock combo the Ardells in the early '60s. Following a brief period as a student at the University of Copenhagen, Miller returned to the States and moved to Chicago, where he spent nearly three years playing blues guitar and jamming with some of the Windy City's superlative blues talent. He briefly formed a group with keyboardist Barry Goldberg, later of the Electric Flag.
Upon Miller's 1966 arrival in San Francisco, he put together the Steve Miller Blues Band, whose earliest work can be heard backing Chuck Berry on his 1967 Live At The Fillmore album; additionally, the band supplied three songs to the soundtrack of the 1967 film Revolution. By the time the Steve Miller Band flew to England to record their memorable 1968 debut Children Of The Future, the group consisted of Miller, Scaggs, drummer Tim Davis, bassist Lonnie Turner, and organist Jim Peterman. That version of the band lasted long enough to record both Children and its remarkable follow-up Sailor; Scaggs then left to begin his solo career and Peterman also departed. True '60s classics, both albums in retrospect functioned as samplers of the directions Miller would be following as his career unfolded. They contained blues covers ("Key To The Highway"), ethereal, pre-new age instrumentals ("Song For Our Ancestors"), simple pop ("You've Got The Power"), psychedelic rock ("The Beauty Of Time Is That It's Snowing"), and raving rock 'n' roll ("Living In The U.S.A.").
Though it's difficult to call the eclectic mix above a "formula," it's accurate to say Miller proceeded in that direction for many albums to come. As bandmembers began departing circa 1969's Brave New World, Miller used supplementary musicians such as Ben Sidran and pianist Nicky Hopkins to flesh out his sound. By 1971's Rock Love, Miller was the only remaining original member of the original Steve Miller Band. The latter album was his first since Children Of The Future not to enter the Top 40; though he'd yet to score a hit single, regular FM radio play of such songs as "Living In The U.S.A." had previously made Miller a very respectable album seller and significant concert attraction.
But something clicked in Miller's career with 1973's The Joker. The good-timey, deliberately simple aspect of his music--present as far back as Sailor and Brave New World's "Space Cowboy"--kicked in massively via The Joker's title track, which soared to become Miller's first No. 1 single ever and pushed the album to No. 2. The records that followed were even more successful: 1976's Fly Like An Eagle went quadruple platinum and offered three major hits, including the No. 1 "Rockin' Me" and the familiar, gold-certified title track. His triple-platinum Book Of Dreams was also hit-filled, but with one significant difference--of its three hits "Jet Airliner," "Jungle Love," and "Swingtown," only the last was a Miller original, for which he shared a writing credit with Chris McCarty.
The man who had penned 1976's "Take The Money And Run" then did exactly that. In 1978, he moved to Oregon and built a 24-track recording studio; he emerged with the music he'd recorded there in 1981. The results? Circle Of Love went gold thanks to Top 40 hit "Heart Like A Wheel," and 1982's platinum Abracadabra included the third No. 1 in Miller's career with its bouncy title track. Nearly 15 years after the mature artistic statement of Children Of The Future, Miller was making hits out of lyrics such as "Abra-abra-cadabra/ I want to reach out and grab ya."
But Miller's career then took a tumble. 1983's follow-up to the No. 3 Abracadabrawas a live album that only reached No. 125 on the charts, and its studio successor Italian X Rays--actually one of Miller's better efforts in years--peaked at No. 101 and fell of the charts in less than three months. "I was having a hard time with my record company," Miller recalled in 1993. "They weren't very interested in what I was doing, didn't have much of a plan for it. On the [studio] follow-up to Abracadabra we ran into the independent promotion thing, and I refused to pay independent promotion. I didn't know what it was, I didn't care about it, and I sold 26,000 albums."
Sensing his longtime relationship with Capitol was near its end, Miller made two unusually genre-specific albums--1986's bluesy Living In The 20th Century and 1988's jazz-filled Born 2 B Blue--and left the label in 1988. He spent the next several years out in the road, where he developed an enormous live following which the media eventually compared to the Grateful Dead's Deadheads. As his 1978 Greatest Hits, 1974-1978 set became one of the strongest catalog sellers in the industry, rap artists were vigorously sampling his music, and hot '90s rock band the Spin Doctors were uniformly described by critics as sounding "Steve Miller-like."
Miller returned in 1993 with Wide River, the first album of his career on a label other than Capitol. After thinking long and hard about his experience in the record industry, Steve Miller finally decided to sign with Polydor. "The deal I made with my record company was that I wanted the highest royalties they'd ever paid any living human being in the world, I wanted complete artistic control, and I didn't want a penny up front," Miller remarked at the time. "I'm lucky now, I don't need the money up front--but a lot of bands do, to get started. And that's when they have to give everything up."
James Curly Cooke
Biography taken from AllMusic.