Saturday, July 2, 2011

Interview ( and jam) with Steve Miller

Steve Miller, wearing a blue blazer with jeans, looks a lot like Bill Murray these days. Rumpled. Cool. Mellow. That good time vibe you hear in all those songs? That's the vibe you get from Steve.
    1001Songs met him disembarking from his yacht, the ABRACADABRA, on a pier leading to his estate on one of the San Juan Islands.

   Steve showed me around the yacht. He and some friends has gone out into deeper waters the night before to jam. As I was about to learn, Steve Miller --the man who provided the soundtrack to my 70's--will jam with just about anyone.
  But first, we broke the ice by talking about how he wound up in the San Juans shortly after "Abracadabra" hit #1.

I took a break from 82 to 88 and went boating .That's exactly what brought me here. The idea that you could get on a boat and go to Alaska. Wow! So I started doing it and I never stopped.

To meet Steve Miller is to shake hands with the history of rock and roll. Steve learned his first guitar chords from the inventor of the electric guitar: Les Paul, a family friend.

I got the whole future of how music was going to be produced from the guy who invented the tools and it was an absolutely amazing thing.

Steve's father--a doctor--was an amateur recording engineer. All kinds of musical guests came by the house.
Among them, blues legend T Bone Walker.

When I was 9 he taught me how to play lead guitar behind my back and do the splits. So  I was surrounded by talented people as a young kid.

The blues have always been a  part of the Steve Miller sound. He moved to Chicago and jammed with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Then in the late 60's, he left for San Francisco where he hooked up with his old high school buddy Boz Scaggs and formed The Steve Miller Blues Band. Together they recorded a series of critically lauded acid blues albums.
  The 1969 lp Brave New World featured  "My Dark Hour", a song recorded with Paul McCartney during a break in The Beatles Let It Be sessions.

I thought "Boy, I've got a hit now"
We just put it out in the States and it was just like dropping something down the mail chute of the Empire State building. It just disappeared, you know.

When I pointed out that he resurrected the guitar licks for "Fly Like An Eagle" seven years late, he didn't seem too keen on that observation.
    But back to 1969: it was not his best year. Under pressure to create a hit song, Steve was on the verge of quitting the music business. He'd seen, first-hand, the toll the rock scene had taken on friends like Jimi Hendrix.

The last show I played with Jimi Hendrix he had a bunch of mafia guys around him when he arrived.

and  Jimi was so drugged out, he was full of heroin, full of speed, he just looked like he was going to die that day.

In 1972, Steve broke his neck in a car accident.

I fractured a vertebrae. I'm dealing with it right now. I got like three numb little fingers here and kind of a bad arm over here.

Steve spent the next year house-bound and living with his parents. He had a lot of time to himself and eventually wrote a three chord song looking back over his career. He called it "The Joker".

All of a sudden ...finally...last chance... got a big huge number one hit!

"The Joker" hit #2 in 1974. I got the feeling I wasn't the first person to ask him about the meaning of the mysterious "pompatus of love" lyrics.

"The Pompatus of Love" is just you know I can't tell you Man. If I told you I'd...I just can't do it.

Steve took three years to follow up The Joker with Fly Like an Eagle. Inspired by Pink Floyd, Steve and engineer Jim Gaines spent 14 to 20 hour days at Kaye Smith Studios in Seattle experimenting with synthesizers, vocal effects and transitions. His band had recorded enough songs for a double album but held tthe rest of the tunes for  for the 1977 lp, Book of Dreams . Both sold four million copies. The Steve Miller Band was one of the biggest rock n roll acts in the world.

In a very short amount of time we went from doing nothing to doing laser sculptures over football stadiums.

They played 200 cities a year. A grind that became unbearable.

We were so tired we couldn't see straight.

1982's "Abracadabra" would be Steve's last big hit. When synthesizers and hair bands took over radio, Steve Miller took off... for The San Juans.

But it hasn't been a quiet retirement. His classic rock albums still sell a million copies a year and thanks to advent of the "Classic Rock" radio format, Steve is in demand to play a bunch of "sheds"-- as he calls amphitheaters-- every year.

Steve Miller never has to pick up a guitar again but he loves playing so much he'll jam with almost anyone. Even me. He pointed to a guitar I could strap on and, I have to admit, I got so nervous I couldn't even tune the damn thing. So there stood Steve Miller tuning my guitar for me.

"OK you go ahead." He said. "Let me hear how you're going to play it."

"I was going to play it like this." I said. I had this blues riff in a minor key that I'd been fiddling with recently at home.

Steve probably thought that was a little strange but he starting solo-ing over the chords I played. He sounded great. Then he nodded at me to take a solo. I shook my head. He nodded again and I shook my head again.

Forget what you've heard about rock stars. Even those who've sold millions of records can still act as humble as they were at the beginning.
Steve sums it all up...laughing.

It's amazing how far you can go with three chords
E, A and D

No comments:

Post a Comment