Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Steve Miller is now into his second half-century at the helm of the Steve Miller Band. The man from Milwaukee goes from strength to strength, and in 2023 was much involved with the deluxe 50th anniversary edition of one of their greatest landmarks, J50: The Evolution of The Joker.
That set represents the latest fruits of the June 2017 of the new deal that brought Miller’s entire recorded catalog back to Capitol, the label where he spent a large part of his career. Late 2019 saw the release of the 3CD + DVD box set Welcome To The Vault on Sailor/Capitol/UMe and he continues to tour with the group’s latter-day line-up.
Miller formed the original band in San Francisco, as the Steve Miller Blues Band, in 1966. Since then, he’s presided over their countless hundreds of gigs and 17 studio albums, the most recent being 2011’s Let Your Hair Down.
Many fans know and love Miller and the band for their signature pop hits of the 1970s and 80s, of which the enduring “The Joker” went to No.1 in America on January 12, 1974 and then did the same in the UK a generation later, in a 1990 reissue. The SMB followed it with two more American chart-toppers, “Rock’n Me” in 1976 and “Abracadabra” in 1982, and six other Top 40 hits.
But Miller had grown up in Dallas steeped in the blues and in the magical allure of the guitar, not least via his father’s friendships with the likes of T-Bone Walker and Les Paul. Equally importantly, his arrival in San Francisco came at the height of the city’s era as the epicenter of musical experimentation. From those origins, the group made an initial series of albums that are hugely worthy of reappraisal in the 21st century, further informed by the British rock scene of the time.
Indeed, the group’s weighty 1968 debut, Children Of The Future, was recorded in London with the esteemed Glyn Johns, who continued to oversee the band’s studio output on their next three albums. On Children and the similarly impressive follow-up Sailor, later the same year, the line-up was greatly strengthened by the presence of Boz Scaggs, before he left for his distinguished solo career.
As Johns describes in his autobiography Sound Man, that first album by Miller and co represented his first break as a producer, after years as a respected engineer for the Rolling Stones and countless others. By the time of the band’s third album, 1969’s Brave New World, Johns was working with The Beatles, and invited Miller to a session at which the American developed an idea that became “My Dark Hour.” Included on the album, it featured bass, drums and a powerful vocal by Paul McCartney, credited as Paul Ramon.
The Joker was the 1973 album that elevated the SMB to the major leagues and, helped immensely by the title song, it became their first platinum LP. There was not only a huge appetite for subsequent releases such as Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams, but great interest in what had gone before. The Greatest Hits 1974-1978 collection went on to spend more than ten years on Billboard‘s catalogue album chart and went a spectacular 13-times platinum in the US alone.
Later entries in Miller’s catalog also hold plenty of treats, and some nods to his blues background, notably 1988’s excellent Born 2B Blue, which was credited to him as a solo artist. On 2010’s covers set Bingo!, and by now working with Glyn’s younger brother Andy Johns, the band paid tribute to the likes of B.B. King, on “Rock Me Baby,” Howlin’ Wolf (“Who’s Been Talkin’?”) and Otis Rush (“All Your Love”).
With that track record, and his voracious appetite for touring still intact, Miller’s place in that Hall of Fame is immensely well-earned.
Buy or stream J50: The Evolution of The Joker.