It's All About The Music 



Rocky  Nelson Interviews Pacific Northwest Blues Icon

Rocky Nelson's interview with Mr. Whitman courtesy of the Washington Blues Society

Reintergration they call it. Reset, decompress. After spending 4 Christmas’s in my Afghanistan sandbox with Team America, it was time to come home. Vanna, the WBS quintessential raffle queen, helped me spend my 5th Christmas in Manhattan taking a bite out of the Big Apple. Back in the good old USA. In the rear with the gear. Home of the Big PX.

Old habits die hard and old soldiers just fade away. My first action was to fade away into the PNW Blues scene swing of things. My old habits kicked in. I cruised the mean streets of Skid Road Seattle to the Highway 99 Club, Crocodile, Jazz Alley, Pioneer Square and the Ballard Salmon Bay Eagles. I slummed with "Mr. President" Eric Steiner and a large contingent of Washington fans as a Semi-finalist Judge at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis TN where the WABLUES entrant, "Wired", won first place honors over 150+ others from around the world.

Trying to get a handle on my "aggressive behavior", the occasional night terrors and the freedom of unrestricted movement, I focused on telling a small story of a longtime friend. It seemed the right thing to do.

WBS Calendar girl Maridel Fliss and Mark Whitman invited me to their crib for a welcome home dinner. Over a scrumptious meal of fresh Alaska Halibut we talked history.

The Interview

Rocky Nelson: Good evening Mark. I understand you have been in the recording studio lately. You have a new recording to listen to?

Mark Whitman: yep we just finished it up. The release date is February 18th at Cee Cee’s in Burien.

RN: Tell the readers a little about yourself. How long have you been playing and who are some of the folks you have played with?

MW: I've been a guitar player for about 58 years. I started out being a road man for "Don and the Good Times". Ron Overman left the band and started a band called the "King Biscuit Entertainers" after the King Biscuit Flour Hour of Helena AR. That was 1968. We were based out of Longview Washington. Then we went to work for Pat O'Day.

RN: Pat O'Day, a well know DJ from the Pacific NW! Pray tell, how did you get together with him sir?

MW: Well in that day and age if you didn’t work for Pat O'Day you didn’t work. We made good money. Pat booked through Seattle Mercer and they booked gigs all over the Northwest. Blues Musicians and people used to come from all over to hear us play. Next came "Bitteroot" then "Springfield Rifle". Later I played with the "Sweet Talkin’Jones" band, we played all over Pioneer Square and the NW.

RN: this new CD, "Always be the Blues", how do you feel about it?

MW: I like it a lot. It’s a real musical album. Not just a rehash of blues, it’s things I brought with me all of my life. I do a Springfield Rifle tune arrangement of "Wacka Wacka" and I give credit to them on the CD. I have two original songs, the title cut and 98.9. I arranged the entire CD except for "Wacka Wack". It’s produced by me and Jimmie Free. I do a Lonnie Mack tune called "Oreo Cookie Blues". The "BIG" band played on it which is my band with Dick Powell, Fat James, Keith Wohlford, Jonnie Lewis, Lonnie Williams and Dave Christenson.
Mark at the Hammond B-3

RN: Blues Industrial Giants were infamous how?

MW: We were really big (as in size), 2000 pounds of Blues fun, we partied hard and we sounded really good!

RN: Some of your vocal arrangements were done with Kathi MacDonald another local favorite. How do you like working with her?

MW: I love working with Kathi, she's great! I've known her about 30 years. One of my tunes "High Heel Sneakers" actually took 8 years to develop.

RN: 8 years, did I hear you right?

MW: yeah, I had to take time out to have a stroke.

RN: I understand that you have had some health challenges lately. Care to tell us about it? How have you been?
MW: In 2007, life was goin’ good, I was on top of the world, I had a new guitar, I just got married. We were playing 28 gigs a month. We played the Sunbanks Blues festival, I got back home and had a stroke the next morning. All of a sudden I couldn't walk and I couldn't play.
    With guitar in hand - by Phil Chesnut

RN: Wow, what did you do to overcome that Mark?

MW: Well, bad things happen to good people and I was in a bad way. I thought that my life was done. I thought that if I couldn't play music, and couldn'tplay my guitar, my life was over. One minute I could play and the next minute I couldn't. It wasn't like a disease. I couldn't wrap myself around that. It took the love of Maridel and a lot of other angels in my life to put this old man back together again. Darrel Lombard and Pat Hughs gave me a Hammond Organ. Bob White fixed it so I could play it. When they gave me this organ I practiced like a Mad Man. Justin Kausal-Hayes came every week and played music with me, or I should say, played music for me. For like 2 years. Before I even realized I couldn't play, he kept the music alive in me. We have a friend named Dr. John Blye who has some theories about stroke victims and treated me. He cured me of the depression of my loss. My band stuck with me through all the hard times and I love them for it. I would complain and Maridel would say "it could have been worse, I could have lost you, the universe has given you a second chance, use it wisely". So taking that to heart…I have a second chance. I play both the Hammond B3 and the guitar on this CD. It’s like they always said, "if you practice and practice, you’ll get good at something".

RN: so your "lesson learned" is practice, practice, practice?

MW: Yes. I’m getting better and better. I want to play organ at the level I played the guitar at. So, that’s a challenge. But…I am getting it and I feel good about it!!! Just because you’re older doesn't mean that you’re done!

RN: We appreciate that you are back gigging again. What’s next for you?

Mark: We have 4 projects. We are putting the "B.I.G." album on CD (never released), and we are re-releasing the "Sweet Talkin’ Jones" album. Also we are putting together a CD of the Mark Whitman, Sweet Talkin’ Jones reunion at the Mt. Baker R&B Festival from last year. And last…I’ve got 5 tunes towards my next CD. I’m just giddy with anticipation over it!! I never started playing music to make money. I started because I love to play. That’s what I do!

Rocky: Indeed Mark!!! Thanks for all you do!

For more information on Mark Whitman please visit his official website:
Rocky Nelson appears courtesy of the

Washington Blues Society




I had a blues itch that only a trip to the Mississippi Delta could scratch. I was searching for what Morgan Freeman calls "America’s Classical Music" …THE BLUES! It just had to start at the beating heart of the Delta in Clarksdale, Mississippi, home to the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, so the story goes.

The spirits of Robert Johnson, W.C. Handy, Charley Patton, Sonny Boy Williamson (one and two), Big Bill Broonzy, Arthur Crudup, Fred McDowell, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, Jimmie Reed, Otis Spann, Big Walter Horton, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, the Mississippi Sheiks, John Lee Hooker, Little Milton, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, RL Burnside and Albert King still roam the dirt roads and the railroad tracks where the Southern crosses the Dog in in those vast and fertile cotton fields to this day.

"I got the Key to the Highway, I’m billed out and bound to go…" Big Bill Broonzy

This was my third trip to the Mississippi Delta, and I highly recommend this area as a vacation destination for blues lovers. Congressional Award recipient and Washington Blues Society "BB" Award-winning graphic artist Phil Chesnut, then at his own personal crossroads, wanted to move to Clarksdale to pursue his "dream job" as illustrator of the blues in the Delta. Trusting his talents and his word to return my investment, I bankrolled him to turn his dream into a reality; we set off on the blues trail from Seattle this past summer.

We settled on Clarksdale as the base camp for day trips to Mississippi Blues Trail Marker sites of interest on a week-long sojourn. Our first stop was to the Delta Blues Museum, number one Blues Alley, where I picked up Steve Cheseborough’s latest edition of "Blues Traveling-The Holy Sites of Delta Blues" and the Mississippi Department of Tourism Blues Trail Official Map. These resources proved indispensible. Other good sources of information include The Blues Festival Guide and Alan Lomax’ seminal book. "The Land Where the Blues Began."

The Delta is an ideal place for a blues pilgrimage. Start with some reading and research, plan your trip but be flexible as you will meet folks there that know things that are not in any book. Choose a soundtrack that includes Wolf or Muddy, rent a car out of the Memphis airport, get some BBQ on Beale Street, but don’t linger-you’ll be back! Head south down Highway 61 then turn 2 miles east of Clarksdale on Highway 49 to the Hopson Plantation. There’s a nice bar and small stage in the Commissary building, where James or Cathy Butler (one of the Hopson girls) will take care of you. Refresh yourselves and settle in. Next door is the Shack Up Inn, "Mississippi’s Oldest B&B". The plantation offers an odd collection of remodeled sharecropper shacks in case the Hopson’s Lofts are full, and don’t forget to check out Pinetop Perkins’ home there. He came to Hopson in the 40's as a tractor driver and even drove the first cotton pickers. You can also stay at Ground Zero or nearby at the Riverside Hotel, "way down on Sunflower", where Ike Turner, Robert Nighthawk and Sonny Boy Williamson II lived and where Bessie Smith died.

"See me coming, run get your rockin chair…well you know I aint no stranger, you know I used to live right there…" Muddy Waters

One of the holy sites of the blues is Stovall Plantation, due west toward Friars Point. Muddy worked at Stovall for 21 cents per hour driving a tractor, and lived there before Alan Lomax discovered him. True to blues superstitions, we gathered up some dirt from his shotgun shack foundation and spread it on our floor boards for good luck. The full moon rose over the Delta in the distance, and the waning light of day set the mood. We then went to Ground Zero Blues Club, 0 Blues Alley, for a night of live blues.

"We three owners," said co-owner and gubernatorial candidate Bill Luckett, " Morgan Freeman, Howard Stovall and I opened Ground Zero Blues Club to provide a venue for consistently available live blues music here at "ground zero" for the blues. We were seeing tourists visiting Clarksdale looking for live music and there was no venue with consistently scheduled music. Since we opened on May 11, 2001, we have expanded from two nights per week with live music into four and sometimes Sunday and other days as well. Our opening of Ground Zero Blues Club and our opening of Madidi Restaurant seemed to have started a trend on Delta Avenue. Clarksdale now offers five restaurants on Delta Ave. And on most Wednesday through Saturday nights the avenue is crowded with vehicles and patrons. Many travelers make Clarksdale their primary destination."

Delta Cotton Company Apartments offer overnight or longer stays and the seven units are located directly above the club. Some feature two bedrooms and all have full kitchens.

On any given day, you may find one or more of these gracious owners, good food, great drinks, friendly servers and world class music at Ground Zero. Their second club, located in Memphis just off Beale Street, is a must visit dining, drinking and dancing experience. Later that night, I visited Red’s Juke Joint to see T-Model Ford play on his 90th birthday. A packed house, good jams, cold beer, raucous patrons, free BBQ and birthday cake made my night complete. You never know who may show up in a juke joint. To my surprise and delight, Blue Music Award winners Cedric Burnside and Watermelon Slim walked in!

Bona fide juke joints still exist in the Mississippi Delta if you dig deep. I highly recommend Red’s, Po’Monkey’s and the Blue Front Café in Bentonia on Highway 49 south of Yazoo City. Po’ Monkey’s, 30 minutes south of Clarksdale off Highway 61 near the town of Merigold, is only open Thursdays, but each of these jukes offers an authentic juke joint experience other nights of the week.

"Dogs began a barkin’, hounds began to howl…" Howlin Wolf

Gravesites of blues giants are everywhere. Robert Johnson has three. The Delta area proper extends from Memphis and Tunica in the north, to Vicksburg and Yazoo City in the south to Greenwood and Como in the East to Rolling Fork, Greenville, and Helena Arkansas in the West.

Just across the Big Muddy in Helena, I met legendary DJ Sonny Payne who invited me to be a guest DJ on the King Biscuit Flour Time radio program. The show first aired in 1941, and has broadcast daily on the same station from Noon to 12:30 PM. Sonny has hosted the show since 1953. I also enjoyed Bubba’s Blues Corner for posters, vintage vinyl, T-shirts and books. Formerly the "King Biscuit", the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival is on the second weekend of October, one of the world’s major music festivals and hosts numerous musical heavy hitters.

"Well I'm sittin' over here on Parchman Farm, And I ain't never done no man no harm…" Mose Allison


South of Clarksdale, there are a number of towns well worth a visit, including Leland (where Johnny and Edgar Winter were born), Rosedale, Mound Bayou, Cleveland and Indianola (home to BB King and Club Ebony). King bought Club Ebony two years ago and manager Betty Fowler is a wealth of information. Club Ebony, which seats 400, is near the BB King Museum. It’s where I saw BB after his "Homecoming" Festival downtown play to a packed house until four in the morning. Miss Annie, greeter from BB Kings Museum, Theo Dasbach and his wife Cindy were my guests for an intimate evening with BB. Theo owns the Rock N Roll and Blues Heritage Museum in Clarksdale and his interesting collection is definitely worth seeing. Some notable blues places in the Delta and beyond are not towns at all, but they hold special significance in the history of "America’s classical music." Places like Angola and Parchman, Hopson, Stovall and Dockery. Their historical significance in the birth of the blues cannot be overstated. These plantations and prisons tell a difficult, but important part of American history.

"I got a black cat bone, I got a mojo too,

I got a John the Conquer root, I'm gonna mess with you,

I'm gonna make you girls lead me by my hand,

Then the world will know the hoochie coochie man…" Willie Dixon

A trip to down the blues highway is not complete without a serious visit to Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis, the economic hub to the delta and especially Beale Street, are the backbone of the blues. It is well patrolled by Memphis’ finest, and you can usually see them mounted on horseback. To keep the magic flowing, I needed music, cocktails, BBQ and a Mojo Bag from Schwab’s on Beale with some John the Conquer root from Tater Red’s just down the street.

"You'll see pretty browns in beautiful gowns,

You'll see tailor-mades and hand-me-downs,

You'll meet honest men, and pick-pockets skilled,

You'll find that business never ceases 'til somebody gets killed!..." WC Handy

There is so much to see on Beale Street. Bring your camera. I enjoyed returning to places like the Blues City Café and the Pig on Beale, for some great BBQ. Ground Zero, BB King’s, and Rum Boogie, have fantastic cocktails and live music. For the perfect taste of soul food, go to Alcinea’s 317 N Main St., and don’t forget to visit Sun Studios and the Stax Recording Academy. Remember, you’re in Reverend Al Green’s territory. Then there’s Elvis. The King. His rendition of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup’s song "That’s All Right" put him on the charts beyond Tupelo and Memphis, past Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, RCA and into outer space. A day trip to Graceland with the ubiquitous gift shops can be tempered with a visit just a few blocks from the Elvis mansion to the Reverend Al Green’s Full Gospel church, and can end delightfully with an evening back on Beale. Jay Sieleman, the award-winning Executive Director of the Blues Foundation headquartered in Memphis encourages you to visit Memphis and the Mississippi Delta anytime, but especially during the foundation’s annual signature events: the International Blues Challenge and the Blues Music Awards!

"Boom boom boom boom…" John Lee Hooker


Check in to this page often for updates on the Blues music of the world brought to you by
Rocky Nelson and Kris Edem and other Blues Music contributors and organizations worldwide.
The Following interview is, frankly one of the best I have ever read and it just happens to be about one of the most iconic guitarists in the world whose voice and songs have been present in over four decades of radio history. Rocky Nelson not only met with Mr. Steve Miller in Washington State at a wine festival , but upon learning that Steve Miller would be touring in Europe soon thereafter, Rocky Nelson made an appointment to meet with Miller in Paris, France for an extended visit and interview.
Now that's what I call going the extra mile to get a story!
 B. Maier - Publisher

I heard legend Steve “Guitar” Miller on July 14th at St Michelle in Woodinville along with 4,250 other fans, during his latest international tour. I first listened to The Steve Miller Band in the afterglow of the “Summer of Love” in 1969 and bought every album since. He help pioneer the transition from blues to rock and roll and wrestle the musical ownership back from the British Invasion to where it belonged. Steve’s 2010 itinerary has taken him from Mississippi to Florida, California to Washington and all points in between. On this current tour Steve also plays in Canada, the UK, Belgium, Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands. At 67 years young, he’s still a hardworking man. Steve was lavishly featured front page on two publications lately, the prestigious Vintage Guitar and Guitar Player. On tour to tout his newest CD to sold-out shows, he’s firing on all cylinders. I went with well-known pickup industry artists, Jason and Stephanie Lollar, to deliver some pickups, hear his sound check, and interview him in his RV. Miller recently released an all blues effort BINGO! and I wanted to share some of the latest blues news from The Steve Miller Band.

BINGO! is full of vintage Steve Miller sound, fat and sweet toned. His voice is reminiscent of his earlier recordings and the signature licks are spot on. It has covers of some new songs, nails some old standards and has a host of great artists with these sessions. Expertly engineered and produced with superb fidelity at Lucas Films’ Skywalker Ranch on analog by Andy Johns (he engineered Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, Led Zeppelin II, III and IV among others) who is the younger brother of famous Olympic Studios engineer Glyn (who also engineered Miller’s Children of the Future, Brave New World and Sailor), BINGO! is an excellent CD. BINGO! is by far and wide the best all blues CD to come out this year! It’s full of happy, driving, up-beat music. Featuring the powerfull-o’soul vocals of Sonny Charles with harmonies from Norton Buffalo, Steve, Kenny Lewis, Joseph Wooten, and Billy Peterson and Norton’s classic harp, it is rockin’ blues at its FINEST! Norton Buffalo performed with The Steve Miller Band for over 32 years and passed away last year from lung cancer. BINGO! was his last contributing effort and was dedicated to him. I never tire of listening to it especially at high volume! It is very hard to pick a favorite from a CD so full of them, but the Jimmie Vaughan cover “Sweet Soul Vibe” with its complicated Holmes Brothers-like harmonies and Steve’s signature lead is my pick of this pack.

One of the original Steve Miller Band members, Pacific Northwest Blues in the Schools founder James “Curley” Cook, lives in Seattle and has played at Bad Albert’s in Ballard for more than a decade. Steve also has a home in Washington State. Steve started out mentored by none other than Les Paul, and Texas Blues great T-Bone Walker, and by age 14, Steve was backing up T-Bone in a Dallas Texas nightclub, Lou-Anne’s. Before moving to Chicago in the early 60’s, he had many small bands that worked constantly. He played with the all-time giants of Chicago blues before moving to San Francisco in the mid-sixties to form the group that Curley joined The Steve Miller Blues Band. Playing with the same cats in the Bay Area as he did in Chicago, but for legendary promoter Bill Graham at the Fillmore, his career sky-rocketed. He dropped one word in his band title and the rest, as they say, was history. Hit after hit kept us entertained and devoted to his music for decades. Knowing some of his world class pedigree, I wanted to learn about Steve’s blues influences. I had only two carefully crafted questions ready, The Space Cowboy gave me and blues readers a generous insight to his past and future.


Rocky: Welcome back!

Steve Miller: Good to be back! I love playing here too.

Rocky: Thank you so much for allowing the Washington Blues Society to take a little of your time. My first question concerns your blues roots. Many European fans I have talked to are interested in your history with America’s great blues musicians. Your Godfather is Les Paul, and as a very young man, you played with T-Bone Walker. That’s some pretty heavy stuff. When your folks finally cut you loose, you headed up to Chicago and you ended up playing with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. What was it like working with both of those blues giants so early in your career?

Steve Miller: The situation was their careers were pretty much over, they had their hit records and blues was going out of fashion and quickly. James Brown and people like that had moved in. Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters were playing in five clubs in Chicago. There was the Blue Flame, Pepper’s lounge, Sylvio’s, Big John’s and Club Melody. They just rotated between those five clubs. When I got to Chicago and put my band together I competed with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf or James Cotton for these club dates. There wasn’t a lot of blues bands around. There was (Paul) Butterfield and he had Big John’s wrapped up and whenever Butterfield left, Muddy would come in, or then Howlin’ Wolf. It was great because it was a room that held like 90 people and you could just sit and listen to muddy waters and Otis Spann was playing piano or James Cotton or Buddy Guy was there. They played from nine at night ‘til four in the morning. Otis Rush was there and Otis was the first guy who took notice of me and he was really sweet to me. If I walked into a club and Otis was playing, he would ask me to come up and hand me his guitar and he would just sit and I play guitar with him. Wolf and I became pretty good friends, he was really, really special. I got to hear these guys play and it was like, WOW! For me I had grown up in Texas and T-Bone Walker taught me how to play and I was nine years old. Here, let me give you the recordings my dad made in 1951 when T-Bone would come over to the house and play. (Steve hands me a CD of those rare first recordings)

Rocky: Thank you sir. Could you put your life’s history into some kind of chronological order for our readers?

Steve Miller: I come from a musical family. My uncle was with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and he played hot jazz violin. Another uncle was a guitar player. Another uncle was a banjo player. They played in bands during the Depression. When the Depression got too deep they all stopped playing, went to medical school and became doctors. My mother was a singer, my father was a tape recorder nut and he was a pathologist. There weren’t many pathologists back then. They were pretty esoteric kinda hipsters. We had gotten to know Les Paul and Les married Mary Ford. They married while they were hanging out with my parents. My mother was their maid of honor and my father was the best man. They spent their honeymoon at our house. I saw them putting their act together. They came to Milwaukee where I lived and worked a supper club called Jimmy Fazio’s, and my dad took me down there. He brought his Magnacorder which was like something from outer space. The Germans had invented tape recorders and how he got it I never knew but he got one and took it to Les and said, “I know you guys are going to be here and I want to record you.” Les said “absolutely,” and they started to come over to the house. I got to see Les Paul, Red Norvo, Thelonius Monk and Tal Farlow and all of that. All kinds of people were coming over to our house and hanging out. Spending Sunday afternoon drinking and partying and I was listening to music. Then we moved to Texas and one day my parents brought home a piano and I immediately got sick and stayed home from school because there was a piano in the house and I never been able to get my hands on a piano! I had already gotten my guitar from my uncle and I had seen Les Paul I had already figured out tape recorders, speed them up, slow them down, get to sing multiple harmony with yourself. To promote single records they’d send us packets of postcards already addressed to the radio stations. I got all of that from Les and Mary. So 9 years old I’m living in Texas, I’m watching the Big D Jamboree on television and my dad is taking me to the Big D Jamboree and I’m watching this country stuff. And he is going around recording Sister Rosetta Thorpe and I am just surrounded by professional musicians. North Texas State was just beginning to have a jazz band. James Moody is coming over to the house playing blues and stuff like that. T-Bone comes over and shows me how to play the guitar and it really impacted me.

Interview notes: Miller formed his first band at age 12, the Marksmen, played around Dallas, then moved to Wisconsin to enroll into college where he taught William “Boz” Skaggs to play guitar. They formed another group, the Ardells, and played fraternity parties. Miller then left music to study Comparative Literature in Copenhagen but missed playing and left school to return home.

Steve: I had just finished doing four years of school and had fallen six credits short of graduating. My parents were not pleased. They asked me what I wanted to do and what I was going to do. I said, “I wanted to go to Chicago and play the blues”. My dad didn’t like it but my mom said it “was a great idea. You’re 21 years old. Get out of here! Go before your life changes and see if you can make it.” When I got to Chicago, I run into all of these people and I see Paul Butterfield. They’re writing about him in Time magazine and he has a recording contract! Up to that point I had been playing professionally since I was 12 years old. I had been playing gigs all the time at Lou Anne’s. We had done a show where we backed up Jimmie Reed and Benny King was there, Lightening Hopkins was around and we were serious working musicians.

Rocky: But your early influences were jazz.

Steve Miller: Yeah, it was all jazz. Some blues and country music too. We were in Texas and we loved all of that. By the time I got to Chicago, I had already played every weekend since I was 12 years old. I had probably done about a thousand gigs. We never thought anything more than “how was you going to make a hundred and twenty five dollars a night?” You pay a nightclub, you play fraternities or private parties or whatever it is you know? Never thought we would ever be in the “show bid-nuss” or make records. We come to Chicago and Butterfield’s making a record and they’re writing about it in Time magazine and that’s when the light bulb went off and I thought, “wow, maybe we can do that”! That’s when my mother said maybe you should go. So I went to Chicago ran into Barry Goldberg, put a band together and got a contract right away. We went to New York and did a Hullabaloo with the Supremes and the Four Tops.

Rocky: Wow, on black and white television, right out of the chute!

Steve Miller: (laughs) Yep, right out of the chute. That was over just as fast as it started. (snaps fingers) Bing, Bing! So we went back to Chicago and it was beginning to just dry up. What happened was the white audiences had rediscovered the blues. Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters started going to the European audiences doing tours and the Newport Jazz Festivals. So things were coming back to them in a very different way with different audiences. Pretty soon they were playing colleges and stuff and making money. Nobody wanted to stay in Chicago and play the nightclubs. It was a dangerous and mean place. The Mafia controlled the nightclubs, the police shook everybody down. The Detective Department shook everybody down for money. There were people being beaten and stabbed every week. Dope was being sold all over the place, it was a tough ass place and I was making a hundred and twenty dollars a week working nine in the evening ‘till four in the morning.

Rocky: Was that good money then?

Steve: you know, more for me it was enough so I could eat, have a room and a bed and insurance and gas for my car. We all wanted to get outta there and the scene dried up and the last thing I did before I left Chicago and moved to San Francisco was I played rhythm with Buddy Guy’s band. Junior Wells had gotten a recording contract and he was with Fantasy Records. He immediately disowned the blues and made a bad James Brown record. He went from playing the blues in Chicago to like “Pappas got a brand new bag”! Overnight he left Buddy, you know, “bye, I got a contract and you don’t”, split and did a thing that failed miserably (laughs) so I get the job playing rhythm with Buddy. Buddy’s rule was one shot of bourbon before each set for everybody in the band. That was the rule.

Rocky Nelson: …and the problem was?

Steve Miller: (laughs) I was 21 and a half and let’s see that was…like eight shots of bourbon a night, one shot every forty five minutes and after the end of a month I told Buddy (laughs), “you know man, I can’t do this ‘cause it’s killing me! I’m going to California!” And Buddy says (laughs) “well, call it the Steve Miller Blues Band because you are sure to go through a lot of Blues musicians”! He gave me a lot of advice! I really enjoyed working with him; we had a lot of fun. Then I went out to California and all of a sudden WOW you could make 500 dollars…A NIGHT! You play at the Fillmore Auditorium for 1200 people and everything got a little bit better. But being around Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf was like getting a doctoral degree in Music. Playing with Muddy and Howlin Wolf wasn’t like people trying to act like rock stars and stuff it was absolutely the real deal. They were the GIANTS! Junior and Buddy were not giants. Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf were THE GIANTS!

Rocky: What was the difference between you meeting them in your early youth in Chicago and then playing with them again in San Francisco years later?

Steve Miller: When I first met Muddy Waters, I hung around with him and there were jam sessions. The first time I saw Muddy play at Big Johns I weaseled my way getting up on stage. It was kinda funny. I was different than the other guys because I was really cocky. I wasn’t there to like carry Muddy Waters’ water, I was there to impress him and play good. So I just got up on stage, turned it up and played. I wasn’t like standing in the back getting his drinks or polishing his shoes. I remember (laughs) the first time I played with him and did about three numbers. The band kinda looked at me because I was different from those guys who learned all their stuff off of records. I learned my chops from the real stuff growing up in Texas and played differently. I remember Muddy said, “Hey. That was real good! Let’s have a big hand for… what did you say your name was again?” (we both laugh) Knocked me down two notches you know and later we became good friends. When I got out to California and I got out there before they did, we were going to Bill Graham and telling him, “Hey man, you gotta get James Cottons Band out here, you gotta get Howlin’ Wolf’s band out here!” “You need to get all these people out here” and Graham would listen and he would do that. When Howlin' Wolf first came out here I picked him up at the airport in my Volkswagen Van, helped him load his gear and drove him around to the Matrix and some club over in Oakland. We played over there and over at the Fillmore. I helped HIM get into town. It was really strange. When James Cotton and his band came out to California, he and his band stayed in my hippie house.

Rocky: I'll bet that was a sight!

Steve Miller: (laughing) well it was a really cool, big old house. I had like 7 or 8 bedrooms and we had this big upper floor. I said, “yeah man, stay with us”. I remember going up to their room after they had been there like a day and a half, and we had played a gig that night. All of these guys were peeing in coke bottles because they didn’t think they could use our bathrooms. I said, “James, it’s not like that here. This is the way it is…”. We heard that, A LOT! They were not ready to just RELAX. The guy who was the most relaxed guy, the funniest guy, the guy who made the transition from the Delta, Mississippi and Chicago to California was John Lee Hooker. I played with John Lee Hooker the first time that HE came to town and we had him up at the Family Dog. He came in and it’s like, we had patchouli oil everywhere and the light show was on, and John Lee Hooker shows up with a suit that was like radiated snake skin and two hookers and the pimp hat and everything (we both laugh) it was just sooo wrong! Just wrong, wrong, wrong! No, no, no John, this is like peace, love and happiness! So I was backing him up, we had a really good time and two weeks later he had a goatee and a beret on and five white girls in a hot tub going, “Steve why don’t you just come on over and have a party”. He just instantly goes: I get it, I got it I’m here. You know Muddy was very dignified and Howlin Wolf was just a really amazing guy. Very soft, very nice, very sensitive guy. You know off stage in the afternoon he looked like the linebacker coach from the Oakland Raiders. He was a real gentleman, a sweetheart. One of the funniest things that ever happened to me was at the Matrix. My first gig, I was broke. I had no money at all. I borrowed five bucks from Paul Butterfield to eat. That was as low as I got, I was really embarrassed. I got a job playing bass for Lightening Hopkins, at the Matrix which is not a fun job.

Rocky: What did that pay? (I wanted to ask him if he re-paid the five bucks back, sadly I didn’t)

Steve Miller: It was ten dollars a night. I needed that ten dollars very badly and we’re playing and we’re going along and about thirty minutes into the set…and it’s just Lightening and me…and he says, “wait a minute, wait a minute! Everybody just STOP! NOBODY PLAY NOTHING BUT ME!” Then he does like a thirteen and a half bar blues. I was really angry, I was embarrassed and I needed that ten dollars.

Rocky Nelson: So, you sucked it up and just stood there?

SM: (laughs) yeah, sucked it up and finished the week with him and about twelve years later he was on Austin City Limits and he’s playing a Stratocaster! There’s some great black and white tape somewhere of him playing a Stratocaster and he’s just KILLIN’! He has the great all black band and they’re just KICKIN IT! I was sitting there watching this at home and I said, “This is really great”! All of a sudden, he goes, “wait a minute, wait a minute…everybody stop! NOBODY PLAY ANYTHING BUT ME!” (we both laugh) and I go, Oh I get it! But we are back in the Matrix, it’s my band that’s playing and we are making 15 bucks a night and I was doing Mercury Blues you know off of roadside recordings…who’s the guy that did those roadside recordings?

Rocky: Alan Lomax

Steve Miller: Oh yeah Alan Lomax! I heard it first off of those records and I have been doing it since I was twelve years old. I’m getting ready to play Mercury Blues and I tell everybody about it and (Steve yells out to people in the RV) Hey, WHO WROTE MERCURY BLUES?, anybody? (Someone answers) KC Douglas of course! HE shows up at my gig. I finish the song and KC Douglas comes up and is so proud and thanks me. He says, “Thanks man that was a really good version” and he was a high school coach in Oakland. He had come from the Delta from roadside recordings and his whole life had changed and these guys went through incredible change in their lives you know from obscurity, almost cotton picking slaves to having a real life on the west coast. California was much more open, much hipper; it was just a great, great scene. Then we all started touring together. I toured with Muddy, Howlin Wolf and James Cotton and I probably did a hundred and fifty gigs together.

Rocky: I have one last question for you. What do you listen to at home?

Steve Miller: Not much has changed for me. I love Cannonball Adderly and I listen to a lot of Jimmie Vaughan. I’ll leave it at that. I’m in love with Jimmie Vaughan. I can’t get enough of him. We should talk about Dillon and maybe he could say a few words. That would be very helpful.

Rocky: Yes, I would like that. What is KIDS ROCK FREE?

Steve Miller: KIDS ROCK FREE is this music school that’s hooked up with the Fender Museum. Linda, Dillon’s mom, and a few other people and I have been working there for 11 years. 12,000 kids have gotten free lessons in 104 cities and five different counties. We are taking it national now and we have the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts with us and they have given us an advisor for the last two years. It’s a school where if your child wants music lessons, bring the child to the school, and we give them 8 hours of free lessons if the parents will give the school 8 hours of their time. I’ve challenged the school (laughs) to build 1500 more!

Rocky: It’s a 501-C-3 and it originated where?

Steve Miller: Yes and it originated in Corona California at the Fender Museum and the school is a part of the Museum. Fender helped set it up and the school now runs itself. Dillon is 15 years old, he’s going to come out on stage with me and play Rockin’ Me and Fly like an Eagle. He’s going to play some great blues licks tonight. He’s been stealing the shows from me and is getting some great reviews too. I am cutting him back and fining him 20 dollars if he gets another good review (laughs)! They tell you not to perform with children or animals and he comes out and plays and just steals the show from us! (laughs) He and his mom are on the road with us for 19 shows. We are raising funds to help build schools in your community. You can text: ROCK50555 hit a button and donate 10 dollars. Go to

and you can get all the information on it. It costs about the same to build a school as it does to build a Wendy’s but you can have a music center, a community music school, and it teaches kids to work together, how to play together, how to get something done together. It improves their thinking and balances their brain. It’s all of these things that music and art adds to their education that is now missing from education. These kids are not sitting around Twittering all day long they’re playing music and their brains are growing. Dillon is a good example of this and he’s really a great little blues player.

Rocky: Tell me Dillon, what is your role in this organization, KIDS ROCK FREE?

Dillon Brown: At first I was just playing in the program and now I am helping to support the program by playing with Steve Miller and showing how Fender can affect a kid. I am taking lessons from other people and that’s how I am learning all my stuff.

Rocky: Do you understand that you could be a great role model for a lot of kids and a lot of aspiring musicians? How does that make you feel?

Dillon Brown: It makes me feel awesome and this is all just amazing. It’s been my dream forever.

Rocky Nelson: Well kid, I gotta tell you that you are a chip off the old block because there is one person in this room right now that started out similar to you by having somebody great show them how to play.

Steve Miller: He just keeps getting better every night too, that’s the great thing about it. He is such a good guy to travel with and to play with. Rock, you are right, he IS inspiring a lot of people and you will see tonight when we do the show and he comes out at the end of the show. We start out telling people about this school and there this reaction, (groans) “ahhhhggg!” What do we do? We’re tired, we’ve been playing hard for everybody, there’s no music in schools these days and we just go “damn” you know? We start out saying, “the trouble with you people is…” and then I go, “…but, I brought one of these students with me tonight” and then Dillon comes out and just plays beautifully and the crowd goes, (shouts) “YEAH!!!”

Rocky: NOW I understand what you were talking about at sound check when you said you and Dillon would walk off the stage under all of that applause and then you can come back and hammer them for money. Shameless promotion Steve I think that’s fair to say.

SM: (we all laugh) It's child labor and we are abusing his privileges as much as we can get away with! We really need to build 1500 of these schools and there should be one in this neighborhood. There should be 50 of them in every state.

Rocky: Good job Dillon and thank you very much Steve.

Steve Miller: you’re welcome man.

For more information about Steve Miller videos, links to music and current world tour go to

If you would like to know more about the exciting Northwest Blues scene go to the Washington Blues Society website today!


By Rocky Nelson
Steve Miller Europe Tour!

Globe Trotting and with the preverbal “snowballs chance in hell”, we hit the apogee of The Steve Miller Band’s planet, BINGO!, at Le Zenith in the heart of Paris, France as his guest for a night out on the town. Backstage passes got us through the throng of packed, fashionably hip International blues aficionados. Stephanie Lollar and I sat with Steve and Kim Miller to rekindle the fires brought on by our first mercurial meeting with Steve at St. Michelle in Woodinville Washington this last summer. Songs like The Joker, Abracadabra, Fly like an Eagle and (Keep On) Rocking Me put Steve Miller on the top ten of American pop charts and sold millions of copies for him. The high energy in his new CD, BINGO!, is immediately evident and addictive still. Buying BINGO! Will be the best use of $20 dollars you have ever spent!

Rocky Nelson : Bon soir Steve. Here we are back where our first meeting began with that question from your huge fan base here in Europe. Many readers of our article on your blues roots wanted me to thank you for sharing with them. As a follow-up Steve, inquiring minds want to know. Just WHO is Maurice, which incidentally sounds like a Sigmund Freud-French alter ego, and what EXACTLY is the Pomitus of Love?

Steve Miller: Let's see, Maurice is just a character I made up, sounds nice and smooth and French when you are in the studio rhyming and creating verses stuff happens as is the case with the Pompitious of Love. The perfect example of this is the song SPACE COWBOY, it was written in 15 minutes as a lark, I didn't want to put it on my album and everyone said are you nuts of course you have to put it on the album, here I am 42 years later THE SPACE COWBOY. These things just happen in a creative atmosphere sometimes without much fore-thought.

Rocky Nelson: What album did you have the most fun making in your entire career? What’s your favorite?

Steve Miller: Fly Like an Eagle, Book of Dreams and Bingo, all were made in similar fashion in great sounding studios with great engineers and all of them involved a lot of guitar playing.

Rocky : How’s the response to BINGO! because of course WE love it!

Steve Miller: It’s been great and the tours have been received with great response.

That was evident at Le Zenith. They were rockin’ the house. They hit them hard with much Love, Peace and Happiness. It was beautiful, magnifique! The Steve Miller Band had the crowd up on their feet for at least the last six songs. Crushing the stage near the end, they sang his songs out loud word for word. With shouts of “Maurice!” he ended the show with that encore: The Joker. Kim had knitted me a BINGO! blanket and a scarf to keep me warm against the cold Afghan winter winds where I am scheduled to return this December. He had a handful of signature guitar picks. We exchanged gifts and said our goodbyes. The Space Cowboy had another city and another planet to conquer. Au revoir Steve and Kim, Thanks for the memories! Bon Chance!


Rocky Nelson and this article appear courtesy of the
Washington Blues Society. Rocky has been a personal friend of mine for over three
decades and we have followed each others adventures of life. These past three
years Rocky has served  the USA and his fellow man by working in Afghanistan to
improve the lives of many people there. He has frequently sent me e-mails and
pictures of a land  and her people that before, I might never have imagined.
While stationed there, Rocky created the very first Armed Forces Radio
"All Blues" program which has been met with wide acclaime. In addition Mr. Nelson
attended the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis Tennessee, also courtesy
of the Washington Blues Society. Rocky has an incredible zest for life and a great
ability as a journalist. As a fan of Steve Miller since 1970,and having played many of his hits in Top-40 bands I thought I knew him. But now, after reading this rare and  u-close interview I would have to say I really knew nothing about the man, his roots and his visions for the future of music, especially for kids. Kind of makes me want to go out and buy all the vintage
Steve Miller albums that I lost along the way, and maybe pick up BINGO while I'm at it!
Our heartfelt thanks go out to Rocky Nelson and appreciate him taking the time to contact us and arrange to share this great work.We could only hope that in his travels throughout the world he might occasionally grace us with his love of music and gifted pen once  in a while.



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