The Man. The Band. The Legend.
By Benjamin Dale
Some call him the space cowboy. Some call him the gangster of love. Still others know him as Maurice. Whatever the alias, Steve Miller and his band continue to tour and record, and they are coming to the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering on June 23.
When I was just a kid my dad used to play all sorts of classic rock after dinner while he relaxed on the couch and enlisted my labor for dishwashing duty. The music was the only thing that made the chores bearable on summer evenings when all I wanted to do was play baseball in the backyard before the sun stole the last of the light and it was time for bed. Those songs and those bands were what informed my early musical taste, and they remain some of my favorites now that I am somewhat older and, dare I say, a tad wiser.
One of those bands was Steve Miller Band.
Steve Miller’s life is a veritable rock legend unto itself. Born in Milwaukee to a musical family, Miller plucked his first guitar at the age of five, encouraged by his musical godfather — none other than the late great guitar craftsman Les Paul. Despite Paul’s early influence on the young guitarist, Miller is most commonly seen playing a Fender Stratocaster – the main competitor to Les Paul’s Gibson design.
Paul’s influence on the young Miller was not limited to his choice in guitars — Steve was utilizing Paul’s multi-tracking techniques to speed up, slow down, and combine instruments on record long before the technology became mainstream.
After moving to Dallas at age seven, Miller formed his first band, the Marksmen, and played gigs all over town from 1956-1961. Miller’s guitar-driven blues style was the first of its kind in Dallas, as rock and roll was a novelty at the time. The Marksmen found eager ears in the early days — booking gigs at colleges, country clubs, and churches — and the success he found in Dallas cemented his ambitions to musical stardom.
Miller attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he continued to play shows and enlisted the help of his childhood friend Boz Skaggs, who would later go on to become a rock legend in his own right. After dropping out six credits shy of graduation, Miller and Skaggs set out for Chicago, to immerse themselves in the blues scene there. In Chicago, Miller jammed with blues legends Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy — honing his skills in the blues and finding his own style as a guitarist, the style that would come to define the sound of Steve Miller Band.
After a stint in New York, Miller became disillusioned with the Chicago scene. The year was 1966 and the blues scene in Chicago had sort of devolved into a booze scene. Steve heard the call of the West, and struck out for San Francisco with Skaggs in 1967, at the height of the Haight-Ashbury zeitgeist.
Steve Miller came to San Francisco with a single-minded obsession: to get a recording contract. After playing hundreds of gigs at the Fillmore and around the Bay Area, Miller finally realized his dream. He got a cool half-million dollars from Capitol Records and complete artistic control on a seven record contract. So he made seven records.
Capitol Records was not the holy grail Miller had first assumed. The record company politics frustrated Miller so much that he flew off to England in search of producers and studios more sympathetic to his singular vision. It was in London that he met the rock gods: the Beatles, Zeppelin, Hendrix. What he took from them was a brand new outlook on the creative process. The blues shaped his formative years, and after seeing the greats in the studio and onstage, Miller returned to the U.S. with a renewed work ethic and a renewed sense of the possibilities of the musical form.
Miller packed the ‘70s with hits — songs that remain in the top of the rotation on rock stations across the nation. His style shifted from blues-heavy riff-driven rock to simpler, catchier, elegant compositions that remain instantly recognizable to this day. With 1973’s The Joker, Miller got his first Billboard number one single. He followed up with 1976’s Fly Like an Eagle and 1977’s Book of Dreams, albums that spawned loads of hit singles that would later come to comprise his greatest hits record.
Miller had one more commercial success with 1982’s Abracadabra, and subsequently retired from writing new music in the ‘90s. He bought a boat with the proceeds from his touring and album sales and named the schooner “Abracadabra.” The boat is home ported at his home in Friday Harbor, Washington and he splits his time between the coast and his ranch in Ketchum, Idaho — and adds his name to the rolls of famous artistic types who have called the place home, including Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper.
Miller arrives in Dayton on the 23rd, after spending the past year as the Artist-in-Residence at the University of California Thornton College of Music. He’s returned to old form as of late, recording a blues album called Let Your Hair Down and playing more blues at his live shows, along with the classic crowd-pleasers. He’s also discarded the Strats for a collection of Les Paul guitars — a tribute to his late mentor. His performance at the Fraze is sure to be filled with bombastic blues along with the sing-along classics that continue to enchant fans young and old.
Steve Miller Band will appear at the Fraze Pavilion on June 23. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $67 for Orchestra seats and $37 for Terrace seats. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.fraze.com/steve-miller-band.
Reach DCP freelance writer and
editorial intern Benjamin Dale