Steve Miller’s first guitar teachers were Les Paul and T-Bone Walker


By Steve Newton

As a youngster, Steve Miller had the best guitar teachers you could ever ask for. I mean, Les Paul and T-Bone Walker? Are you kidding? That must have been like the ultimate fairy tale for a music-loving kid in the 20th century.

“I grew up in a family where music was on all the time,” stresses the 78-year-old rocker from his home in the Hudson Valley, about 90 minutes north of New York City. “My mother was a singer, her brothers were jazz violinists, and Les Paul was my godfather–so I was surrounded by music and thrilled and fascinated by it and that’s all I ever wanted to do. Once I saw Les Paul play I was hooked.”

Paul taught Miller his first chord, and Walker showed him how to play guitar behind his head and do the splits at the same time, which, as Miller quips, “is a very handy thing to know if you’re gonna be in show business.” Walker was a family friend of the Millers who used to come over to their house and play.

“T-Bone was the bridge between blues and jazz,” notes Miller. “B.B. King and Freddie King and Albert King, and everybody that plays guitar listened to T-Bone. He was the guy who set the basics for playing lead guitar–he and Charlie Christian. So it was really just unbelievably lucky that I was around all these people. And I was just a kid, so I absorbed what they were doing–it was just part of my basic education. And it made a huge difference in my life.”

During the early part of his career, in the 1960s, Miller wholeheartedly embraced the blues world that T-Bone Walker had turned him on to. But by the mid-’70s he turned more to rock, releasing two albums–1976’s Fly Like an Eagle and 1977’s Book of Dreams–that would certify him as a genuine music legend.

Between the two of them those discs would spawn the singles “Take the Money and Run”, “Rock’n Me”, “Fly Like an Eagle”, “Serenade”, “Jet Airliner”, “Jungle Love”, and “Swingtown”. One might be tempted to ask if the switch from blues to rock was a natural progression, or whether Miller was consciously trying to get hit songs–which he clearly did, in spades.

“Well, a little bit of all of it,” he replies. “I grew up playing blues in Texas, that was pop music in Texas when I was a kid. I had a blues band when I went to college, and then when I went to Chicago I was playing blues with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy. Played rhythm guitar for Buddy Guy for a while; did all of that.

“And then I got a chance to get a recording contract in California, and that was a completely different world. When I went out to California I just wanted to write my own music, you know. Now, Les Paul had, I think, 25 top-10 singles or something, so I knew what a hit single was, and I knew what radio airplay was, and I knew about all that. I wanted to make a really great album, and I also wanted to make really great singles, so I wanted to do it all.”

One of the more interesting facts about the Steve Miller Band’s windfall of mid-’70s radio hits is that all the songs from both albums were created at the same time.

“Basically what happened was we recorded all the basic tracks with the three of us–with [drummer] Lonnie Turner and [bassist] Gary Mallaber. We went to a studio and in about eleven days or so we cut 21, 22, 23, 24 songs, and then I took those tapes to where I had my own eight-track tape recorder, in my living room, and started working on my lyrics and my arrangements and my vocal parts and all that stuff.

“And then somebody else would come into town, like [keyboardist] Joachim Young showed up, and I said, ‘Man, would you come over and play B3 on “Fly Like an Eagle”?’ He was such a great, great player, you know. And he said, ‘Sure’, so he came over and did a session, and every now and then there’d be different people that would come in and do session parts and pieces. I was working on about 25 songs, and I worked on it for about 18 months, so I had different people over that time.”

Of course, with all that material in hand, it would have been entirely possible for Miller to release both Fly Like an Eagle and Book of Dreams as a double album–one huge, hit-packed monster of an album–but he’d learned a thing or two from the Beatles about not blowing your creative wad all at once.

“I had spent some time in London and I had got to be in the studio with them while they were recording,” says Miller, “and I was absolutely amazed to see that they probably had 40 songs in the can that were mixed. I had never run into anybody that was that far ahead of the game, and up to that point it had always been kind of a world where you’d work really hard to make an album, and then you’d go out and tour, and be exhausted, and then you’d come back and go in the studio and make another album.

“It was a very hard way to work,” he adds, “and I quickly realized after meeting the Beatles and watching them work that it was much smarter to take some time off and get ahead of the game and have something in the can that worked a lot better on many levels. You were ready to release your next song when the market was ready for it, not when you were ready for it.

“You know, it used to be like, ‘Well the boys just had a huge hit and they’ve been in the studio for two years and they’re trying really hard to follow it up.’ I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to just be releasing material. Once I got the barn door open I wanted to keep it open.”

Forty-five years or so later, those classic tunes are still kicking up dust, and have made the Steve Miller Band a steady favourite on the concert circuit. Armed with his guitar of choice, the Fender Strat–“Les Paul was my godfather, but he never gave me a Les Paul guitar”–Miller has been touring with a band composed of bassist/backing vocalist Kenny Lee Lewis (since 1982), keyboardist/backing vocalist Joseph Wooten (since ”93), guitarist/backing vocalist Jacob Petersen (since 2011), and drummer Ron Wikso, “the new guy” who joined last year, replacing Miller’s timekeeper of over 30 years, Gordy Knudtson, who had to hang up the sticks when his wife started having health issues.

Miller had a bit of a health scare himself recently when he got COVID and had to cancel some gigs.

“I had never had it,” he says, “and nobody else in the band or crew got it. I don’t know how I caught it, but I did. So we’re dealing with it. I’m fine now, I feel good, my energy level’s good, and it was mild case. I tested positive for 12 days, though, so I had to cancel some gigs, and we’re gonna make up two of those this weekend. Fortunately they’re out here on the East Coast, close by, then we’ll be back out on the road, heading to Red Rocks. Then we come out to the West Coast and we’re gonna end up in your neighborhood, so I’m really happy to see that. It’s gonna be great.”


To hear the full 24-minute audio of my interview with Steve Miller subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 325 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

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Terry “Mess” Messal of Flies on Fire, 1992
James Cotton, 2002
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David Gogo, 1994
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1990
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Popa Chubby, 1995
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James Young from Styx, 1986
Charlie Musselwhite, 2002
Steve Morse of Deep Purple, 1998
Lenny Kravitz, 1998
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1998
Tinsley Ellis, 1992
Matt Minglewood, 1985
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Bill Davis of Dash Rip Rock, 1992
Sue Foley, 1992
Tom Keifer of Cinderella, 1991
Terry Adams of NRBQ, 1997
Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, 1984
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 2010
Slash of Guns N’ Roses and Slash’s Snakepit, 1995
Sonny Rhodes, 1999
Peter Goalby of Uriah Heep, 1983
Lenny Zakatek of the Alan Parsons Project, 1983
Marc Storace of Krokus, 1983
Chris Whitley, 1991
Buddy Cage of New Riders of the Purple Sage, 2006
Bill Elm of Friends of Dean Martinez, 1995
Simon Townshend, 1983
John Bush of Anthrax, 1993
Aldo Nova, 1983
Steven Adler from Guns N’ Roses, 2011
Mick Ronson, 1989
Tom Morello, 2011
Paul Pigat of Cousin Harley, 2021
Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers, 1993
Henry Fambrough of the Spinners, 1983
Dave Brock of Hawkwind, 1990
Roger Fisher from Heart, 1985
Graham Goble of Little River Band, 1983
Colin Hay of Men at Work, 1983
Mark Kelly of Marillion, 1986
Luther Allison, 1995
Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats, 2007
John Critchley of 13 Engines, 1995
J. Geils from the J. Geils Band, 2006
Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, 1997
Jason Newsted of Newsted (and Metallica), 2013
Marshall Crenshaw, 2013
Dan Hartman, 1984
Sean Costello, 2006
Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, 1998
Tommy Stinson from the Replacements, 1993
Brian Blush of the Refreshments, 1997
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 2003
Craig Northey of Strippers Union, 2021
Melissa Etheridge, 1990
Joe Jackson, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, 1997
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, 1984
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Eric Carr of Kiss, 1984
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Ivan Doroschuk of Men Without Hats, 1984
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Michael Lardie of Great White, 1987
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis & the News, 1983
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
Mark McEntee of Divinyls, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Jack Semple, 1993
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman of the Guess Who, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
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R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
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Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
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Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
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Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
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Uli Jon Roth, 2016
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Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
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Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Gregg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001
…with hundreds more to come

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