Steve Miller - guitar, vocals; Boz Scaggs - guitar vocals; Lonnie Turner - bass; Jim Peterman - keyboards; Tim Davis - drums; guest:; Paul Butterfield - harmonica, vocals
Both of Steve Miller's parents were music buffs and family friend, Les Paul, was among the first to teach and encourage Miller on guitar. When the family moved to Texas, Miller was directly exposed to black music and blues musicians and his initial high-school bands (one of which included his friend Boz Scaggs) focused on Jimmy Reed-style rhythm and blues. Like countless others before him, Miller was soon drawn to Chicago, where he honed his guitar skills in the demanding Chicago blues scene, eventually forming a band which included the likes of Barry Goldberg, Charlie Musselwhite and Harvey Mandel.
Following his tenure as co-founder of the short-lived Goldberg-Miller Blues Band in 1965, Miller would be one of the first young Chicago-based musicians to relocate to San Francisco, arriving just as the psychedelic scene was flourishing and local dance halls like the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom were taking off in 1966. With guitarist James Cooke, bassist Lonnie Turner, and drummer Tim Davis, Miller quickly formed The Steve Miller Blues Band, which soon became a popular fixture of the San Francisco music scene, both on their own and as guns for hire, backing up the likes of Chuck Berry when he was performing in town.
Miller scorned the loose, amateur musicianship of many of the San Francisco bands starting out at the time and set about presenting one the tightest, most professional bands in town, which was recognized almost immediately. The band was recruited (along with Mother Earth and Quicksilver) to record songs for one of the first hippie exploitation movies, Revolution, and these initial recordings were issued on the soundtrack album that same year. By 1967, they shortened their name to The Steve Miller Band and signed with Capital Records, which thanks to Miller's experience, granted them bigger advances and royalties than any other San Francisco band and gave the group creative and recording freedom. Shortly after their appearance at the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, Miller recruited his old Texas buddy Boz Scaggs to replace Cooke and an extremely talented B-3 organist, Jim Peterman, into the band. The group's music remained rooted in the blues, but they were now developing ambitious original material that reflected the diverse influences of the members, as well as a heavy dose of psychedelia.
While in England the following year, the group recorded their debut album, Children Of The Future. Much like The Beatles' Sgt Pepper (which was an obvious influence), this was a rock record that defied easy categorization and flowed one track to the next, making it a work unto itself in addition to being a collection of songs. The follow-up, Sailor, retained the fluidity and trippy elements of the debut, but compressed them into shorter more concise songs, taking another step toward the catchier pop music that would eventually bring Miller great success in the following decade. Both albums were quite intriguing, but like most San Francisco bands, The Steve Miller Band's live performances took things to another level. By 1968 they had become a powerful unit onstage and were arguably tighter than any of their local contemporaries. And like many of the San Francisco groups, their songs became vehicles for improvisation and jamming. However, the Steve Miller Band consciously avoided any loose exploration, preferring the tighter approach of Cream, where the jamming sustained a high (and at times pummeling) intensity level nearly all of the time.
A prime example of this is presented here, when The Steve Miller Band headlined a four night run at Fillmore West that featured Pogo (Poco, prior to being forced to change their name) and Sly & The Family Stone as openers. In addition to capturing the Miller, Scaggs, Turner, Peterman, Davis lineup at their peak, Chicago bluesman Paul Butterfield also makes a guest appearance on several numbers, adding his distinctive blues harp to the proceedings.
The recording kicks off with an extended rave-up on "Mercury Blues," one of the group's early signature songs and the first of two to appear in this set from the Revolution soundtrack. Following this, Miller invites Paul Butterfield to join in and the musicians sink their teeth into "Blues With A Feeling." While the guitar work cooks on this Chicago-style blues, it's the tight cohesiveness of this band that is most impressive and Butterfield and the Miller Band burn for eight solid minutes. The next number seems to be a purely spontaneous blues supporting Butterfield and although looser than usual, it's another strong performance from beginning to end.
Following this jam session with Butterfield, the group next tackles the extended psychedelic instrumental, "Song For Our Ancestors." This slowly builds on a solid base of Peterman's sweeping B-3 and the propulsive rhythm section of Turner and Davis, and becomes a showcase for Miller's considerable guitar chops. When the band is at their most blazing, Butterfield joins back in for one last blowout that takes the music soaring even higher. This is followed by a rather brief jam, loosely based on "Roll With It" a song from the debut album, which essentially continues where the most blazing sections of the last number left off, sustaining the same relentless intensity for several more minutes.
Another track from the Revolution soundtrack follows, with "Your Old Lady." This begins as a frantic shuffle but quickly morphs into a driving rocker that allows Miller and pals to jam for another ten solid minutes. It's a testament to their chops that this never wanes, but instead becomes more engaging with every passing minute. The final two numbers each explore different aspects of the blues, with "Lovin' Wheel" a forceful blues-rocker and "Bad Little Woman" a more relaxed Chicago style slow blues.
Many of the San Francisco based bands were playing the blues with a psychedelic twist, but few had the level of musicianship or originality so obviously on display here. Almost entirely lacking the pop elements that would characterize much of Miller's later work, this is blazing psychedelic blues at it's best and a prime example of the original Steve Miller Band lineup at their most potent.
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