Best remembered for the dorm-rock anthems compiled on “Greatest Hits: 1974-1978,” the Steve Miller Band’s career can be neatly cleaved into two halves. Known as the Goldberg Miller Blues Band in its first incarnation in Chicago, then Madison, Wis., where Steve Miller went to college, the crew balanced dirty Southern blues with a spaced out Sgt. Pepper’s-like psych-rock that fit nicely into the zeitgeist of San Francisco, where Miller reformed the group as the Steve Miller Band in 1966.
A fiercely proficient guitarist who learned some of his first chords from Les Paul (a friend of his pathologist/musician father), Miller had been in bands since the age of 12, often with his childhood friend Boz Scaggs. Relocating to the Bay Area, Miller quickly amassed a large following by playing a spate of free shows, eventually culminating with a slot opening for Chuck Berry at the Fillmore Auditorium.
After a bravura performance at the Monterey Pop Festival (with Scaggs in tow on rhythm guitar), Capitol Records offered the band a deal and flew them to London to record their official debut, “Children of the Future,” with legendary producer Glyn Johns. Though the record received critical acclaim, it failed to break the band nationally.
This commercial disappointment was remedied on their sophomore effort “Sailor,” which reached No. 24 on the Billboard charts. The group rapidly recorded a trio of well-received albums and collaborated with Paul McCartney (famously billed) as Paul Ramon, before tragedy struck in 1971, when Miller broke his neck in a car accident and subsequently contracted hepatitis.
During his extended convalescence, Miller regrouped and concentrated his energies on writing three-minute pop songs, whereas his earlier catalog had been characterized by its colorful chaotic sprawl. Returning with 1973’s “The Joker,” with its titular No. 1 single, the second half of the Steve Miller Band’s life featured a classic run of singles that still dominate classic rock radio. It’s impossible to listen to 95.5 KLOS for more than an hour without hearing “Take the Money and Run,” “Rock ‘n Me” or “Fly Like an Eagle.”
Though their 1973-78 run remained the group’s commercial peak, Miller & Co. managed to score a third, and most recent, No. 1 hit with 1982’s “Abracadabra.” Still touring the United States, the Steve Miller Band recently released “Bingo,” a collection of R&B and blues covers, its first studio album in 17 years.