Steve Miller Band
When he started out in the record business in 1968, Miller recorded in London’s Olympic Studios, where The Beatles were also working. Since they shared the same engineer, Glyn Johns, Miller spent a couple of nights observing. The third night, when John Lennon and Ringo Starr failed to show, Miller wound up jamming with George Harrison and Paul McCartney. After a while, Harrison left and McCartney and Miller turned their attention to one of Miller’s songs. The two finished a track for Miller’s album, “My Dark Hour,” overdubbing all the parts that night.
One of the most important lessons Miller carried away from watching The Beatles behind the curtain was that the band was not working on only one album. The group was thinking two and three albums ahead while the musicians were in the studio, a strategy not lost on Miller when he stockpiled material for the 1976-7 one-two punch of “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Jet Airliner” that made him one of the top rock stars of the day.
When Steve Miller stepped into the vast orchestral sound stage at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in March 2009, he had not made a new album in more than fifteen years. As he did with his two most famous albums, Fly Like an Eagle and Book of Dreams, Miller arrived prepared to lay down basic tracks for two consecutive albums.
Let Your Hair Down now, according to plan, follows the No. one blues album, BINGO!, as the second new Steve Miller Band album of the twenty-first century. He not only saved the bluesiest, rockingest, most guitar-playing-est tracks for the second serving, but he spent the additional year between releases tweaking, polishing and obsessively applying finishing touches that make Let Your Hair Down an even more fully realized record than its acclaimed, successful predecessor.
Miller sorted through some astronomical number of rhythm and blues and blues recordings from his CD library seeking material for the auspicious Skywalker Ranch sessions. With classic rock engineer Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones) at the console, Miller and his band, longtime musical collaborators road-tested over literally thousands of concerts, blasted through nearly three dozen tracks. The opening salvo, BINGO!, released May 2010, was the first new album by The Steve Miller Band in seventeen years.
A number one blues album, nominated for ‘Rock-Blues Album of the Year’ by the Blues Foundation, BINGO! was greeted with wild cheers by both media (“cause for celebration,” said The Huffington Post) and audiences at sold out concerts last year throughout America and, for the first time in more than a quarter-century, Europe, where David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page’s boogied down in their private boxes at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
The Skywalker sessions would be the final recordings by longtime band member Norton Buffalo, Miller’s “partner in harmony” for thirty-three years, who died of cancer in October 2009. In January 2010, Miller hosted a memorial benefit concert for at Oakland’s refurbished Fox Theater, joined by The Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Elvin Bishop, George Thorogood and others. Buffalo, as it turns out, is heavily featured on Let Your Hair Down, his signature harmonica driving tracks such as “Snatch It Back and Hold It,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” and “Just a Little Bit.”
Also featured on Let Your Hair Hang Down is vocalist Sonny Charles, who joined The Steve Miller Band in January 2008, after the death of Marvin “Sweet Louie” Smith, his lifelong partner in the long-standing Las Vegas rhythm and blues group, the Checkmates. Charles, who sang the 1969 hit “Black Pearl” (produced by Phil Spector), joins a long line of distinguished Steve Miller Band vocalists on record other than Miller himself, singing numbers such as “You Pretty Thing” and “The Walk.”
Let Your Hair Down is largely the story of two cities, Chicago and Memphis. It is music Miller has played his entire life. He backed up Jimmy Reed at Dallas nightclubs when he was fifteen years old. T-Bone Walker, hired frequently to play parties in the Miller family home, taught nine year-old Steve the rudiments of lead guitar. When the family lived in Milwaukee, his father’s friend Les Paul showed 5 year-old Steve some of his first chords.
For Let Your Hair Down, Miller plumbed the songbooks of T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jimmy McCracklin, Roscoe Gordon and many others, material he has been playing since he started his first band, the Marksmen, when he was in high school.
He has played Jimmy Reed’s “Close Together” since he was a teenager and learned “The Walk” off the radio. Miller has known the Junior Wells-Buddy Guy classic “Snatch It Back and Hold It” since it was a new record by a local band on the Chicago scene. These songs have been the lifeblood of Miller’s music since he began.
Let Your Hair Down is the work of a master craftsman, after a lifetime’s worth of experience, making the record he always wanted to make.