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!

Guitar Techniques - - TALK BACK -

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

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