Tuesday, February 25, 2014

# 33 Jammin' with Steve Miller

    In the mid-sixties, the sub-genre of Rock'n'Roll, called Blues Rock is developing a broader commercial appeal. The raw, anti-commercial music appeals to the values of the counter culture movement, and so they appoint it to the role of soundtrack of the social movement. However, when the profile of the counter culture is successfully marketed to the mainstream, the music becomes part of the package,and so, by 1968, Blues Rock is permeating the very lucrative international mainstream airwaves.

    Many of the key players in this trend are a group of young men who move from Chicago, and adopt San Francisco as the base camp for their flourishing careers. Their presence in the city is significant enough that the new rock press identify them as "the Chicago Crowd". (Butterfield is an exception, while he does tour the West Coast many times, he never warms to the scene, choosing instead to live, and work out of Woodstock, N.Y.).

     Most of the young men who are at the core of  the Chicago Crowd seem to have a common social profile. They tend to be: born during the war, white, middle class, socially/politically liberal, intelligent, in many cases well educated, and they seem to have a sense of entitlement that so many young people of their era enjoy. (The great singer/harmonica player, Charlie Mussellwhite is the odd man out in this group.) If there is a good representative of this group it is the Gangster of Love, the Space Cowboy, the Joker, Steve Miller.

    Miller is born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to a very musical family. His mother is a proficient jazz singer, and while his father is a pathologist by day, he is also a jazz enthusiast, and practicing recording engineer. When many of the Jazz celebrities travel through Milwaukee, the Millers often entertain the artists in their home, and develop lasting relationships with many of them. Their friendship with Les Paul and Mary Ford is close enough that they are invited to act as best man, and maid of honour at their wedding. It is from Les Paul that the young Steve Miller receives his first endorsement toward pursuing music as a career.

    A few years later the Millers move to Texas where Steve starts his first band with his brother, and classmate Boz Scaggs. After graduating from high school, he returns to Wisconsin, studies English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but leaves for a semester to study Comparative Literature at the University of Copenhagen.

    Copenhagen doesn't suit him, so he leaves, six credits shy of his degree, and returns to the U.S.. This time he settles in Chicago where he submerges himself in the local blues scene at Big John's, jamming with Butterfield, and many of the South Side bluesmen. Then he forms the Goldberg-Miller Blues Band, works the local club scene, signs with Epic Records, and moves to N.Y.C..

    However, Miller becomes disenchanted with the East Coast scene, and decides the Chicago scene is more appealing. When he arrives back in Chicago he discovers the blues scene is evaporating, so he moves back to Texas to finish his degree. After a short period, the politics of the university get the better of him, and he to drives to San Francisco in the Volkswagen bus his dad buys him.

    When Miller arrives in '66, he starts a band called the Miller Band, and works the local circuit. Then, in 1968, his band releases Children of the Future with Bos Scaggs on guitar. In an effort to promote the new album they play simulcast concert for the Berkeley radio station KPFA . In an effort to add appeal to the concert, Miller invites Butterfield to jam with the band on three numbers. In 1968, Paul Butterfield's fame is still peaking, and his band is a major concert draw, so his appearance is a welcome endorsement for Miller.

   Miller will go on to use his background in literature to create some of the most colourful characters of the 70's:  Gangsters of Love, Space Cowboys, and of course the Pompitous of Love, (Miller claims he is the inventor of the word Pompitous, quite a feat!) Many of his well crafted pop songs will become fan favourites, and provide him with a very lucrative career.
    Steve Miller with Paul Butterfield sitting in on three songs, KPFA, Live broadcast from Berkeley, Cal., Oct., 1968.

Below is one of the songs Song for Our Ancestors.




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