Just last week, I saw the documentary Born in Chicago, which featured the history of the great blues players—and showed clips of Steve Miller in his youth. Like Paul Butterfield, he cut his teeth in clubs on the East Side.
But, I digress. Seeing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend at the Sound in Clearwater, Florida, was a great pleasure. At 80, he is still active in touring, and he just announced he would be joining the Def Leppard and Journey tour next July and August.
On a nippy Florida evening (the temp dipped into the low 60s, which is “coat weather” for us), the evening of blues rock began with the duo Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton. Hot off their Death Wish Blues Tour in the UK and continuing in the United States, the band kicked off the set with a cover of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams.”
Having seen Samantha Fish several times, her voice range and texture have developed, as she easily held notes to eternity and killed it in songs like “Trauma” and a groovin’ version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.”
Audiences who had never seen her were digging “Bulletproof” and Jesse Dayton’s “Baby’s Long Gone.” At the end of the set, I heard concertgoers seated behind me saying, “Wow! They were really good!” The set was fantastic, and adding Dayton to the mix gives Fish’s music a whole extra dimension. Kudos to the drummer, who gave his all during the set.
The Steve Miller Band started with “Swingtown” and “Jungle Love”. They continued playing songs from the 70s but also the 80s-era crowd favorite “Abracadabra.”
Between songs, Miller told stories about living in Seattle, San Francisco, and later New York City, where he developed a relationship with the Met’s Music Department. A longtime collector of guitars, he donated a custom archtop guitar created by luthier James D’Aquisto (whose daughter was in the audience) to the museum. D’Aquisto, who passed in the mid-1990s, was highly sought out by bands like Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, and Chicago for his adherence to old-school craftsmanship, similar to fine violins like the Stradivarius. Miller noted the Met also displayed his “$150 guitar with purple simulated alligator skin, six knobs, and 19 strings,” next to Ravi Shankar’s sitar. He said, “This is it,” as he held the electric Coral Sitar, Model 3S19 guitar, toward the audience. He then launched into “White Mountain Honey,” which has a distinctive Indian vibe.
A highlight of the evening was when Miller’s old guitarist Les Dudek, who resides in Florida, was invited on stage to perform a cool instrumental with a “James Bond theme” thrown in. The white-bearded Dudek, who resembled Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, performed a mean slide guitar duet with Miller.
By this time, the outside temperature had dropped, and the wind began to blow. Miller complimented the new venue, saying, “I used to play at Ruth Eckerd Hall. I’m having a good time! This is a nice place!”
He told the story of having been a “lucky kid” because his parents were supporters of music. Miller accompanied his father to nightclubs and was exposed to blues and jazz at an early age. Unlike most American families of the 50s, his father owned a tape recorder and enjoyed recording live music during the sound checks. In the process, his parents became close to Les Paul and Mary Ford–and the couple even held their marriage ceremony at the family’s home. Miller recalled, “Les taught me my first chords. You can sing and write a song with these three chords.”
He dedicated the song “Jet Airliner” to “Les Paul, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Robbie Robertson, Jimmy Buffet, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix,” all legends the world has lost. The song garnered a standing ovation. Everyone sang to “Fly Like An Eagle,” which featured the 70s-sounding synths we all know and love.
Like Clapton’s updated version of “Layla,” Miller performed a very different acoustic version of “Jet Airliner.” Overall, those yearning for blues and rock left satisfied and smiling on this chilly night.