THE EARLIEST YEARS OR, HOW STEVE MILLER BECAME THE JOKER
Les Paul is 87 years old but, every Monday night the legendary guitarist performs at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club and, whenever Steve Miller’s in town, he joins him. The two of them go back a long way, after all – it was Paul who taught a just-out-of-toddler-hood Miller the basics of his instrument. But there’s more to Miller’s genesis than that, just as there’s more to Miller than the jet-liner joker that Top 40 radio would have us believe and, while he readily acknowledges Les Paul’s importance to his story, when you ask Steve Miller if he always knew he wanted to be a musician, there’s no hesitation whatsoever before he answers, “from before I started playing guitar, I knew that this is what I wanted to do, and this is what I loved most.”
Indeed, multiple influences, and exceptional (Miller says blessed) experiences wove around the boy like some aural pantomime. His doctor father, George, loved music and the technology that surrounded it. He passed that gift and inquisitiveness along to his son, giving Miller a lifelong fascination with those same things.
“My dad was a very interesting guy, and did lots of interesting things besides be a doctor. He was into computers before anybody was. He was thrilled when he got a computer that would type a letter and sign his name. He thought that was the greatest thing in the world! He made me get my first computer – it was like a sewing machine, weighed about 40 pounds in a suitcase, a portable computer with a five inch screen!”
An uncle had a more tangible impact. Miller explains, “he was a guitar player in the 20s and 30s. He came by with his guitar, and left it at the house for me. So, when I was about 4-1/2, I got a beautiful Gibson.” And, of course, there was his mother, who sang him to sleep every night when he was a baby, before Miller accepted the duty for himself. It wasn’t long until “I started singing three part harmonies with my cousins, and my mom, and my aunt. And then I met Les Paul and Mary Ford.”
And then I met Les Paul and Mary Ford.
How often can someone, no matter how superstardom has shaped their perception of the world, bandy that sentence about, as if saying “and then I met my first grade teacher?” Very few. In fact, Miller may even be a class of one but, after all these years, he still says those words with awe, for the moment, for the opportunity, for the sheer magic of the event. “They were in town putting an act together, and my father had a tape recorder and went over and asked if he could record them, and they said ‘yeah’.” So the introduction was made and it was Paul who helped Miller pick out his first chords on that Gibson.
Miller continues, “And so I started playing, and Les Paul made records.” Adding, with a memory that puts the whole experience into the utterly sublime perception of a child from the 1950s, replete, probably, with tousled hair and Dr. Denton footie pajamas, “and he was on television, and I knew who he was.”
But Miller was exposed to much more than Paul on TV. There were things to come that would resonate in his young mind to such an extent that it ultimately shaped the kind of musician he became. Again, he recounts with amazement being able to witness first hand the dawning of the age of modern music. Because, it was Les Paul, of course, who discovered the magic of musical multi-tasking.
“He invented the way to do it, and the machinery and the electronics to make it work. He took something like eight tape recorders and stacked them on top of each other and made them all start and stop electronically together. And he started playing with the speed of tape and what it does to sound. He would record at a higher speed, and he would play a song very fast, then he would slow the tape down and his guitar would drop and octave and sound like a bass. And then he would play slow things and then speed that up, and he would do solos. It enabled him to play two or three or five parts, and then Mary Ford would sing three parts of harmony with herself, which was always a great sound.
“So I learned a lot when I was about five. I just saw it and thought that was normal.” But there were other lessons as well, lessons about the record business, and getting ahead, and working hard for yourself – things that Miller remembered as he was being courted by record companies in late 1960’s San Francisco.
And as serious as the business of making music was, there were moments of levity. “[Les & Mary] would send us a package of postcards from, like, Detroit, and say ‘send these in [to the radio station] and request our song’. And they’d all be addressed and have stamps on them, and they were from different people.” It got the job done.
So now we have two vital truths. Steve Miller was born with a musical inclination, and that gift was heartily nurtured by family and friends, allowing Miller to become a musician and ultimately, a performer. But, there’s a mighty difference between the two – a leap that few can, or want to make.
Miller explains, “I think the thing that really made me want to always be a performer was just seeing Les Paul live.” Even today he takes that essence to heart. “His show hasn’t changed. There’s a spirit in the room when he plays that’s so friendly and so funny. Attached to a guitar player who’s just unbelievably good. Attached to the inventor of the multi-track tape recorder…that’s like saying the inventor of the jet engine.”
So Miller kept on playing, as the family relocated to Texas, as rock’n’roll rose up and shook the big bands out of their suits and slicked hair, and drummed the dance bands right out the door. By the time he reached his teens he’d formed a band, The Marksmen, with “a rich kid who’d had really great drum lessons, had a really great set of drums and was really good.” Miller added his friend William “Boz” Scaggs, on guitar, and taught his own older brother to play bass so there’d be someone to drive them to gigs. But, unlike so many other “I had a band in high school, blah blah blah” men, these boys had a raw, burning ambition that matched and ignited the righteous flame of the rock and roll they plied.
Miller remembers, “we started sending letters out to fraternities and sororities and churches and schools for dances. We started off playing the intermission between the dance orchestra. We would show up, walk through the crowd with our drums and our amps and our guitars, walk up on the stage and create absolute pandemonium for 15 minutes…. You know, it was like 1955, ’56, and all these dances had orchestras playing which were really square. Everyone wanted rock and roll and there were no rock and roll bands. I think we were only the second one in Dallas.”
Miller and Scaggs were college-bound so, after graduating high school, Miller packed up and headed back to his birth state to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison. There, the two continued to play, gigging around town with an R&B cover band, The Ardells. It was about this time that Miller met Ben Sidran and played with him as The Ardells metamorphosed into Fabulous Night Train.
Sidran, of course, became a Jazz man, but also continually popped up in Miller’s own career over the years, adding a bit here, playing a bit there, across the albums Your Saving Grace, Number 5, Recall The Beginning…A Journey From Eden and, decades later, on Miller’s first two solo LPs, Born 2B Blue and Wide River. But, as both Miller and Sidran’s own paths met and diverged, there was a time when everything dropped away. Miller says, in fact, that he “hasn’t done anything with Ben for quite a while. The last stuff I did was in 93. (Wide River) Ben is living in Madison, and I saw him a few times recently when I toured and he’s doing well. He’s working on a lot of Jazz records.”
Back in their youth, meanwhile, the pair took the Fabulous Night Train all the way through college. Miller left Wisconsin to study Literature at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark for a semester’s work and came away at the end with the realization that “I really didn’t want to teach creative writing and comparative literature – it’s all bullshit.”
It’s a common enough reaction from many in that field. But, as we’ve already proved, Miller remains an uncommon guy. With stuffy-suited academia now behind him, he was very clear in his assertion that “I was going to Chicago to play blues.”
“So I headed to Chicago and it was amazing, because Muddy Waters was there, and Howling Wolf was there, and Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. It was just a whole list of great blues performers that I had grown up with in Texas. It was like graduate school for music. It was adults playing adult music.”
Miller formed a blues band with a friend, Barry Goldberg. Known as the World War Three Band, before becoming the Goldberg Miller Blues Band it wasn’t long before they caught the eye of Epic Records and eventually recorded and released one single, “The Mother Song” in 1965.
Being in Chicago at the height of the 1960s blues explosion was honeysuckled manna for Miller. Already well versed in the tradition, he now found himself in the position to cut loose and just go, playing with all these great people “from 9 o’clock at night to four in the morning, six days a week. And then we’d go find a gig somewhere else on the 7th day.”
It wasn’t long before the Goldberg Miller Blues Band had created sufficient buzz that they were invited to perform on Hullabaloo, appearing alongside the Four Tops, and the Supremes. It was an experience that still brings a chuckle. While killing time between rehearsing and taping, Miller and Goldberg jammed with the Four Tops on the Hullabaloo stage. Fully awestruck at the time, he still amps up to recount the experience today. “It was phenomenal! It was very, very interesting because it was big time national TV…. and big time national TV. was really big time and really national. There were three channels and that was it, and this was the music show and to be on it was great. “
He laughs as he continues, “And then the experience was really bizarre, because the host was Robert Vaughn (star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and he couldn’t sing, and he couldn’t dance, and all he did was wore a tuxedo and looked that way, and talked that way. They rehearsed (the show) from Tuesday to…I don’t know… I think we rehearsed for three days. Then did the show. And they just about had to hold him up and walk him through his part.
“The Supremes were two and a half days late, and showed up at the last minute and made an entrance that was unbelievable. About 50 people came through the door and the Supremes were dressed like they were in a movie called Diva La Roma, and walked out with photographers all around them and just stopped everything. And everybody was just knocked out. They went upstairs to the costume department and came back like an hour and a half later dressed like ‘the Supremes on television‘. And it was amazing.”
So one is left to wonder why Miller, with a career as a Chicago bluesman in his pocket, a single out on a major label and an appearance on national television under his belt, left to sample the more westerly pastures of California? Up on the stage, jamming, there was no doubt that Miller had found his groove, his niche. But, in Chicago, at that time, there was a price to pay for that joy, one that would ultimately push Miller out of the Midwest and onto the free loving West coast, where he found kindred spirits of a different kind.
He explains that “ the real thing was, in Chicago we were working in the Chicago night club scene. That’s what the performance venues were. And there were nightclubs that were being hosed by the police department for payoffs and by the Mafia for payoffs. We wanted to go to San Francisco after we heard that there were concerts being held at dance halls where like 1,500 hundred people, 3,000 people would show up. That was much more interesting than playing for a bunch of drunks in nightclubs. I did it for three years and headed out.”
So Miller beat a retreat, first to Texas, where he entertained the idea of attending music school. That experience never really panned out, but Miller did unleash a veritable font of creativity, writing many of the songs that ultimately evolved into 1967’s Children Of The Future. However, he wasn’t working as a musician per se. “When I went to Texas, I got a job as a janitor in a recording studio, and they would let me use the multi-track machine as part of my pay. I did most of my writing when I wasn’t working. ”
He remained until he’d saved enough money to move on – then split for the coast. Welcome to San Francisco – 1966. Welcome to the decade of love.
San Francisco during the mid-60s was a creative vortex, a veritable supernova sucking in the great unwashed, the bluesmen who were greater still, and a coterie of psychedelic rock and rollers whose Haight Ashbury heyday remains unequaled in the nearly-40 years since then. Landing in the city, Miller went where any self-respecting young thing would have gone – straight to the Fillmore. But, Miller, being Miller, he’d barely set down his bags before he was completely ensconced in the scene and on the stage.
“The Jefferson Airplane and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who were friends of mine, were playing at the Fillmore that night, so I went to see them. Paul invited me up on to stage to jam, and I announced I was moving to San Francisco and got a big cheer. I called up my pals back in Chicago and said ‘get out here right now, we’re putting a band together,’ and that’s exactly what we did.”
Forming his own Steve Miller band with James “Curley” Cooke, Lonnie Turner and Tim Davis, Miller happily and easily assimilated himself into the fray, gigging first at the Matrix club in late 1966, before joining the ranks at the Avalon Ballroom in March 1967. The Avalon, run by hippy Texan Ted Helms, was the place to be, according to Miller. But, as charmed as his leap from one great scene to another might seem, he emphasizes that there was no easy ride.
“We worked hard, we had to grind for quite a while, we played clubs and we started playing the Family Dogg… the Avalon Ballroom. After we played the Avalon Ballroom for a while, then we started playing the Fillmore Auditorium with Bill Graham.”
Bill Graham’s Fillmore was Mecca, a veritable collusion of sound and style wherein Graham offered the cream of the crop to hordes of hungry fans. Miller explains, “there were a lot of different types of acts coming to town and, the Fillmore ran seven days a week. It was just on all the time. And so there’d be Chicago Blues bands, there’d be modern jazz quartets, there’d be Ray Charles, Johnny Cash. You know…Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, and Eric Clapton and Cream. There’d be Eric Burdon and the Animals and it would just go on and on and on and on.”
It was an explosion that has hitherto to be recreated, by any genre, at any time, period. Even the glory days of Punk could only come close. And with so much talent in such small quarters, it wasn’t long before the major labels descended through the California dreaming, for a good, old-fashioned feeding frenzy. Miller was quickly forked into the middle. “The Grateful Dead had had a breakthrough and the Beau Brummels had a big hit record. The record companies began to see what was going on… go to San Francisco and sign anybody – which is every serious artist’s fantasy, because that’s when you can get things done. Every record company in the world came. There were film crews from England, from Germany, from France, from Hong Kong …from Mexico City. There were just people coming from all over the world.” And Miller, savvy to an almost preternatural degree, dove in and came out not only with what he wanted, but also with a nearly unprecedented advance.
He explains “we had 14 record companies after us. I had had a little experience with a record company in Chicago with Barry, and realized how jive it was. I had a friend who was a prosecuting attorney in San Francisco…a tough, young, smart guy. And when it came time to negotiate, I hired him instead of saying I had a manger, or letting somebody else do it. It turned out to be a brilliant move, because he owed nothing to the record company. I had record companies offering me all kinds of stuff and he didn’t owe them anything.
“And what I wanted, was the right to be in the recording studio a lot, which was very expensive. I wanted advance monies to be able to pay the people who were involved, who were actually doing the work. I wanted to own my publishing, and I wanted 100% artistic control over my image, my music and everything I did, and I wasn’t going to sign with anybody unless that’s what I got.”
Capitol Records agreed to everything, although Miller’s initial attempt to record was nevertheless fraught with red tape and bureaucratic bullshit as the band found themselves at the mercy of studio engineers who would only book them from midnight on. Miller was determined to go in and get the job done but, although they made it through that first session, it all fell to pieces as he continues “we were all just cross-eyed and tired, and the next night when we came back, they said we had to move our equipment from that studio to another studio. So we did that, and we got ready to record a tune and the engineering staff had walked out.”
Other artists might have just grit their teeth and got on with it. Miller, however, knew when he was being dumped on. He went straight to his executive producer, an ex- marine turned music biz guy, and read him the riot act. “I said, ‘look, if you guys don’t want us there, and are having this kind of trouble with the recording engineers working with us, I’ll be glad to give you the contract back right now and just stop wasting each others’ time. Because I came down here, I’ve got my band here, I’m in a hotel here, I’m waiting to go to work here and I’m being jerked around here – so what’s the deal?’”
It was a ballsy move – but it worked. Capitol dispatched Miller and band to London, to a place where the music was steeped in dirty American blues by way of British pathos, and music production was still in the hands of experts, not assholes. There was some initial question as to who would record the band – Miller’s first choice, George Martin proved “too expensive” – but they eventually partnered with Glyn Johns, engineer for the Stones, Chris Farlowe and the Small Faces, and booked into Olympic studios to cut Children Of The Future.
Now cocooned within an environment that was conducive to creation, Miller was right on track. But there was more going on. In London, with Johns at the helm, Miller says “I learned a lot about how to run sessions, working in multi track tape, getting things done, producing records from Glyn. He’s a very cool guy.” The feeling was obviously reciprocated – not only would the partnership endure until 1970’s Number 5, when Miller set up shop in Nashville and began to self-produce, but Johns subsequently described Children Of The Future as his own first major production job.
Steeped in psychedelic blues, Children Of The Future arrived in stores in spring, 1968, and the Steve Miller Band arrived in the limelight right behind it, with their second LP, November’s Sailor tucked up their sleeves. And although, in many ways, Sailor simply followed on from its predecessor, it was also a rich precursor to the electronic wizardry that Miller loved, and would utilize fully on 1976’s Fly Like An Eagle. Powered by odd sounds and layers, it was highlighted to melancholy magnificence on “Song For Our Ancestors” – which incidentally sounds dramatically like Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” cut some three years later. “I used to make multi track sound collages. I’d go out record just the sound on the street and then I’d go record airplanes flying…just dumb stuff like this.”
But if the dumb stuff made a ripple in 1968, by the time he’d tinkered and twiddled it into Fly Like An Eagle, it had become a tidal wave. As each of his albums was recorded, there was a definite linear progression, a push into the future that saw Miller divide his time between the studio and the road, seemingly without a break. Four albums over the next three years were matched by tours that grew larger, and more successful every time, until 1972’s Recall The Beginning… A Journey From Eden was followed by a massive 50-city tour playing to packed venues. Then 1973 brought The Joker, and even that looked like small potatoes.
Released as a single, the title track topped the chart, and dragged the LP into the Top 5, a place where the Steve Miller Band had never been before. And, according to Miller, he liked it, thank you very much! “Pre Joker was when we really had to grind. We really had to do a lot of work, and it had to be done with a lean crew. We were working 480 cities in two years. When we got into the studio, and did The Joker, we were still playing 3,000 seat venues. It was like I knew every vaudeville hall in the United States, and was playing each one of them three times a year.
“When The Joker happened, we had just finished a 60-city tour and were just starting another one – that’s the way we booked them. While The Joker was the #1 record in the country we were playing 3,000 seat halls that were unbelievably sold out, and we weren’t moving into bigger stuff.” And, by the time Miller’s label and promoters realized precisely what was happening, it was too late. Miller, burned out from eleven years of non-stop touring and recording called it quits – temporarily – and faded back into the world for a well-deserved break.
“I stopped touring right after The Joker, which broke my booking agent’s heart, “ Miller laughs. But the contract negotiations the band were in the middle of were not quite so funny. Capitol, Miller remembers “ were playing hard ball. I was so fried that I couldn’t do anything anyway, so I rested up for a bit and started writing songs and took time off and it was actually about 18 months.”
He eventually re-signed with Capitol in the US, but jumped ship to Mercury in the UK, where even “The Joker” had failed to take off. The move paid off immediately, with #11 chart placings for Miller’s next album, Fly Like An Eagle, and single, “Rock’n’Me.” Both topped the charts in the US, of course.
Miller had continued writing throughout his 1974/75 lay-off, completing sufficient material for two full albums. Fly Like An Eagle was the first, to be followed by 1977’s Book Of Dreams. “I knew I wanted to write about two albums worth of material. It takes so long and so much work to get into the space to write that kind of stuff, that once you’re there you really want to be as productive as you can. And I’d sort of learned that from the Beatles, when I met the Beatles and recorded with them. I was astounded by how much great material they had in the can that hadn’t been released. They were the first artists I had ever met that were ahead of [things] instead of behind, and I thought, you know, ahead is a lot better than behind. It’s usually… for example, you’re Nirvana, you just sold 11 million records, where’s your next album? The public, which is huge, and wants it, has to wait for three years and, by then, half of them have forgotten about you.”
“So that’s what I did, and what I was able to do was, write two really good albums. I had 24, maybe 30 songs, and I’d take all of the best ones and put them on one side and then I’d go – ‘ah, you know this doesn’t sound good, they don’t even sound good one after another.’ There had to be different kinds of space between these songs, and then I’d spread them out into two albums. I’d change the lyrics from “Take The Money and Run” and “Rock’n’Me,” flip lyrics…stuff like that. You know there were some funny things when I was putting it all together and working out all the vocal harmonies and arrangements and guitar parts and all that stuff. It was really a lot of fun, actually.” However it came together, there’s no disputing the result – heady rock and roll which brought a new dimension of organic electronic glitter to his vision, and drew hordes of screaming fans into the fray.
Miller returned to the road in mid-1976, as Fly Like An Eagle commenced its ascent, his first American tour in three years – the recently released King Biscuit Flour Hour 2CD set recaptures one of the earliest shows on the outing (see sidebar). “We started out in theatres and we moved into arenas and then we went from arenas to football stadiums.” There, the Steve Miller Band brought arena shows to a level that is now standard, with PA equipment and effects, and roadies and trucks for hauling everything around. It was a real rush for Miller, “because of the production, the size of the canvas. At the time we were really just developing those kinds of systems.” But there were plenty of rock and roll moments as well. Moments that tied into the synthesized technologies that made Fly Like An Eagle tick.
The shows, Miller says “were amazing. We had this great big huge green laser that we carried with us, with the guys who ran it. And I mean, you know it was like a real, serious three-inch diameter piece of light, and it would hit two mirrors and split into four and eight, and sixteen and thirty-two beams, and pretty soon we would have a sculpture all over the arena. And we used to put them on mirror balls which would fill the room with little white specks of light as they were floating in space. They made us stop doing that. They changed the regulations. But we were able to hook this stuff up and we’d go to football stadiums and you know, put mirrors on top of their highest light poles, all along the edge of their upper deck and all over the place, and then we’d do light sculpture over the stadium. And if an airplane was flying by, we’d put the damn beam on the airplane – I can’t believe we did that. “
But, though the Steve Miller Band were about as big as you could get during the mid 1970s, Fly Like An Eagle rendered Miller Icarus, too close to the sun to fly, too tired to continue and too bored to care.
“[We] did I don’t know how many football stadiums… the football stadium was a good venue but, if you’re playing one that holds 80,000 people and there’s only 40,000 people, you’re disappointed. I remember walking off the stage, going ‘I don’t care if I ever do this again.’ I was so tired, and so bored and I’d been living in hotels for so long. That was enough. Basically what I did, I thought, was take advantage of every one of these gigs knowing that this may be the last time I’m ever asked to play this football stadium for the rest of my life. I’ll do as many of them as I can. That’s the last one I can’t do anymore, goodbye!”
Once again, Miller quit at the peak of his popularity and powers and, for the next four years, he was to be found running a small farm in Medford, Oregon. It was something that, at the time, may have seemed cracked, but it was a sublime necessity for the rock and roll giant. Yet, even when immersed in the rural Pacific Northwest hinterlands, Miller found himself still riding the superstar highway. “I became much more notorious out there than I would be living in a city surrounded by people. I hadn’t really thought of that. One of the first farmers I met said, ‘you’re that singer in the valley’ and I thought, ‘ho, ho ho – that’s me.’ Kids for a hundred square miles knew exactly where my farm was and would drive through it at night.
“But I’m so glad I did it. It was really an amazing thing, to have been a farmer, to have plowed fields, planted crops. And then I was raising beef, so I learned how beef was raised and a lot about factory farming and what all that is. I bred some goofy little horses, and really had some fun. It was quite a great experience, but it was also something that you had to work at from 5:30 AM to 9:30 PM, 365 days a year and you’d get paid $3,000 for it at the end of the year. Unreal.”
But, of course he couldn’t stay away for too long. In 1981, a new album, Circle Of Love, re-introduced the Steve Miller Band to the fray and, the following year, the band released the synthi-popped Abracadabra, and flew in the face of all the New Wavers that his band pre-supposed with almost everything they had done nearly a decade earlier. However, the phoenix was nearly done with that part of his life. One more album followed, 1986’s Living In The 20th Century, before Miller finally laid his band to permanent rest.
He resurfaced, of course, as a solo artist in 1988 with the wonderful jazz sides of Born 2B Blue, an album that reunited him with Ben Sidran for the first time in many years. But, despite his quickstepping sidestepping into new waters, Miller quickly found he was still in the joker’s clutches. Putting together a band that was, he says, “basically Ben’s band, we started working together, we went out to tour, and we got to the first show and it was sold out. I think it was in Vermont. It was in a big college basketball arena with all 15 and 16 year old kids, mainly girls, all singing at the top of their lungs every word to every one of the greatest hits…who had no interest in Born 2B Blue whatsoever.”
But, with his usual humor and good grace, Miller took it in stride, and crafted his set around the demands of his fans – in part, at least. Because, no matter where his heart lies at any given moment, or whatever magic flows through his fingers, he is proud of all he has done, and works with the understanding that you have to give the people what they want.
“It was the strangest thing in the world, and it would happen at every show. In Seattle, kids spent the night out on the street in line to buy tickets. That never happened, never. It was clear by that time that we had a huge really young following that wanted to hear the greatest hits. It was their favorite record, their favorite party record, and we rapidly went from Born 2B Blue to the outdoor shed tour the next summer, and what we ended up doing was a greatest hits show that had nine blues songs in it. We changed the blues tunes every year, but we had to play these 14 songs. If I go out and play right now, I know I’m going to have to make some reference to the five or six songs….”
And Miller is going out to play. In fact, although he’s been more out of the spotlight than in over the last decade, hopping out to play a blues set from time to time, to tour a few weeks here, a few weeks there, performing has never been far from his mind. Right now, he’s prepping for the San Francisco Blues Festival this fall, at the same time as playing with a big band . “I’m working with an orchestra and doing a bunch of guitar tunes and working out some T-Bone Walker stuff, some Louis Jordan tunes, some Ray Charles tunes. We get together every now and then and do it and that’s what I really enjoy. But I can’t see coming out on the stage in Vegas to a big band arrangement of ‘The Joker.’ The world has changed so much….”
Or has it? The summer of love has been gone 35 years and will never return. But Steve Miller still wears the smoking, joking, toking mantle of a character he created almost as long ago. And he still plays the blues whenever he can, just like the teenager in early 1960s Chicago, just like the toddler under Les Paul’s wing. And if you’re smart, you’ll go out and find him in any one of the myriad guises that he wears, at a festival, out with a big band, touring the Joker or, maybe, on stage with Paul himself, on a smoky Monday night, picking out the Delta Blues like nobody’s business. (AH Goldmine, 2002)