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Monday, January 25, 2016

The Steve Miller Band

My second post on the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees looks at the Steve Miller Band, which of course mostly means Steve Miller, as there were dozens of members of the band over the years and he is the only constant, also being the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. Miller got in on his try, which is kind of nuts, considering he started way back in the 1960s, and was a huge presence on the radio in the 1970s. I was surprised he wasn't in already.

Miller and his band fit a perfect groove for someone my age. After playing psychedelic blues in San Francisco, he changed course to play straight ahead, jangly rock and roll with the album The Joker, and the title track hit number one. The lyrics are permanently etched in children of the '70s frontal lobes:

"Some people call the space cowboy,
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me Maurice
'Cause I speak of the pompatus of love."

The "pompatus" of love was Miller's own coinage, and they even made a movie with that title.

In 1977 and '78 he had huge back-to-back albums which dominated the airwaves. Fly Like an Eagle made a hit of the ethereal title track and the jokey crime saga Take the Money and Run, which has some very tortured rhymes:

"Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas
You know he knows just exactly what the facts is
He ain't gonna let those two escape justice
 He makes his livin' off of the people's taxes"

The next album was Book of Dreams (I owned both of these albums, and think I got them from the Columbia Record Club). It was a terrific pop-rock album, with a couple of very well-crafted hits: Jungle Love and my favorite, Jet Airliner, a wistful song about leaving home that kind of gets to me:

"Goodbye to all my friends at home
Goodbye to people I've trusted
I've got to go out and make my way
I may get rich I may get busted."

Except for the exceptionally catchy Abracadabra, which was a hit in 1982, that was it, though Miller has continued to record and tour. I have been listening to a comprehensive greatest hits collection which has some earlier songs from his San Francisco days, such as Space Cowboy and Livin' in the U.S.A. . Perhaps most interesting is My Dark Hour, which features a co-writing credit and background vocals from Paul McCartney, and has the guitar riff that Miller would use years later in Fly Like an Eagle.

Even if Steve Miller's heights only lasted for a few years, it's amazing he was kept out of the Hall this long. Glad to see the wrong righted.

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