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Steve Miller Still Livin', And Rockin', In The USA

of the Oakland Press

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Steve Miller didn’t plan to take 17 years between new albums.

In fact, he barely noticed the passage of time.

“Y’know, it’s gone by so quickly, and I didn’t feel like I needed to put an album out — I really didn’t,” says Miller, 66, a veteran guitarist and bandleader who’s sold more than 50 million albums since 1967 and is best known for a run of ’70s hits that includes “The Joker,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Rock ‘n Me,” “Jet Airliner” and “Jungle Love.”

“I was doing fine and feeling fine,” he continues. “We’ve been playing and playing and playing and really been on the road. It just worked out that now seemed like a good time to release a record, and before that it didn’t. It’s that simple, really.”

And it was just as simple to start a new present by going back to his past.

For “Bingo!” the Milwaukee-born Miller — who was mentored as a youth by the late Les Paul — crafted a set of blues and R&B covers by the likes of B.B. King, Lowell Fulson and Jimmy Reed, as well as three songs by former Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. “This is a party record, man,” he says. “It’s about getting up and getting ready to dance. It’s like the fraternity party gigs I used to play in college. I went through and picked all my favorite tunes that I really, really loved.

“I wanted to make this record forever; it started off as just kind of a goof, and then it got real serious.”

The idea took root two years ago, while Miller and co-producer Andy Johns were working on the concert DVD “Live From Chicago.” Miller, who resides in Idaho, had already been planning to record the covers, and when Johns said to him, “ ‘Boy, I would really love to do a guitar album with you,’ ” Miller was ready to pull the trigger.

“The next thing you know, we go into (George Lucas’) Skywalker Ranch and cut 42 tracks,” he recalls. “So it’s been a long process.”

Miller was already deep into the track selection process by the time he and Johns agreed to do the album. He had hired some junior high school students to load up a computer with his blues collection, which numbered about 6,000 songs. Miller’s first pass narrowed the list of potential tracks to 700, then to 70 and finally to more than three dozen the band recorded at Skywalker Ranch.

“They were just songs that had all been big hits way back in the ’50s and ’60s, and people kind of forgot about most of them,” Miller says. “(Jimmy Reed’s) ‘You Got Me Dizzy’ was a huge hit in Texas when I grew up. ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo” was a monster song ... They were all big hits in the South when I was growing up in Texas back in the ’50s and very early ’60s.

“The funny thing is we took the record to some record company guys in New York and they went, ‘Wow, these are great! Did Steve write all of them?’ That was perfect, you know?”

Miller and his band were joined on “Bingo!” by rock guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, who played solos on Walker’s “Rock Me Baby” and Vaughan’s “Sweet Soul Vibe,” as well as original Santana percussionist Michael Carabello and Sonny Charles of the Indiana R&B group Checkmates, Ltd., who’s now a full-time member of the Steve Miller Band. The album also features some of the last recordings by Miller’s longtime harmonica player Norton Buffalo, who died of cancer in October 2009.

The best news for fans is that — like the one-two punch of “Fly Like and Eagle” and “Book of Dreams” in 1976-77 — Miller and company recorded enough material for another album, which he plans to release in June 2011 and which will include songs by Junior Wells, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jimmy McCracklin and Roscoe Gordon. But now that he’s back to active recording, the fans who waited patiently are now asking the next obvious question — when will Miller put out an album of his own songs again?

“Y’know, I haven’t written much,” confesses Miller, who’s also been mentoring youths from the San Francisco School of the Arts. “I’m working on, oh, 10 or 11 pieces of music. I haven’t written the lyrics for anything yet, so I don’t know when I’ll have something ready.

“The main thing is playing rock ‘n’ roll in my rock ‘n’ roll band every summer. That’s the main thing I do, and I love it.”

The Steve Miller Band and Peter Frampton perform at 7 p.m. Friday, July 2, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $59.50 and $35 pavilion, $25 lawn, with four-packs available for both pavilion ($99) and lawn ($64). Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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