AGUA CALIENTE: Guitar hero Steve Miller is still rocking


Steve Miller is one of the lucky ones – a music artist who has sold millions of albums, has a catalog full of hit singles, and 50 years after he got his start playing blues in bars around Chicago, still has a thriving career.

It’s something that he never could have fathomed as he grew up and began playing guitar.

“When I was a kid, I never thought I would ever be able to make records and never really thought seriously about a musical career because a musical career was being Fabian or Frankie Avalon or something,” Miller said in a teleconference interview. “It didn’t make any sense. There wasn’t any possibility to get into that world.”

If Miller, who plays The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa on Friday, July 31, was coming up now, he said he would have a very similar outlook on his prospects in music.

“You have to really connect with people. There aren’t very many clubs. There’s no place for people to develop and play. It’s a bad time right now for young artists,” he said.

Reaching million-selling success didn’t come easily – or immediately–for Miller, either.

He started his career in the mid-1960s playing the tough Chicago blues club scene before hearing about San Francisco and its vibrant music and concert scene.

Miller got to San Francisco in 1965, got signed by Capitol Records and spent the first five-plus years of his career on pretty much of a non-stop cycle of recording and touring. He was selling roughly 200,000 albums a year – not bad – but he wasn’t getting played on radio or making enough money to enjoy anything resembling a good living.

By the time he finished recording his 1973 album “The Joker,” Miller’s expectations were modest at best.

“I thought my career was over. It was my seventh album for Capitol Records and they had pretty much moved on from my world,” Miller said. “I remember leaving to go on a 60-city tour and somebody at the record company said, ‘Well, I think “The Joker” might be a single’ and I said, ‘You know what? Don’t worry about singles. It just would be nice if you actually have records in the cities where I’m actually going to be working. That would be a good idea, and here’s a list of the cities I’m going to be in in the next 75 days.’”

But “The Joker” took off and his next two albums, “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Book of Dreams,” were blockbusters that went multi-platinum and produced a string of hits. The 1982 album “Abracadabra” gave Miller one more million-selling album and enough enduring hits to keep him on classic rock radio and allow him to continue to play large venues through the next three decades.

Miller has released only three albums since 1993, but he said he continues to work on new music. In fact, he recently recorded a live version of “The Joker” album for its 40th anniversary. But Miller is discouraged by how illegal downloading has made it difficult to sell albums, and he isn’t giving “The Joker” the high-profile release some might think the project deserves.

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