Music

Steve Miller Scores with "Bingo!"

The rock legend's first studio album in 17 years

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"Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' / into the future. / Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' / into the future. / Fly like an eagle / to the sea. / Fly like an eagle / let my spirit carry me. / I want to fly like an eagle, 'til I'm free. / Oh, Lord, through the revolution."

Yeah, now it's in your head, too. If you know The Steve Miller Band, even seeing his name brings any number of his hit songs to mind (where they're likely to stay for a while): "Fly Like An Eagle," "Space Cowboy," "The Joker," "Jet Airliner" and "Jungle Love." They are classic tunes, part of the fabric of American music. Like well-worn threads, songs that have been around as long as Miller's eventually begin to lose their vibrancy and become part of the background, something you hear on classic rock stations in regular rotation.

But with Bingo! (June 2010, Roadrunner Records), Miller's first studio album in 17 years, he's back in Technicolor, touring with a kaleidoscopic new stage set that, barring weather problems, Boise audiences will see when he stops at the Eagle River Amphitheater on Thursday, Aug. 12. With the new album comes a new level of musical craftsmanship that is reminding people how Miller became a part of our melodic history in the first place.

Miller has always been known for melding rock and blues--and his incredible guitar work--but Bingo! is a full-on blues jam. Miller busts out 10 covers by some of his most beloved guitar legends: Lowell Fulson, Jimmie Vaughan, B.B. King and more. But for his live shows, just performing wasn't going to be big enough for this record. Miller also enlisted the help of Broadway show producer Rob Roth to build a stage set that would reflect his journey, the process of creating Bingo! and Miller's love of the guitar.

From photos of many of Miller's 450 guitars (local luthier John Bolin has built a number of them for Miller), Roth created colorful replicas on a heavy canvas. With a giant guitar neck in the center, the guitars are on a frame of black fishnet that soars toward the sky, and the guitars, getting smaller and smaller, spiral into a tightening swirl until they look like they're floating off into a purple super nova.

On the phone from his home where he was enjoying a five-day break from touring, Miller explained what makes the set so epic.

"The only thing that screws it up is if it's windy or rainy, but it's just an amazing set. It was designed by Rob Roth, a good friend of mine," Miller said.

"The whole stage fits in one truck, along with all of our gear. But when you look at it, it looks like a 10-truck deal. It's so interesting, and the depth and the design of it are so brilliant ... you have to see it in person."

Local concert promoter and Eagle River Amphitheater developer Creston Thornton said that having Miller as part of the outdoor arena's inaugural lineup was an easy decision, and though they had to bring in a larger stage to accommodate his set-up, they had planned to do that anyway.

"Steve hasn't played here in a long time ... I think the last time he was here was in 1995 ... We're excited to have him on our first-year series."

Thornton added that they expect to see about the same number of people that attended Crosby, Stills and Nash, about 3,500.

The monumental, yet simple set mirrors Miller's approach to Bingo! Calling it a "work of love," Miller reflected on growing up in Texas in the '50s and hearing the music of the guitar greats over the airwaves.

"This is before radio became homogenized all over the United States. It was different in the South. We had really great radio then," Miller said. "So while I was driving my mom's car around smoking Lucky Strikes and trying to impress girls ... I was listening to these huge hits."

For Bingo!, Miller picked songs he thought his audience--people who grew up on the same music he did--would love hearing as much as he would love recording. They needed to fit seamlessly into his set and be as danceable as his classics. They had to be Steve Miller tunes. So Miller brought producer/recording engineer Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Van Halen) on board and they recorded at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch soundstage to get the full, rich sound they wanted.

When asked if he paid homage to the original songs, Miller quickly answered with a chuckle.

"No. Absolutely not. I wanted to do these songs my way," and then broke into a short rendition of the Sinatra classic.

"But seriously, the worst thing I think you can do is try to do a Jimmy Reed tune and sound just like Jimmy Reed. I wanted to take these great songs and make them mine ... and Andy is the guy to go to if you want to get the biggest baddest drum sound and the greatest guitar sound. He's that guy."

The result of those big, bad sounds is an album that Miller loved laboring over and one that fans may fall in love with, too.

Read more from BW's interview with Miller here.

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