Steve Miller: Fly Like An Eagle (Capitol)
Electric guitar guru and family friend Les Paul ignited the creative fires in the five-year-old Steve Miller, introducing the youngster to his first chords. Jazz heavies including Charles Mingus and Tal Farlow also passed through the Miller household in Steve's youth, guests of young Steve's music savvy parents. The rest is pop music history. The veteran guitarist/singer/songwriter will be the recipient of the Les Paul Award this October in San Francisco at the 22nd annual Technical Excellence and Creativity Awards.
Miller's songbook has proven remarkably resilient and lucrative, resurfacing once again in this summer's refreshed 30th anniversary "special limited edition" Eagle package. The real meat here isn't in the umpteenth remastering of the diehard hits and tunes several generations are now familiar with, nor the three somewhat dispensable bonus demo tracks; it's the two-hour 2005 concert DVD that is included. Miller's finer creative moments seem to sometimes elude public release entirely, as in a shelved live recording gleaned from a rare '96 limited west coast tour performing nothing but the blues. The fine and cool 1987 short film "Blues in the 20th Century," featuring some sharp jams with James Cotton (trading harp riffs with Miller band harp wizard Norton Buffalo) and others, is another example of a hard-to-find exemplary effort from the guitarist. (Miller's tie to the blues is strong; T-Bone Walker was another childhood mentor-inspiration. A few years ago, Miller closed down the San Francisco Blues Festival with a remarkable assemblage of talent presented as "Steve Miller's Chicago Blues Reunion," celebrating his pre-S.F. rocking days as a younger blues guitar slinger in Chicago cutting his teeth in Buddy Guy's band and recording an early single with organist Barry Goldberg.)
The DVD set included on Eagle features several guest appearances, including slide guitar strutter George Thorogood joining in for a few songs, especially hamming it up on "Gangster of Love," and a substantial contribution from guitar wanker extraordinaire Joe Satriani, who lays down some searing blues. Of course the crowd-pleasing high-profile AOR radio staple hits are all represented too. But wait, there's more: Paraguayan-born musician Carlos Reyes is invited out to lend a bit of passionate violin soloing on the mega-hit "Abracadabra." Miller breaks into jazz mode with a coolly delivered spin on the chestnut "Nature Boy" with Reyes's beautiful stringed harp accompanying.
Additional video includes interview footage with the fit-looking performer extrapolating on the evolution of "Eagle" the song and past collaborations with former key players bassist Lonnie Turner and drummer Garry Mallaber (essential components in the creation of Eagle and Book of Dreams, wellsprings of the late-'70s string of hits that changed everything). So the DVD concert and additional vid material are really the substantial treats here. Not to slight the remastered audio disc: "Eagle" never sounded better on recording, with the intensified burblings of Joachim Young's B-3 colorings, the funky Meters-esque bass line, and more crystalline trademark space noises. The song has rightfully ascended to the status of one of our most enduring rock anthems.
Great package, Steve. Now what about that live blues set with the blistering version of "Snatch It Back and Hold It"?