Friday, August 28, 2009


(Big Star fans refer to posts in early August for why the minimal Big Star content this month...will be back on point after Labor Day leading up to the box set. But note that the Steve Miller show was a Reimondo Production...a nod to the past and future Blue Reimondos through which I eventually connected up with Alex Chilton as all of you faithful readers of the book already know.)

Steve Miller Band 5/4/73. The year before we had tried out the idea of conducting a student poll to decide who we would book for the big Spring Weekend concert. There was some friendly ballot stuffing for Poco but ultimately we settled on The Byrds. This year we did the same thing for some inexplicable reason (and for the last time) and we offered up a number of bands in the $7500 range – the top price for all bands back in that day except those that could pack a large arena (see: Tull, Zeppelin, The Who, Elton John etc.). As I recall, the list included Hot Tuna and Seals and Crofts. Seals and Crofts took a lead in the poll but fortunately jacked up their price to $10,000 so we were never placed in the uncomfortable position of having to overturn the will of the people, if you know what I'm saying. One of my classmates, now the mayor of his city, came up to me to lobby for the chance to hear the jasmine blowing through his mind and when I acted less than enthused he replied. "C'mon Bruce, a little wine, a little reefer, a little Seals and Crofts on the Quad..." [the Quad was the main campus open space hangout - would have made it difficult to sell tickets for starters...] I still use that phrase to this day to apply to a situation that is just a little too groovy for my chi...

There was pretty strong backing on the committee for Steve Miller (always one of my favorites) and so the deal was made. Steve's first five albums for Capitol were all great but since Number Five he had put out two now-forgotten clunkers (Rock Love and Recall the Beginning...A Journey From Eden) that even those of us who were in his corner had trouble saying much good about. They were (and remain) pretty lame...the work of an artist treading water with inspiration drifting away. So Steve was in a career lull (thus we could afford him) for sure. And back then, two years was an eternity if that's when your last good LP was released. Little did we know that there was an album called The Joker already in the can...

The show was sold out in advance (despite some protests over the $2.50 ticket prices for students...usually from kids who actually had a lot of money) so everything was looking good until early afternoon the day of the show. The James Montgomery Band was canceling – lead singer James had a bad throat. The band was getting a buzz as Boston's answer to the Allman Brothers (they were even signed to Capricorn but hadn't put out an album yet) so we were disappointed. I made a few calls, was offered a few unappealing solo acts (Chi "Thunder and Lightening" Coltrane was one - now Alice C. would have been a different story) and decided to just go with Steve Miller.

My first interaction with Steve Miller was when I walked into his dressing room with his road manager Lester (a Vietnam vet who was way cool in a Shaft kind of way) to explain the situation. Lester said, "James had to cancel" and without a pause Steve replied, "Okay, we'll do two sets." Just like that. Steve wasn't a rock star with a show to put on. He was (and remains) a working musician – someone who even back then put on an album cover "The Steve Miller Band tours annually..." followed by two blocks of many months. We may have seen his career as being in a lull but he had been around pros his entire life (Les Paul and Mary Ford spent their wedding night at his parents' house, T-Bone Walker and other blues greats were frequent visitors). Even then he had the long view (a few years later he recorded the basic tracks for Fly Like An Eagle and Book of Dreams at the same time – stockpiling two albums worth of material in advance). A few minutes later when I brought in the bottle of Jack Daniel's that had been requested (a pint, having learned a bit from Buddy and Jr.), Lester intercepted it and said "That doesn't come out until after the show."

Steve may have been absent from the charts in recent months but he still had a great band, with bass player Gerald Johnson a particular standout. They did two sets and previewed most of The Joker (although not the title track). There was two disc live set from this period released on the King Biscuit Flower Hour label a few years ago and if you like Steve, I can't recommend it enough. If it had been released at the time, it would have been a real campus favorite. Also on the setlist were a number of classics like My Dark Hour, Space Cowboy, Seasons, Living In The USA and even a preview of Fly Like An Eagle (a song he worked on live for quite a while before recording). It was a smooth show from start to finish and most everyone went home happy. Lester came back to Jackson Hall and held court. The year finished on a definite high note, a precursor to even better things to come...

I saw the Steve Miller Band last week and the concert brought back a lot of good memories. Steve and Company played 2 1/2 hours. A lot of hits. A lot of blues and r&b. He looked great and sounded even better (superb six-part harmonies). The "working musician" model has served him well. No embarrassing rock star moves to recreate. Just a bunch of good-natured middle-aged guys laying it down with a clear aura of genuine enjoyment and grace. Superb musicianship and songs you can remember. Always works for me.








2 comments:

skibumz said...

Bruce: I am looking for you. I was the bouncer in the orchestra pit during the Geneva concerts. remember eos?

Clarkeson.

Bruce Eaton said...

John??