Steve Miller Band
What happened? Talk about credentials. Both Steve Miller and high school buddy Boz Scaggs once backed Blues legend Jimmy Reed in a Dallas Bar. In Chicago, Miller worked with Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Howlin' Wolf and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. After forming the Steve Miller Band in San Francisco the group played the Fillmore West and the Monterey International Pop Festival (with Hendrix, the Who, Animals, etc.). The Steve Miller Band, with Scaggs, also backed Chuck Berry for his "Live At The Fillmore" album.
They were signed by Capitol Records who sent the Steve Miller Band to England to record their first album "Children of the Future." It was a solid effort but didn't register. "Sailor" also came out in '68 and had "Living In The USA." But soon the Steve Miller Band was without Scaggs, who'd decided to go solo.
"Living In The U.S.A." wasn't a chart hit but it had an enduring quality to it. With drag racing sound effects and an announcer ranting, not to mention Miller's flavorful enunciation of "cheeseburger," the whole thing had a good-natured joy to it.
'69 saw the release of the Steve Miller Band's best early work "Brave New World." The title track and the "My Dark Hour," with Paul McCartney on bass, were the outstanding tracks. But the song that stood out most was the self-referential "Space Cowboy." The song had a boogie feel with some real punch to it. Miller would later mine the self-referential approach again for the pop hit "The Joker." That's the thing about Miller, when he found something that worked he wasn't adverse to going back to the well.
Entering the '70s, Miller was in both a commercial and artistic funk. But in '73 he rolled out "The Joker." The title track totally nailed the pop market. And if that was what Miller was trying to do he probably succeeded beyond his dreams.
Three years later, "Fly Like An Eagle" and in '77 "Book Of Dreams" drove the group to its commercial peak. These three albums vacillate between pop, "Take The Money and Run," inter-changeable, corporate by-the-numbers material, " Jet Airliner" and "Rock 'n' Me," and some exceptional Rock, "Wild Mountain Honey," "Fly Like An Eagle," "Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash" and "Serenade."
"Circle of Life" was released in '81. On it was the totally wretched pop song "Abracadabra." Naturally, it became the third Miller song to top the pop charts ("The Joker" and "Rock 'n' Me" being the other two).
"Greatest Hits" albums not only encapsulate a performer's career they can actually keep it going. Steve Miller Band's "Greatest Hits 1974-1978" was largely gleaned from two albums, "Fly Like An Eagle" and "Book Of Dreams." The "Hits" set moved more than 13 million copies which outsold the two original albums combined as well as the rest of the Miller catalog. Good, but it gets better. On the continued sales strength, Miller was able to tour for the next three decades (often as a headliner) - despite not having any new material.
In '08, Miller received the ASCAP Golden Note Award at the performing-rights organization's 25th annual Pop Music Awards at L.A.'s Kodak Theatre. The honor recognized musical artists and composers who have attained outstanding career achievements. ASCAP president Marilyn Bergman called Miller an "iconic music creator whose enduring and instantly recognizable songs say 'America' around the world." Fine, but that still doesn't get him off the hook for "Abracadabra." Even so, there's more.
Following a 17 year hiatus without a studio album, the Steve Miller Band returned in '10 with "Bingo!" "This material we're just releasing now we've been working on stage for the last couple of years," said Miller
Recorded at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Miller added Sonny Charles, veteran R&B vocalist for the Checkmates. Sadly though, the sessions were the last for Norton Buffalo, harmonica player, vocalist and Miller's "partner in harmony" for 33 years. He died of cancer in October '09.
The "Bingo!" sessions yielded another album, "Let Your Hair Down," released in '11.
1968 Children Of The Future
1969 Brave New World
1969 Your Saving Grace
1970 Number 5
1971 Rock Love
1972 Recall The Beginning...A Journey From Eden
1973 Living in the U.S.A.
1973 The Joker
1976 Fly Like An Eagle
1977 Book of Dreams
1978 Greatest Hits 1974-78
1981 Circle Of Love
1983 Steve Miller Band Live!
1984 Italian X Rays
1986 Living In The 20th Century
1988 Born 2 B Blue (1988)
1991 Steve Miller Band, The Best of 1968-1973
1991 The Very Best Of The Steve Miller Band
1993 Wide River
2002 King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents The Steve Miller Band
2003 Young Hearts - Complete Greatest Hits
2006 Fly Like an Eagle (30th Anniversary Edition)
2007 Steve Miller Band - Live from Chicago (DVD)
2011 Let Your Hair Down
"Brave New World" was Miller's best album from his early period. The title track and the ever-popular "Space Cowboy" are the reasons. Miller changed considerably (slicked up and simplified) to find commercial success. "Book Of Dreams" and "Fly Like An Eagle" though released months apart were recorded at the same time. They are his best studio albums. "Fly Like An Eagle" has the title track, "Wild Mountain Honey," Take The Money and Run" and Rock 'n' Me." "Book of Dreams" contains "Jet Airliner," "True Fine Love" and "Jungle Love." "Greatest Hits '74 -'78" also includes noteworthy album cuts and is a good overview.
By the early '80s Miller was spent but he continued to have obnoxious hits like "Abracadabra." But a little later (late '80s) he bounced back with a couple of Blues-oriented albums and the decent "Wide River."
"This is a party record, man," Miller said of "Bingo!" "It's about getting up and getting ready to dance. It's like the fraternity party gigs I used to play in college. I went through and picked all my favorite tunes that I really, really loved."
"Hey Yeah" could pass for a typical '70s Miller track but "Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)" can't get within miles of the Jimi Hendrix version. But overall Miller captures that early '60's vibe of a night when the school football team has won and there's a kegger at the frat house. That's most predominant on the set's last two tracks, "You Got Me Dizzy" and "Ooh Poo Pah Doo." But the real treat is Charles. He owns "Rock Me Baby" and provides some catchy "say what" banter on "Tramp." Charles also lifts "The Walk" on "Let Your Hair Down."
But the glaring problem with both "Bingo!" and "Let Your Hair Down" is Miller. He's rightly associated with '70's Rock and even though his appreciation of Blues and R&B is genuine, he can't eclipse or escape his past.
If listening to white guys play (and sing) the Blues is a passion it might be better to pass on Miller's versions of "When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too)" and "I Ain't Got You" and seek out the '60s work of John Mayall and even the Yardbirds, respectively. To be fair, Miller's take on "I Ain't Got You" is less garish than the Yardbirds' romp, but it's also less exciting.