Classic Rock Profiles: Introduction to Steve Miller Band


Steve Miller’s early life and formation of his own band

Steve Miller was born on October 5, 1943 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His pathologist father was also a music buff, most especially jazz music. His dad’s friends Les Paul and wife/music partner Mary Ford frequently visited the Miller home. It was Les Paul who encouraged the young boy to continue showing an interest in the guitar, the very instrument Paul was a master in. Paul was one of the young Miller’s biggest early influences.

As he grew up Miller attended at a university in Denmark. Upon his return home, he moved to Chicago, Illinois as he had always wanted, because of the city’s thriving and vibrant blues scene. In Chicago, he met such blues legends as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy who also inspired him to pursue a music career. He played the Goldberg-Miller blues band together with keyboardist Barry Goldberg and other members.

After studying in a university in Texas, Miller moved to San Francisco, California where he witnessed the Butterfield Blues Band and Jefferson Airplane. It was the vibrant psychedelic music scene in San Francisco that pulled Miller in, and so he decided to stay there.

It was also in San Francisco where the roots of the Steve Miller Band began. In 1967, he formed The Steve Miller Blues Band along with guitarist James “Curly” Cooke,” bass guitarist Lonnie Turner, and drummer Tim Davis. Steve Miller Band had the big opportunity to open for Chuck Berry in Filmore that same year; the performance was recorded and eventually released as Berry’s live album.

A considerable following in San Francisco, and first recordings

Soon the Steve Miller Blues Band was gaining a strong local following. Miller’s schoolboy friend and future solo star Boz Scaggs also became part of the band, as he replaced Cooke on guitars as soon as Scaggs moved to San Francisco.

Following their gig at the significant Monterey Pop Festival, the Steve Miller Blues Band got a recording contract from Capitol Records. After that, they shortened the name into Steve Miller Band. In 1968, they released their debut album Children of the Future, where it peaked at #134 on the US Billboard 200. Later that same year the band released their second LP Sailor, which performed better at the charts at #24. One of its tracks “Living in the U.S.A.” was their first charting single. Scaggs’ compositions “Overdrive” and “Dime-A-Dance Romance” also made up of the album’s track listing. The album would also be Scaggs’ last appearance with the band.

Their third album Brave New World (1969) earned them more following. It climbed to its peak position at #22, and Your Saving Grace (1969) went to #38. In 1970, their fifth studio LP Number 5 was released, and one of its singles “Going to the Country” climbed further to #69 on the Hot 100. In 1971, Miller was involved in an automobile accident and sustained a broken neck from it. He subsequently contracted hepatitis, and his long recuperation kept him out of the limelight for a long time.

Big hits

In 1973, Steve Miller returned to his band and they released another LP The Joker, which would become the band’s breakthrough album. It was the point where the band deviated from their psychedelic rock roots to craft melody-filled blues-tinged rock. The success of the album rested on its title track, which was also released as a single. “The Joker” topped the Billboard Hot 100 that same year, while another single “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ but Trash” reached #51 on the same chart. The Jokerbecame Steve Miller Band’s first album to receive platinum certification.

In 1976, the Steve Miller Band released the critically-acclaimed and commercially successful Fly like an Eagle. It became the band’s biggest-selling studio album to date, having gone multi-platinum in the US and Canada. The album’s two singles “Rock’n Me” and the title track helped the album to climb to #3 on the Billboard 200. The singles “Rock’n Me” gave the band their first #1 hit, and “Fly like an Eagle” went to #2 on the Hot 100.

Steve Miller Band followed this up with 1977’s Book of Dreams. It was the band’s highest-charting album to date, having peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200. Book of Dreams spawned three hit singles: “Jet Airliner” (at #8), “Jungle Love” (at #23) and “Swingtown” (at #17).

The Steve Miller Band solidified their success with 1978’s Greatest Hits 1974-78which sold a staggering 13 million copies, earning it a diamond certification.

Later career

In the early 1980s, the Steve Miller Band was still doing well in the charts. In 1981, they released another album Circle of Love where it spawned the Top 40 hit “Heart like a Wheel” at #24. The following year they released Abracadabra whose title track made dents on the pop, adult contemporary, dance, R&B, rock and the UK singles chart. It went to #1 on the Hot 100, and #2 on the UK singles charts that year.

Although the band’s commercial fortunes dwindled, they still managed to churn out the following albums Italian X Rays (1984), Living in the 20th Century (1986), Born 2 B Blue (1988), Wide River (1993), Bingo (2010) and their last studio effort to date Let Your Hair Down (2011)

The band has undergone several lineup changes, having employed 30-odd members. The present lineup consists of Miller, Kenny Lee Lewis, Gordy Knudtson, Joseph Wooten, Sonny Charles and Jacob Petersen. The band has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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