The Space Cowboy - Steve Miller
"I'm a joker, I'm a smoker, I'm a midnight toker. Sure don't want to hurt no one." - Steve Miller
Steve Miller was born into a musically accomplished family on October 5th, 1943. His mother was a singer, and his father was a doctor and recording engineer. At the age of 4 he received his first guitar. Friend of the family Les Paul (inventor of the electric guitar and multi-track recording) was a regular at the Miller home, and took some time to teach Steve guitar chords, progressions, and techniques that Steve would use later. At the age of 7 the family relocated from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Dallas, where his father would record dozens of the era's greatest artists including T-Bone Walker, who also made regular visits to the Miller home.
At age 12 Steve formed his first band, called the Marksmen. They were popular around Dallas and enjoyed bookings at local fraternity parties. During this time Steve taught his brother to play bass so he wouldn't have to rely on his mother for a ride to his gigs. While in high school he made friends with "Boz" Scaggs, who became the group's vocalist. During the Marksmen's career their highlight was playing as a backing band for Jimmy Reed at a local nightclub.
At 16 Steve left for college, which forced the band to dissolve. At the University of Wisconsin Steve formed The Ardells. Steve taught Boz some chords so he could join the Ardells later in the year. Throughout his time at the University of Wisconsin, he worked with the Ardells and during summer vacations he would work with the Knightranes. The following year Ben Sidran was added on keyboards for the Ardells. During his senior year Steve spent a summer in Denmark working towards a degree in literature. Upon returning to the US he was able to spend the summer in Chicago enjoying the legendary blues scene of the sixties. While there he worked with legendary artists Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, and Buddy Guy, who all encouraged his playing. With only 6 hours needed to complete his Literature degree Steve Miller made a fateful decision: He decided to drop out and move to Chicago to play the blues.
In Chicago, Steve formed the Goldberg-Miller Blues Band with Barry Goldberg, bassist Roy Ruby, and drummer Maurice McKinley. While playing Chicago clubs, the band was signed by Epic records, when a convention came into town. They recorded few songs, but did have a single "The Mother Song" and appeared on the Hullabaloo TV program with the Four Tops and the Supremes. Their success landed them a running gig in New York City, which continued for some time. Later that year when they returned to Chicago the blues scene was over.
Disheartened Steve drifted back to Texas in hopes of taking classes at the University of Texas, however the school didn't admit him. Unsure of what to do next, Steve bought a VW microbus and headed to San Francisco. When he arrived in San Francisco he spent his last $5 to see Paul Butterfield and Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore. After an impromptu jam with Butterfield he announced his intentions to stay in San Francisco.
The Steve Miller Blues Band was born with Steve Miller, Tim Davis, guitarist "Curly" Cooke, and bassist Lonnie Turner. Steve was penniless, and spent the early nights sleeping in his van. After a becoming the headliner at the Avalon Ballroom Stave was able to move into an apartment. In April of that year they played the Fillmore, and soon would appear at the Monterey Pop Festival. One week after Monterey, the Steve Miller Blues Band backed Chuck Berry at the Fillmore, which was recorded for a live album release. After the appearances the band was signed by Berry's label, Capitol Records. Steve personally negotiated the contract, which granted the group complete artistic freedom. Steve invited Boz into the line-up, and Jim Peterman was brought in to replace Cooke. Around that time "Blues" was dropped from the name.
The group with a solid line-up left for England to record their debut album, "Children of the Future". Released in May 1968 it became a staple of FM rock radio stations around the country. Their second release came in October of that year and contained the hit song, "Living in the USA". Peterman and Scaggs left the group after a successful tour. Ben Sidran from the Ardell's was invited to join the group. Scaggs went on to succeed in his own right.
In 1969 Steve went to England to write and produce the next album. While he was there he was allowed to sit in on a Beatles recording session and record, "My Dark Hour" with Paul McCartney. The subsequent album, "Saving Your Grace" also enjoyed success. Steve began recording with other artists, which caused tension with the rest of the band. After a short recording session in Nashville Ben Sidran and Lonnie Turner left the band. Steve quickly replaced the pair and began a tour with Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. During the time on the road Steve was able to record and produce "Number 5". The album was their greatest success to date.
Miller, on his way to the airport for a European tour, broke his neck in a tragic car accident and spent the next 8 months recovering in Dallas. There he says he did some "soul searching" and discovered a new sound and direction for the group.
When he returned to California, Miller brought bassist Gerald Johnson, keyboard player Dicky Thompson, and drummer Jack King. The new band recorded "The Joker" in 19 days. The album was in instant smash and produced the #1 single "The Joker". For the next 5 years Miller would write, record and produce 8 albums which contained some of the most excellent songs of his career. In May of 1976 "Fly Like An Eagle" was released, which was followed the next year by "Book Of Dreams". These albums are considered the bands best work, containing what would be considered the classic "Steve Miller" sound in later decades.
During the 1980's The Steve Miller Band would record 5 Platinum albums. From 1988 until 2000 the band would begin to release fewer albums, but continued to endlessly tour around the world. One of the most successful album ever released was The Steve Miller Band's "Greatest Hits 1974-78". The album included hits like, "The Joker", "Fly Like An Eagle", and numerous other memorable songs. The album has sold over 13 million worldwide. Today, Steve Miller continues to release albums, and make appearances.
Fans of the Steve Miller Band have always remained loyal. Most considered "The Joker" to be an anthem of a generation that could understand what Steve said through his music. Some people call his sound "classic rock", but I consider his music only classic. The melodies remain clear, the hooks are always there, and even if you've heard it a million times it always sounds fresh.
(J. Charles Miller)