This month Martin Cooper checks out the rock style of the great Steve Miller and - Abracadabra! - realises that he wasn’t a Joker after all!
Martin Cooper says “Abracadabra” and conjures up the guitar style of Steve Miller.
Steve Miller Started learning to play guitar at the tender age of four, and later became a fan of jazz and learnt the art of being a recording engineer. He went on to find success in a career that has lasted four decades and counting. Miller also taught his brother how to play the guitar, and gave Boz Scaggs lessons with a few chords so he could join the band in its early years.
After studying literature in america and europe, while playing music as a sideline interest, Miller moved to San Francisco in the early 60s and became devoted to a life writing and playing music, after seeing the Butterfield Blues Band and Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore auditorium.
In the late 60s he released a string of albums, which included musicians such as Scaggs and also on one occasion Paul McCartney (he and Macca have remained friends ever since and Steve has returned the favour on several occasions). But while these records featured modestly on the US Billboard chart, there was no sign of a hit single with which to propel Miller’s career forwards. However in 1973 with the Joker, the Steve Miller Band (which also featured Gerald Johnson on bass guitar, Dick Thompson on keyboards and drummer John King) scored a US and UK number 1 single and a hit album of the same name. More success continued through the early to mid 70s, with a string of hit singles and albums. The band also played a stadium tour in the US with The Eagles.
Miller tasted his last real commercial success in 1982, with Abracadabra. He most recently released an album of new material in 2011, and is also an avid collector of guitars, previously stating that he owns 450 instruments! Miller was also a resident lecturer at USC Thornton School Of Music in America, where he taught on its Popular Music and Music Industry courses.
His playing style is often characterised by large string bends is his solos, chord-driven riffs and melodic rhythm playing that often incorporates single-note lines, either along with the bass guitar or in a similar way to that of a bass. The track this month features many of these stylistic traits. We are in the key of E major (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#) although there is a recurring non-diatonic D major chord in the backing and the use of both E major Pentatonic (E-F#-G#-B-C#) and E minor Pentatonic (E-G-A-B-D) in the solo. Check out the playing tips for further information on Miller’s string bending technique.
Steve Miller with three-pickup Les Paul Custom