Steve Miller's Half-Century as 'The Joker,' 'Space Cowboy' and the 'Gangster of Love' 

click to enlarge Steve Miller Band

David Woo

Steve Miller Band

Riding the wave of five decades of chart-topping hits and a grueling tour schedule, Steve Miller is still in the game for the sheer fun of it all.

“I still really enjoy playing, that’s what I like to do. That’s what I am: a musician and a bandleader,” said Miller. “I look forward to doing 70 cities a year. It’s not like I go ‘Oh my god, I have to do that.’ When I get back home and I’m sitting around, I’m like ‘I don’t want to just watch television, I want to get to work.’”

Boise is the most recent of those cities to welcome the Steve Miller Band, which will play at the Idaho Botanical Garden's Outlaw Field on Monday, Aug. 20. In fact, it's a double-dose of classic rock, as the Steve Miller Band will share the stage with another legend, Peter Frampton.

Miller said Idaho holds a special in his heart, as he called the Wood River Valley home for decades.

click to enlarge Steve Miller called Ketchum home for 30 years. - JAY BLAKESBERG
  • Jay Blakesberg
  • Steve Miller called Ketchum home for 30 years.
“I lived in Ketchum for 30 years,” said Miller. “Yeah, I had a place and my studio up there. I lived in this area for a long, long time—it’s beautiful. So, we play Boise a lot. We have a good fan base here and really enjoy coming back. It’s an amazing place, and it’s growing in a really interesting way.”

Like a lot of other legendary musicians, Miller has also had a lengthy bond with master guitar craftsman John Bolin of Boise’s renowned Bolin Guitars.

“Oh man, he’s an amazing guitar maker,” said Miller. “John and I have been building guitars for 30 years now. He’s my main guy. I always love to go into the shop and see what he and Billy [Gibbons] are building or what he’s building for other people. He is one of the best in the world for electric guitars and spending time in his shop helps you learn a lot.”

Miller’s musical crossroads were paved early on in Chicago during the 1960s, when he was exposed to a richly mature music scene of Windy City bluesmen. Encouraged by his heroes, Miller decided to take a road less traveled, with heavy emphasis on the blues.

“I was drawn to Chicago, and when I got there, it was just this magic moment where Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters were both playing local night clubs,” said Miller. “It was an adult music scene where everything was up close and you could play with them. I like to say I got my doctorate in music there.”

Throughout their current tour of 89 cities, Miller and Frampton have been leaning toward those roots, covering classic blues songs by greats like Freddy King and Elmore James. What’s more, they have plans to release impromptu live sessions from their tour on an upcoming live record.

click to enlarge Peter Frampton (left) and Steve Miller (right) are currently on an 89-city tour. - WALT CASEY JR.
  • Walt Casey Jr.
  • Peter Frampton (left) and Steve Miller (right) are currently on an 89-city tour.
“Peter and I have been jamming on every one of these shows, and we’ve been changing around the material that we jam on every night,” said Miller. “We’re going to release an album with Universal [Records]. Peter’s a terrific guitar player, and to get the two of us together is special. It’s almost like we’re bandmates because we’ve been doing this for two summers.”

Over the past half-century, Miller has also been cloaked in several personas, from the “Gangster of Love,” to the psychedelic “Space Cowboy,” to the more esoteric “Maurice.” And to this day, he’s still in touch with all of those alter egos.

“I love them all,” said Miller, with a huge laugh. “That’s always so much fun. People want to hear 'The Joker' [1973] and they still love 'Space Cowboy' [1969]. When they were written, we were just goofing around, and here we are, 50 years into it, and people are still screaming ‘You’ve got to do "The Joker!" You’ve got to do the "Gangster of Love!" Are you going to do "Space Cowboy?" Are you going to do "Living in the USA?"’ It’s not something you’d expect, that music would last this long, or be that popular for so long. It’s amazing to still have all those characters.”

When asked if he has evolved into yet another identity, perhaps for the 21st century, Miller let out another laugh.

“My new identity is… Well, I’m a grown-up now. I’m really enjoying it and I’m having a great time.”

Miller quickly added that it’s still about an audience that only grows bigger with every passing year, and the universal love it holds for a timeless songbook.

“We’ve had a great audience for 50 years,” said Miller. “We’ve had this relationship with a group of people who bought our records, who like what we do, who like the shows, who continually come to see us play. The audience grows and changes and, of course, there’s different generations now. They really listen; they’re into what we’re doing. It’s not just a bunch of kids drinking beer and smoking pot and saying, ‘Right on, dude. Boogie!’ There was a time where that was who we wanted, but it’s a musical experience and our audience is really great right now. The people who come see us play are like friends, people you want to know.”
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