Fans attending a recent Steve Miller performance in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater knew not to expect “The Joker,” “Fly Like an Eagle” or “Abracadabra”—or any other signature hits by the Space Cowboy. The singer and guitarist—along with Texas guitar firebrand Jimmie Vaughan and a group of stellar collaborators—was presenting a tribute to the influential blues guitarist T-Bone Walker.
Miller’s relationship with jazz and blues goes back to his childhood—guitar innovator Les Paul was not only a friend of his parents but Miller’s godfather, and folks like Walker were regular visitors to the Miller family’s Dallas household.
Best Classic Bands: Does it surprise some of your fans when they see you involved in a show like this?
Steve Miller: I have a lot of fans who know about [his jazz and blues background]. I also have an audience that only knows the 14 greatest hits, even though I’ve made 20 albums. Through the ’90s the audience was all 13 to 18 years old and all they had was the greatest hits and that’s all they wanted.
Speaking of jazz, in 1970 you shared a bill at New York’s Fillmore East with Neil Young and Crazy Horse and Miles Davis. Do you remember it?
SM: Ha, I remember it a lot! I thought it was a very odd bill. I think Miles was opening and we were second and Neil Young was closing. Everybody was very nervous about Miles coming around. I had a guy named Lester Pouncy, who was a Marine sergeant. He was my road manager and my best buddy. Miles came in and he was late. Lester threw a towel at him and hit him in the head with the towel and said, “You still playing that ugly horn and wearing those ugly shoes!” Miles was just sweet as can be and they played and then later he made a quote about “that jive motherfucker Steve Miller.”
But I kind of felt it was absurd that Neil Young was closing and I was playing second and Miles was opening. That didn’t even make sense. It was great to see him play and hang out with him and he was actually really nice. I can’t remember how many nights we played but I’m sure we adjusted who opened. I’m sure I ended up opening. He was a musical legend in my mind. [Miles’ album] Kind of Blue—there it is, jazz and blues. Great album—I’ve listened to it all my life. I was really thrilled.
Related: BCB‘s review of Miller’s previous concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center
I can’t let you go without asking about the comments you made when you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You very publicly denounced the whole selection process and, specifically, the Hall’s choosing the Black Keys to induct you. Now that it’s several months in the past, do you still feel the same way about the Hall?
SM: It’s sort of like politics. They got a museum built. They didn’t put it in the right town. [The Hall’s management in New York is] at war with their own museum but they’ve done a lot of real good work. But their selection committee…[Rolling Stone publisher] Jann [Wenner] runs it like it’s kind of a snarky thing that drives magazine sales or something.
I just think it’s time they let go and put in a larger gene pool. The way I look at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is like, look, by the second year they had put in the founders and the pioneers of rock and roll; they were all in there. So really, this is kind of like the beacon of light for music education around the world and I just don’t think they understand that. The way they treated this [Miller’s induction by the Black Keys] was just absurd. We were never introduced. We were just there for, ‘Hurry up, we’re making a TV show and we don’t want to spend that much time on you. We don’t want to know what you think.’ It was a very foolish way to do it.
So I started my  tour in Cleveland and I went right to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and met everybody who was working there. They’re all scared to death and they’ve got a small budget and they feel like they’ve gotta make the museum groovier so they’ve done a lot of work on their displays. It’s a beautiful building. When I went there were some kids playing in the plaza and they were really good. When they finished I walked up and introduced myself and they were all really excited.
Watch Steve Miller perform “Mercury Blues” in 1983
Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. As a consultant to the Music Club CD label, he assisted in releasing over 180 reissues and compilations, in styles ranging from jazz to country to pop. His first book was Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane (published in June 2003) – the first biography of this legendary San Francisco band written with the cooperation of all of the band members. He is also the co-author of Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc, with Howard Kaylan. From 2002 to 2006 Jeff was the editor of Global Rhythm, the leading magazine for world music and global culture. He was the Associate Editor of JazzTimes from 2008-16. He lives in Hoboken, NJ, with his wife, the novelist and Boston Globe book columnist Caroline Leavitt. Their son, Max, is a theater major at Pace University in New York.