Earlier this year, guitarist and songwriter Steve Miller was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it was not without controversy. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine right after the ceremony, he criticized the event and called it “a private boys’ club,” among many other epithets.
In an interview a week after the ceremony, Miller told Billboard magazine that he wasn’t surprised by the reaction to his comments, but stood by them.
“I've gotten hundreds of emails from artists and pals and peers just saying, ‘Right on, man, I can't believe you had (the nerve) to say that,’ that kind of stuff,” Miller said.
Outspoken as he may be, Miller is still best known for his music, a mix of blues and rock that spawned many hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The Steve Miller Band returns to this area for a show on Aug. 18 at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena.
Musicians and Museums
In speaking more with Billboard, Miller said his biggest issue with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was that they divide people and are dismissive of some acts, plus there needs to be more musicians on the hall’s board.
“The people who are doing the nominating are the opposite of the spirit of rock and roll,” he said. “They’ve turned it into a very elitist little group of people deciding who is important, who isn’t. I wanted to ask Elton John to induct me, because Elton knows my music and loves my music and we’re friends, and I thought he would probably have a good historical perspective. But they said, ‘No, the Black Keys are going to do it,’ and I said, ‘Well, OK,’ and they said ‘There’s no negotiation on any of it, that’s the way we do it, that’s the way we’ve always done it, that’s the way it’s gonna be.’”
“We all want to support the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the public takes it seriously. It needs to be transparent, and it needs to be fair. They should rotate the nominating committee, they should have musicians on the nominating committee, they should have a dinner for the inductees, they should spend some time explaining who they are and what they do to the inductees.”
Miller is speaking from experience when it comes to music boards. He’s currently on the board of Jazz at Lincoln Center and has been curating and hosting shows at the New York City cultural landmark. He told Billboard that he’s thrilled to be doing it.
“It’s a great institution with three of the best venues in the world, and a pool of great musicians and leadership,” he said. “I’m working on creating a blues pedagogy for Jazz at Lincoln Center, they want me to help on their blues program. I'm doing a couple of shows there at Rose Theater, two nights in December, and it's gonna be all about T-Bone Walker. I'll have an orchestra and we'll have some guests, sort of an historical look at T-Bone Walker. That's what I'm really listening to and what I'm working on.”
Success Was No Joke
Blues are at the roots of Miller’s hit music. He grew up in Milwaukee and Dallas, and eventually began his career in the blues clubs of Chicago in the mid-1960s. He eventually moved to San Francisco right as the boom in psychedelic music took place.
Capitol Records signed the Steve Miller Band in 1967 and the group released three albums that became underground classics of the time: “Children of the Future,” “Sailor” and “Brave New World.” The last two made the top 25 album charts and the band scored radio hits with “Space Cowboy” and “Living in the USA.”
It was in 1973 that Miller went from being a popular live attraction with a handful of hits to a music superstar. That was when the album and single called “The Joker” was released. Both went to No. 1 that year. Three years later, the album “Fly Like an Eagle” hit No. 3 and spawned more hits, including the title track, “Take the Money and Run” and “Rock’n Me.”
Miller recently told the Austin Chronicle that “The Joker” was actually the end of the line for his first record contract.
“I made the album in 17 days and it was my last shot,” Miller said. “I cut the tracks in a couple days, then spent two weeks singing and overdubbing. Made the record, turned it into Capitol Records. They had a meeting and some kid said, ‘I think 'The Joker' should be the single.’ I said, ‘I don't even care about singles. I'm going to 60 cities in the next 90 days and all I want you to do is get records in the record stores in those cities.’ That was it and I walked out.
“Two or three weeks later, ‘The Joker’ just went viral. We didn't have that term then, but that's what it did. Ninety days later when I got back to San Francisco at the end of the tour, I was driving to a theatre to play a gig – I think it was the Fox Theater in Oakland – and on the way over, ‘The Joker’ was on four of the five radio stations.”
From that point on, through 1982, Miller scored more hits on the album and singles charts, including the songs “Jet Airliner,” “Jungle Love,” “Swingtown” and “Abracadabra.” Miller released fewer albums and toured less in the ‘90s, but he’s continued to sell out shows and recently earned critical acclaim for a pair of comeback albums with more of a blues focus, “Bingo!” in 2010 and “Let Your Hair Down” in 2011.
The current Steve Miller Band has two members who were with him in the 80s, bassist Kenny Lee Lewis and drummer Gordy Knudston, plus keyboardist Joseph Wooten (a member since 1993) and guitarist Jacob Peterson (playing with Miller since 2011).