Steve Miller- Early Best
Redbeard : Tell me about your charitable efforts for pets and people back in your former home of Seattle .
Steve Miller: We have some friends who started a huge (spay/neuter) center. And they were just the opposite of folks like us. There was a guy that made a billion bucks and had more money than he knew what to do with. He and his wife started a center in Seattle called NOAH (Northwest Organization for Animal Help) . And it’s made an amazing difference in the whole city of Seattle, the whole greater Seattle area. And we’ve done lots of concerts for them and with them to ya know raise awareness . It’s just wonderful that you guys ( http://Spay NeuterNetwork in Dallas/Ft.Worth) were able to start a hospital like that because it makes such a big difference. And, and ya know after you run if for five or six years you’re going to see a huge reduction in the numbers of unwanted pets, and ya know this situation that we all live in where millions are being put down every year, these kind of hospitals really change that. So it’s really a great thing and I commend you for it. We just did a great little gig at the Mint, here in town, which is Bruce Willis’ funky little night club. Bruce wasn’t in town but his band the Accelerators were and we ended up raising $10,000 for a local animal shelter in a little night club gig. But, we’re always hitting it and working on it. And our dogs I mean ya know every day when you live with them it just changes your whole life anyway ya know, so…
RB: That’s so cool. Now I’m going to read a review of your album.
SM: Ok. I haven’t heard any yet.
RB: “Steve Miller’s guitar playing is the star of the album. Blazing across the whole affair more prominently in his lengthy career. In addition to fine guitar work, Miller’s vocals are stronger here than in his hippie days in the mid-seventies. Ever the borrower and adapter and integrator, Steve Miller shapes the blues sweet multi-track vocal harmonies and guitar- driven rock into one cohesive musical statement with this release.”(Jim Newsom, All Music Guide)
SM: Well that’s nice to hear. Who wrote that?
RB: Jim Newsom wrote that over 40 years ago when he was talking about Brave New World !
SM: (Laughs.) Oh, it’s an old one. That’s….
RB: It’s exactly what I would have written if I was reviewing Bingo!
SM: Aw, that’s funny. I was going to say ya know I, I haven’t seen any reviews and didn’t even know that we were playing it for reviewers yet.
RB: My point is, doesn’t that sound like we’re describing Bingo?
SM:: Well, I thought you were. So I was like,”Good, good, yes. All right. “ Ya know? But that is true. That’s pretty much what we were doing and somewhere in the last week or two in talking about the record and stuff, I had said that, it’s in the liner notes where I was talking about one of the songs and I just said ,’ it reminds me of ya know Brave New World and Sailor ‘when I was working on my guitar parts. And what I did then and what I did on this record. So, it is similar, I think and it’s been a very fun project to get excited about playing lead guitar on a record. And ya know working with Andy Johns and doing all that and ya know getting out the Marshall stacks and the Les Pauls and cranking ‘em up, ya know? It was really a trip. I enjoyed this a lot.
RB: You just said the operative word. I’ve gotten written down here underlined ‘fun’ , you STEVE MILLER really have fun playing music.
SM: Well, at this point, I’ve always loved to play music, and from the time I was five years old to now it’s always been exciting to me to play. And to entertain people and to have a band and I was just yesterday afternoon I was thinking about oooh, it won’t be long now just another few weeks and we’ll be back out on the road and I’ll be all excited and I’ll be walking from the bus to the stage and to play my music. And for me, it’s been the blessing of my life. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do all my life. I’ve done it all my life and I’ve been able to entertain people and maintain a really good band and continue to be creative, and continue to enjoy what I do and to me that’s about as successful of a life as I can have. Is to be able to do all these things that I do.
RB: To what do you attribute that ability after five decades of entertaining us?
SM: well, I really love to play. And I think all musicians do, really. I mean it’s a spontaneous thing that happens. Ya know, it’s like playing basketball or playing a game, or, or doing something that’s really fun. It never feels like work even when you’re spending months and months grinding away and wood-shedding and practicing and trying to get better. Ya know there’s always this payoff where you get into a room with an audience and you start pLAYING STEVE MILLER music and people start getting joyous and very happy and this wonderful thing happens and then all this spontaneity starts up that’s what the excitement is and I never get tired of it. I mean I’ve never been on stage where I’ve been going “Boy, ya know, I’ve had enough of this. Or this isn’t any fun.” Or, I’ve never felt like I’m sick of playing a tune. Or tired of being on the road. Ya know, I’ve just always enjoyed it.
RB: What is is it about rhythm and blues music that keeps you vital and actively engaged at a point where most people are using their AARP cards for the Early Bird special down at Denny’sWell, ya know, I don’t know, it’s just something great about picking up a guitar anand playing something that really moves you. Ya know that makes you feel good. It changes your attitude. You pick up an instrument, you start playing, it’s like an attitude adjustment. Ya know, things just feel better and I have all my life been really moved by rhythm and blues and country music too, and I mean I’m a big fan of the Marty Stewart show on RFD and I tune up the Wilburn Brothers and tune up Porter Waggoner and… I just love all kinds of music, it has always made me feel good. And I really don’t have the answer why, but music tends to be ethereal and it sorta takes people back and forth between the past and the future, you’re sort of like remembering stuff and you’re thinking about the future and you’re feeling good and it’s pretty amazing art , and to be involved in it or to be drawn to it as I was just naturally, just immediately as soon as I was on the planet, music was just the most interesting thing to me. There was never any question about it. When I was two years old I was making Mother play Bob Crosby and the Bobcats version of “Big Noise from Winetka” ! Over and over and over, ya know? So some people are just wide open and susceptible to music and I was definitely one of ‘em I guess.
RB: That’s cool. Your history with producer Andy Johns ? (Editor’s note: Andy Johns passed away about two years after this interview was conducted)
SM: Now Glynn Johns was Andy’s older brother, and I made my first four albums with Glynn in London. And I met Andy, who is Glynn’s little brother, Andy would come down to the studio when he was just 17 years old and was just a rosy-cheeked little English kid, ya know. And he and I became friends and he would be in the studio and, and I would see him oh, every four or five years somewhere, something. But then Andy went to follow in Glynn’s footsteps and then got in to much heavier music than Glynn did. When Glynn was recording me and the Eagles, Andy was recording Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. And he developed into a phenomenal recording engineer. So, to cut to the chase, three years ago or so, when we made a DVD in Chicago, a live show at Rividium, the company that was shooting the DVD said, “Andy Johns is working with us, we’d love to have Andy mix the DVD. And I said, gosh, that would be great. So I met with Andy, and while we were mixing that and he was amazing and doing a great job. He said ,” Steve, before I die I want to do a Steve Miller blues album. “ And I said well ya know Andy I’m working on a project, I’m not going to call it a blues album, because I’m going to treat these songs a lot differently, but I said “I’m working on doing that exact thing. Why don’t we uh, ya know, get together and do that ?” So really this is the second project. We worked on the first one he was just mixing, and this is the first one we really recorded together.
RB: Should we thank Andy for encouraging and inspiring the best recording of your guitar chops in in years ? You’re chops have never been better .
SM: Well, thank you. And yes, we should thank Andy and I mean it’s both of us, I’ve been working really hard on my guitar playing for a long time. I play a lot more guitar than people who just hear my records. I mean my audience that comes to my shows, they know what I do on guitar. But people who just bought the records are always surprised when they come to see us play,” Well, I didn’t know you played guitar that well, or I didn’t know you played blues like that.” Because, on most of my big hits one of the things I did is that I had to edit myself and not allow myself lots of guitar playing. I mean it took great effort to limit that. That was part of the way I was making my records and so when I play live I play a lot more. So I’d been working a lot on guitar. And practicing and listening to other people and enjoying other players, and ya know really working on my playing all the time which is what I do. But then when I started working with Andy, Andy is an engineer who loves guitars. He loves that part. And a lot of engineers when it comes time to do the guitar overdubs, you see this sorta resigned like “ok, it’s going to be like 16 weeks of hell while so and so plays this over an over. “ Because all guitar players want to play better than they can. So it’s “ let me do it again. Oh, no let me do it again. I want to do it again.” So this over-dub-itis can be fairly numbing. And a lot of engineers just aren’t any fun to record guitar parts with. For example, you’re in the studio, and you’ve recorded all the basic tracks and now it’s time to put that blazing lead solo on and you come in and you set up your amp, you do all your stuff and you’re out in the room, you’ve got it all great and you’re playing it, and then Andy would come out and go,” That’s bloody awful ! Bloody hell, that’s awful ! “ And then you’d look at him you’d go,” what are you talking about, Andy? “ And he’d go ,”All right we’ll record it .” and he would record it and at that point where most engineers would go “ ok , if that’s what you want, that’s fine”. Andy would say” no, no, no, let’s take everything apart, let’s call up my friend whose got this giant Marshall stack and we’ll bring it…” I mean nothing was too hard for him. And we would set up, there was this one time at (George Lucas’ ) SkyWalker Studios where I think I had seven or eight amps in parallel all running together with 28 different microphones that are all over the room and Andy was just, ya know just loving every minute of it and wanting to do more, whereas most engineers would just go “enough, enough, I give up, please stop.” ya know? Where Andy would go” more, more do it again.” So, it really became fun.
RB: There’s that word again.
SM: And it was inspiring and it felt as exciting as making records in the late sixties early seventies when it was all fresh and new and it was really fun, it was really exciting, he’s a wonderful engineer. A great engineer for a big, heavy guitar work, big drums, big bass, ya know that kind of rock sound. And he loves what he does and so for the two of us to get together was really, really a lot of fun. And it was a project that we both really wanted this project to be as good as I wanted it to be. And when I want a project to be good, I won’t stop until it gets there. And neither did Andy. And, working together was really a great thing to do and it really was inspirational. So, long answer to a short question, yeah Andy was really responsible for a lot of it.
RB: When people self- produce themselves, the thing that they almost always do, is they are self indulgent and they don’t know when enough is too much and that’s why God made producers , to be objective and to rein them pull them in and tighten up the sound and tighten up the songs And you had to get an outside producer to give you permission to stretch out ?
SM: Well, it wasn’t like that, it was to help me stretch out. So when the project started, Andy’s concept was like we’re going to spend a lot of time on this. And my concept was oh, no, we’re not. We’re going to go in, Andy, and we’re going to cut 36 songs that I want to record and we’ve got 11 days . And so we went into the studio, and that’s the way it started. Him making fun of me thinking I was going to be able to record 36 tracks in 11 days of studio time. Well we recorded 42 tracks in 11 days. And I think it was 111 takes, to get the 42 tracks.
You go in your there for 10, 11, 12 hours a day. The songs are four minutes long. You’re paying attention, the sound is up, it’s about performance. And, and that’s what was so great about working with Andy, was ya know the first day we had our big blow out. Where I just went, “hey, I’m running these sessions, we’re going to start recording right now, I’m talking to you guys, pay attention, stop what you’re doing, get out here, mic this stuff, let’s go to work. “ So I started off being the big, hard boss. And Andy loved it. Because ya know the first day we recorded five or six songs. . And he was going, “my gosh, this is really great. “ But of course Andy had been working with very young bands who are very used to just doing things on Pro Tools , and this was all old school. This was analog. It was like one, two, three take and play it. And everybody playing in the room at the same time. So, we really didn’t do anything ya know that a lot of musicians in the old days didn’t do all the time. And then, once we had cut those tracks, then we were able to go be obsessive about them at another studio doing overdubs and singing parts and making edits and changing things around. And doing this mix and remixing that part . We did take all the time we wanted . But it was very interesting for Andy to see how quickly we worked in the beginning. And then ya know later when we go t to the perfection stage there would be times when I would send Andy home and I would work with our assistant engineer, Kent , and Kent and I would just sit there and go through all sorts of detail. Ya know, over, over and over until I was perfectly happy and then I would get my parts they way I wanted them. And then Andy would come back and we’d overdub the guitar parts and he’d mix ‘em for us. So, it was really a great team of the band, of course, and with Andy Johns and Kent and myself all doing that, that oh- so- important studio work. Ya know but the actual cutting of the tracks was done very quickly. And then we started working that when Andy became really, inspirational. Because he just enjoyed it so much and he helped me get such great tones . Usually making records is kind of a trick. Ya know you go in and do all this stuff to make it sound as if it sounded as if it were really live, ya know.
RB: Like Neil Young.
SM: Yeah, right and Neil makes his records very quickly, ya know. And we don’t. We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort working on this and in today’s world ya know it’s, it’s getting harder and harder and harder to justify spending the money and the time to do that. And we were lucky we were able to.
RB: On a different subject than music, let’s talk the packaging. This cover to Bingo ! is from former Hipnosis artist Storm Thorgerson (famous for many Pink Floyd covers) . Tell us about the photo .
SM: This is actually a film lot in Spain, they had to go to Spain to shoot this. Now, working with Storm was such fun, I can’t tell you what a delight it was. I had never met Storm and I had this image of him as sort of a Swedish six foot two kind of very stern un-amused kind of cold artist, is what I was expecting. Well Storm’s just this lovely English guy who is small and very warm and very sweet and so smart it’s just amazing. And we met in New York and we were talking and I said , ” I am working on this album, Storm, and the record business isn’t much any more these days and I’d still like to do an album cover with you.” He said,” wellI’d love to.” So, what I did was I sent him the music, gave him the music, we talked quite a bit, he sent me back thirty drawings that each drawing I wanted to just frame and put up on the wall.
RB: Well you’ve got the next 29 covers.
SM: Absolutely. And, I mean there were so many ideas, it was the first time in my life I’ve ever worked with an artist of this magnitude. I mean with this much talent. So we’re looking at drawings. And I have a drawing and you look at the cover of the album, Bingo!, and you see it, and I have the sketch of this before it was ever shot. And, so then we would pick the sketches that we liked, and, I like this particular one very much. And I’ll see if you have any idea what it’s about…
RB: it’s intriguing. It shouldn’t be obvious, that’s the best thing in art and music, things like that they’ve always grown on me over time. Like the layers of the onion peeling back.
RB: So I’m sure this will reveal itself .
SM: When you figure it out it will be that moment where you hit your head and go, what? And he gave us six or seven of these. And we’re now in the process to give you an idea what working with Storm is like. Like one of the drawings which we didn’t include in this package shows large vinyl discs floating in the sky above a desert. Another one of the drawings shows a guitar that’s been cut into the ground, ti’s about 60 feet long and people are pouring water into this sort of this, this hole that’s been cut to the shape of a Stratocaster. Well, we’re shooting both of those projects right now the discs have been built, they’re 30 feet in diameter we found a farmer in England who will let us dig this 60 foot guitar in one of his fields. It will be ya know 6 feet deep, 60 feet long from the tail end to the peg head, and we’re going to fill it with water and we’re going to have all these people put buckets pouring water and so when you do a project with Storm in today’s world ya know you look at the stuff and you kinda go, ah, It looks like digital manipulation like they pasted this on to that. His projects are completely surreal. He absolutely creates these amazing scenes and then shoots the photographs. And first they do the drawings, for example like on Bingo they knew they were going to go to Spain to shoot the picture. That was the one that we wanted to do because they knew that there was this Spaghetti Western town out in the desert in Spain, where they shoot ya know a lot of movies, westerns, in Europe. And so he knew where the town was and where he was going to shoot this. So now we’ve already dug the guitar holes been dug, we’re waiting for good weather to shoot that. We’ve already built the discs for the next project. Storm has just turned out to be an amazing, amazing artist with just an unbelievable mind. And we have we’ve shot a lot of photography and we’ve done four, five major projects where we will created these scenes and shoot them and Bingo is the first one.
RB: The way you describe the 60 foot guitar, it sure beats a crop circle doesn’t it?
SM: But it’s that kind of a thing. Ya know? Exactly. And the drawing of it is absolutely beautiful. I mean when I saw the drawings I said can’t we just use the drawings. And he said no, no, no, it will be much better than the drawings. And, of course, he’s right, because for months I was looking at Bingo as a drawing. And the drawing looks exactly this photograph which just makes it so hard to believe. And then over a period of time we probably shot 300 photographs to get this one picture. And the series of pictures and I don’t know have you seen the booklet that comes with this special edition?
RB: Unfortunately I haven’t. I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t have the liner notes .
SM: Well, when you get the booklet, then, then I want you to call me after you’ve looked at it and tell me what this all means.
RB: OK, you’re on.
SM: But it is a riddle.
RB: Back to the music on Bingo!, your choice of songs. Why do you think you are so quick and willing not to just acknowledge your musical mentors, but to celebrate them?
SM: Well, I respect them all and love them all and on a record like this where I didn’t write anything, I play the loud spontaneous solos and came up with a lot of inspiration, I think it’s only proper that when you do someone else’s tune, you let everybody know whose song it is, you talk about them as a writer or a performer and even better than that , you send them copies of it and tell ‘em “thanks” . And if they’re still alive let ‘em know that you’re recording their stuff. I was just talking to Jimmy McCracklin’s daughter the other day and letting her know that we’re putting this music out and ,”we’re doing some of your dad’s songs. And thank you so much. “ It’s an opportunity to touch people who have touched me . I mean, the first time I heard “Tramp”, I wasn’t sure who Lowell Fulson was . And, as I’ve grown up and come to this ripe old age that I’m at right now, I love these people. These are all very important people to me and these songs that they have written are pieces of music that I love playing right now.
RB: That’s very apparent listening to Bingo! . Sharing the spotlight is not something that happens frequently or graciously in the music business but your generosity on this album is remarkable. Where did that tradition come from ?
SM: Well, ya know, Redbeard, that’s a Les Paul thing. When I met Les Paul, I was five years old and I was at nightclub watching Les Paul play and, and Les Paul always had an audience full of other musicians , wherever he played. If you were a good guitarist or a jazz musician and you were within 150 miles of Les Paul playing you wanted to be there to see him, because you were going to learn something and see this wonderful performer and also that’s just the way he operated. If you were Tony Bennett and you were sitting in the crowd, he’d go “Tony, get off your big butt and come up here and sing a song.” He would always share his spotlight and invite other musicians to come and play. And there was always a lot of fun and a lot of joking around and ya know they were kind of cutting contests that they were great guitarists involved and I one time saw Tal Farlow ,who is this phenomenal jazz guitarist , walk into the club while Les was in the middle of a solo and everybody in the club went “ooh, Tal Farlow is here. “ And it’s kind of like gun slingers, right? The best guitar players. And Les was probably 35 years old at the time so he was really had all of his power. And Farlow walked in, Les saw him walk in, the audience saw Les see Farlow . Les reached into his pocket while he was playing a blazing solo, pulled out a handkerchief and put it over his left hand and continued to play the solo with the handkerchief over his left hand so Farlow couldn’t steal his licks !
RB: That’s a great story.
SM:: And very hard to do. I’m sure it took a lot of practice. Think about that. Ya know stuffing a handkerchief in your left hand and still playing lead ! It was the funniest thing in the world. Everybody cracked up and that was Les Paul. So, it was always like,” the cats are here, we’re going to have a jam session, come on up and sing a song”. And there was never any viciousness or any stinginess that is pretty normal in show business. It’s funny, some people don’t even know how to respond if you invite them to come out on your stage and play. They couldn’t be that spontaneous, they didn’t have their make-up, their lights, their roadie, their stuff, their drinks, but from Les Paul I learned it’s very smart to share your spotlight with talent . And you make a lot of friends that way, and the audience likes nothing better than to see musicians get together and spontaneously play. And that’s why people love jazz, that’s why they love blues, that’s why the love rock and roll. I remember one time going to see Pink Floyd and saying to David “ yeah, man, I’ll bring my guitar over and we’ll jam.” And he said, “well, really Steve, I don’t think so. When you see the show you’ll understand .” And I went and saw the show and I kinda went “yeah I get it, it weighs ten million pounds. Ya know, it’s just too heavy. “ So, for my world, I learned from Les Paul, I’ve always enjoyed having other musicians come out and I can always get off the stage by playing “The Joker,” or “Jet Airliner”, or “Abracadabra”. I mean I got plenty of hits in my pocket if it comes to a throw down. Ya know, I’m ready to…
RB: You got some bullets.
SM: Yeah, I got some stuff. I can say the words “Space Cowboy” and everybody will cheer. I’ve got my tricks up my sleeve. But it’s really not about that, it’s about sharing the stage, sharing the spotlight, and I learned it from Les Paul as a child. And I thought everybody did that. I thought that’s one of the coolest things about music was that people did that and it wasn’t until later that I realized nah, they don’t do that very much. But we do. And we always have and anybody that opens for us we always invite them to come out and play with us and, and come do a song. Ya know, it’s just more fun that way.
RB: Great story. On the song “Come On”, no one since that dark day in August in 1990 has made me think in comparison, favorably, of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn. But your guitar playing on “Come On” truly made me sit up and think,” Wow, nobody has played like that in 20 years.”
SM: Well that’s sweet of you to say. “Come On “ is one of those kind of tunes that guitar players love to play. Of course, Jimi Hendrix killed it, and everybody’s played it. And I wanted to play it too. And this really was a guitar player’s album. So we cut the track and everybody was kinda going, “Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, are you sure you really want to cut this?” And I said,” well, yeah, let’s just do it and see what happens.” So we recorded it and it sat there. Like I said we cut 42 tracks, and there are 14 on the special edition version of the album, so there’s a bunch more. And I was dreading that one, because everybody had said, these wonderful musicians have already done this, what can you do to it? So we pulled it out, and started working on it, and I was sort of having them cycle it and I started playing a line, and then I started working on another line. And then all of a sudden I realized” wow, this is how I used to work. “ I think “Come On” was the tune and the liner notes where I was saying it was a lot like Sailor and Brave New World and those albums because I started to get creative and spontaneous and played some lines that were completely different than anybody else has every played on that song. And all of a sudden I got a nice big smile on my face and I said,” now I know exactly what I want to do and I’m going to do this, this harmony part, and it did sorta remind me of Sailor and Brave New World and some of those earlier albums where everything was brand new and it was wide open and I felt that when that was done that was one of the more creative moments in the whole album. And it happened in a couple of hours in the afternoon where I worked out the harmony part and put down the two tracks and felt really good that night.
RB: You’ve never shared with me your sentiment of Stevie Ray Vaughn, his place in the world of modern blues and the impact of his legacy .
SM: Well, ya know the Vaughan Brothers are two of the greatest guitar players of the last 50 years, I think. And, Stevie, was the spark that saved the blues just in time when corporate America wanted to just kill it, ya know. There won’t be any more of this around. Ya know? And all of a sudden Stevie showed up and he was such a powerful player. And he played so well and, and when he did the tracks of David Bowie , and then he really came into his own, that was great. Well while all that was happening, I was watching Jimmie Vaughan. And I actually like Jimmie even more than Stevie.
RB: All lot of people, a lot of musicians say that.
SM: Well, this whole album is like a tribute to Jimmie Vaughan. I talk about him through all the liner notes. I do three of his songs. Jimmy, to me , says more with less than almost anybody I know. Whereas, Stevie said it a lot with a lot. I mean if you sit down and you started playing the way Stevie played, and try to keep up with him, you realize that it’s going a 127 miles per hour just when It starts up and then it speeds up to 190 at the curves. It’s amazing. Whereas Jimmie is deep, deep, deep, deep he’s my favorite blues guitarist. So, I love both Vaughan brothers. I love Stevie for, stickin’ up for the blues and bringing it back and taking it to a new level and really opening up the door to thousands of guitar players that probably never would have listened to Freddie King, or any of the people that Stevie loved so much , and then celebrate it. So when Stevie died it, it was one of those horrible things. It was unnecessary, the helicopter flights from East Troy, Wisconsin to Chicago was a 90 minute drive. It was totally unnecessary. It was a tragedy beyond belief caused by nonsense, in my opinion. There was no need to for anyone to be flying in helicopters in the fog to Chicago, ya know. They could have been there in 90 minutes they could have been at the doorway to the hotel. So, it was horrible and it was kinda like even more tragic than than Jimi Hendrix’ death. Because when Jimi Hendrix died he was basically a junkie and he was a mess and his life was falling apart. When Stevie Ray died he had gotten himself together. He was focused and he was really to become the statesman. The guy. And he just got cut off way too early and there hasn’t been anyone since to come along with that kind of energy and that kind of reality in their playing, so it’s greatly, greatly missed. But we’re lucky that we have Jimmie who I actually love. I love Jimmie’s songs, I love to listen to him play. I love to play with him . I’ve had a few opportunities to play together and I just can’t tell you what a great, great, great guitarist he is and what a great musician I think he is.
SM: And he hasn’t heard this album yet. And he doesn’t know that his name is all over the liner notes and that three of his songs are on the record. He doesn’t know any of this yet. This is a surprise that will be coming his way shortly. I’m waiting to get the full package. I told him about a year ago, or so, we played in Austin and I invited Eric Johnson to come and play, and I invited Jimmie to come and play and I didn’t tell Eric and Jimmie that I were inviting each of them, ya know? So they both showed up and I got all three of us on stage together and then Eric said well why don’t you come over to the studio after the show and sing and sing a tune I’ve got some blues tracks, I’m working on the new album. So Jimmie and I went over and I sang and Jimmie played on Eric’s album. And…
RB: Great studio.
SM: Oh, man, wonderful studio. Great sound. I was so, so impressed with it. And so I told Jimmie ,”I’m cutting some of your tunes and ya know blah, blah, blah, blah I’ll see ya pretty soon.” And I haven’t seen him since then. So he’s got a big surprise coming. And then Andy went out and, and worked with Eric on his album. So yeah, it’s all turning out to be very, very interesting that we got everybody together like this. It’s going to be really cool.
RB: On “Who’s Been Talking “ you’re bringing in the heavy lumber with your guitar from the beginning.
SM: Oh, I love that song. Ya know Howling Wolf was so great. I knew Howling Wolf, I’ve played with Howling Wolf, I’ve spent a lot of time with Howling Wolf. I love Howling Wolf he’s the sweetest, the most together of all the Chicago blues guys was Howling Wolf. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. And ethical. Big ethics. Really a strong, strong wonderful person. Doing his tunes, all of his songs are like vehicles. I’m not trying to do it like Howling Wolf did it. I’m just using it as a vehicle to do what I want to do. And all of these songs, ya know I used ‘em like vehicles to do my kind music. Generally singing three part harmonies, two, three part harmonies, doing my kind of guitar playing. Not trying to play the blues that way it has already been played. And Howling Wolf’s tunes are just amazing. They just have so many ideas come out of one of his songs. So many rhythm ideas and this, “Who’s Been Talking “is just (sings) ya know, just takes off. And it was great fun to play on that .
RB: Did you see the movie Cadillac Records?
RB: How accurate was the portrayal of Howling Wolf in that movie?
SM: Ya know, it’s interesting. It’s a movie. It’s a cartoon. Imagine what it would be like if somebody tried to write who you were. And so, the few times that I’ve actually seen movies like that made about people I actually know, it’s always an” ah-ha moment “ when you go, yeah, right, when the do the movie on my life I’d like someone that looks really good who can dance, ya know.
RB:(laughing) I think Tom Cruise has been cast as you in “The Steve Miller Story” , right ?
SM: That’s it. There ya go. And, you see it and you kinda go,” nope… kind of… and ok, they loved Chicago” . Yeah, they changed the story a little bit and everything. I mean Howling Wolf was this amazing, amazing character. And, he came up to Chicago… and you have to understand these guys run in these blues bands, I mean you’re working in night clubs. Most of the musicians are alcoholic or on drugs. The night clubs were very rough and very tough, and there was a lot of nonsense going on in the nightclubs . And Howling Wolf was this extremely ethical, sober, straight guy. And he was like a school teacher or a football coach or something. He was a wonderful, wonderful, man. He had a wonderful family. His daughters, today, are just brilliant people , you just meet them and they’re smart, they’re attractive, they’re wonderful folks,. And at the same time Howling Wolf was the biggest rascal that ever got on the stage. And he could scare people half to death and he was huge and he was so funny and he was so much fun. I knew him both on the stage, in the club, and then when he started comin’ out to California to play the Fillmore West (in San Francisco) I’d go out to the airport and pick him up in my Volkswagen bus and help him load his gear and take him to his hotel and I would be his roadie because I loved him so much he was such a good friend. And off the stage and out of the nightclub you would have thought he was like the linebacker coach for the Chicago Bears or something. He was an amazing man! He’s really a wonderful, wonderful guy.
RRB: On “Who’s Been Talking”, who is that on harp?
SM: That’s Norton (Buffalo)of course. Ya know, Norton played harmonica on everything, except I played harmonica on one of the songs. Well, I think I played harmonica on” It Hurts Me Too” and that’s on a follow-up album that’s not even on this record. So Norton’s playing harmonica on everything and these are the last sessions that Norton did.
RB: You introduced us music fans to Norton Buffalo on Steve Miller Band Book of Dreams.
SM: Yeah, in 1976 I guess.
RB: “Don’t Ya Know?”
SM: Yeah, “Don’t Ya Know” is one of those great Jimmie Vaughan tunes. And uh, ya know, Jimmy’s albums, are just ya know, they’re phenomenal. And he had um, uh, like, it must be ten years now that, since, since he recorded that. And it’s always been one of my favorite songs. And, and in fact I always wanted to record his whole album!
RB: (laughs.) That’s hysterical! I’ve never heard anybody say that! That’s so funny!
SM: Yeah. Well, ya know, it’s so good, his songs and his writing is so good and, and I could hear ways to do it ya know, like I didn’t want to do it the way he did it, but…
RB: It’s already done.
SM: Yeah. Ya know, but I would hear these songs and ya know, I think there are four songs off the Strange Pleasure album that we loved to play and are part of our repertoire now. And”Don’t Ya Know” is one of my favorite songs. And Jimmie and I both grew up in Dallas. We both grew up listening to T-Bone Walker, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, Lightning Hopkins. A lot of people in our neighborhood influenced us, so, the things that influenced him really influenced me too, so when I listen to Jimmie, I hear things where I know where they came from and what has moved him and it moves me as well. So I really find him to be kind of a filter that when I listen to a lot of blues through Jimmie it really turns me on and makes me want to play a lot too.
RB: Steve Miller, I’m going to shift a little bit here with an open-ended essay question. EMI, parent of your label of forty years, Capitol Records, now with you and Paul McCartney abandoning ship, what future does EMI have ?
SM: Well, I’m not sure. The people that bought EMI (Citicorp) didn’t buy EMI because they like music or artists or making records, they bought EMI ‘cause they thought they could squeeze a lot of money out of it and make money. And so, that’s the world we live in today where large corporations buy smaller corporations because they think they can take them apart and make money from them. I think Guy Hands kinda got enamored with show business, ya know after he started thinking about buying EMI, but ya know he was basically a guy who was running filling stations in Germany and hotels and garbage management, waste management companies. And he was looking to take a half billion dollars and turn it into two billion dollars and take two billion dollars and turn into eight billion dollars. And EMI was just one of those companies. And I don’t think he understood what EMI really was. He obviously got played by Citibank. Um, he paid way too much for the company so he got way in over his head. As soon as he took over the company he offended everyone. On our side of the planet, over here in the United States, he came to town, he went to L.A., he had a thirty minute meeting and he left. Basically, I think EMI will be broken up and Sony or Warner Brothers or somebody will get their publishing and it’s hard to say who will end up owning the masters. And I think that the people that are trying to work out the future for EMI right now are just basically trying to save themselves money and really have no concern at all about the music, the catalog, the people or what EMI was. Ya know at one time EMI was something like 70 record companies worldwide. Think of the culture that is involved in all of that. And it never was run very well. It wasn’t a very well- run company of all the biggest companies, it was the poorest …
RB: Of the majors.
Steve Miller: Yeah, of the majors, it was run poorly. It was always run by somebody else who didn’t really understand showbiz or the music industry. It was sort of seen, where Capitol records were outposts for rich kids from England to kind of go and run the company for a while and then run one in Fiji and then maybe go run one in Australia for a while and then come back to England and run the big one, that kind of thing. And it always had that kind of ownership being very far away and therefore it was really easy to play those people and take advantage of them. And you had all these kind of different companies inside EMI doing that to headquarters, sort of self-serving, so it has been damaged heavily over the years, and in the ‘90s it was almost put out of business a couple of times and the fact that it’s survived as long as it has is because of the amazing talent of The Beatles and Nat King Cole and The Beachboys and acts like that. There’s a bunch of us, that have sold hundred of millions of records that have kept that company and those people alive, but they have put very little into it and now I really don’t know who’s going to end up owning what. And like I tell my wife, I say every now and then, “ my masters could be part of a car company in South Korea next year. I have no idea who’s going to.”
RB: Your masters don’t revert back to you?
SM: I own all my masters outside the United States, Japan, and Canada. So, most of the world I own. They own those and in this sort of gray area where nothing has ever been resolved. And ya know most of these Steve Miller hits were cut before 1978 when the masters law, which is coming up, where people are trying to get their master recordings back by 2013. And there will be a lot of lawsuits and a lot of people will be fighting very hard about all that. But, truthfully I don’t know that I will be able to get my masters back for my own country, which is one of the things that kinda bugs me. Because they don’t even think about that any more. That’s just an automatic paycheck that they get, they just take orders for our records and they don’t spend any money advertising them or helping us with our tour or supporting us in any way. So, it’s a difficult situation.
RB: Apparently there are things important to you Steve Miller besides music. You seem to believe in the motto” think globally, act locally “., you’ve already talked to me about Animal Welfare, tell me about the environment, tell me about the volunteer efforts
STeve Miller: Well, I’ll tell you the truth. I spent a lot of the ‘90s supporting Earth Day. Financially supporting the concerts that were held in Boston along with Kraft family who used to own Fox Stadium and they would let us use it for free. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to deal with nuclear waste because I used to live in the area where there is a lot of it in Idaho. And I have done all that and raised millions of dollars and done three Earth Day concerts in the Lost Cities Tour where we went all over the country to the little out -lying posts where they were logging the woods to bare ground, and just trying to start a little spark around the country, I realized that none of that really was while, yes, it made you feel good, or made you feel like you were working on raising people’s consciousness about, about the environment , I realized that you really can’t do more than just look outside your own window and your own back door and your own front door, and try to take care of the ground around you. And, I really think that we are at the point now that if our government doesn’t stop this game of stalling and this fight with the corporate world , which doesn’t want any laws or regulations on the environment that would affect their economic growth and power. Until that’s dealt with, everything that we’re all trying to do, the taking the bag to the grocery store, the recycling, all these things are just such a small part of what needs to be done, we need to change our whole economic world. The way, the model. The way we operate. Because all we’re doing is creating more demand, more growth ,if we’re more environmentally conscious over here, we’re still buying stuff from China where they want their turn at the trough. Ya know they want to use the gas and the carbon fuels until the whole world finally stops, there’s about 25 countries that are really and truly are the western powers and there’s India and there’s China and Japan. I mean, until these major countries come together and really stop fooling around nothing’s really going to happen. Because our basic model that runs our government, that runs are congress and president and all of these people that really could make the real difference, their motto is” no, no, no, no, we want the economy, we want to keep expanding , we want to consume more, we want to sell more things , we want to manufacture more stuff, that’s the way the world works”. We’ve wasted 20 years, and we’ve allowed our press, our newspapers, our magazines, our television coverage has given credence to this tiny little minority of pretenders that represent corporate interests, who pretend to be scientists. (The press) give them as much attention as they will give the 6,000 real scientists who do real science who talk about global warming. We’re just living in a time where there’s a lot of money and a lot of effort being spent to make the air unclear, to make everyone wonder if there really is global warming or there isn’t, or if we really need to take care of the environment or we don’t. Where it’s so obvious and we’ve wasted 20 years or so now, we really are going to be up against it much quicker than people understand or believe, and this is going to happen really fast. It’s going to happen in our life time. And it doesn’t do much good to say I told you so. I wish I could change it, but until the people of the United States get up and go grab Congress by the throat and pull them out of that house and put them back on the street, and put new people in, nothing’s going to happen.
RB: Bob Dylan said it best, he said “Money doesn’t talk , it swears.”
SM: (laughs. ) Yeah, and people don’t want to hear that, they don’t want to deal with it. Life is tough. It’s going to be a lot tougher soon.
RB: I can’t believe I almost forgot to ask you who was singing with you on Bingo ?
Steve Miller: That is Sonny Charles. And I met Sonny about ooh, six or seven years ago, and Sonny was in a band called the Checkmates in the late 60s they were a band that a had a tune called “Black Pearl”. One of the most fun people and he’s been in the band now for two years. This will be starting his third year. And that’s Sonny Charles folks, and it’s just been wonderful having him in the band, and losing Norton this last year as we did, was so unexpected it was such an unexpected event . I mean Norton was as healthy and happy as anybody could be and we finished our tour,& 60 days later he passed. And it was just unbelievable. And when Sonny joined the band it like really inspired the band it really inspired Norton and it inspired me and it inspired all of us. The band got a lot better we started having a lot more fun with his, his addition. And thank goodness he’s here now, because having lost Norton that could have been the end of the band without Sonny. So Sonny is a very important part of what we do and, and we have a lot of fun with him and of course the audience loves him, and, and uh, thank goodness he’s here. I mean the timing couldn’t have been better.
Copyright 2010 Barbarosa Ltd. Productions , all rights reserved . Cannot be reproduced in whole or in part without express written consent . Transcription by Jane Carpenter Brunat , thanks Jane !