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Album of the Day — August 15

Steve Miller Band — Book of Dreams

Steve Miller — Book of Dreams (Capitol Records)

15.August.2020
Steve Miller Band
Book of Dreams
1977

The first two albums that I purchased with my own money were Fleetwood Mac Rumors and Steve Miller Band Book of Dreams. I was way too young to understand any of the complexities that the songs on Rumors contained.

It would be another decade before Pandora’s Box opened, and all the songs on Rumors began to make tragic sense to me.

So, the majority of my time was spent dropping the needle on Book of Dreams.

Steve Miller was indoctrinated into music early. His father, a pathologist, was also an accomplished recording engineer, and Miller described his mother as “a remarkable jazz singer.” His parents also happened to be close friends with guitar virtuoso Les Paul — the Millers were best man and maid of honor at Paul’s 1949 wedding to singer/guitarist Mary Ford.

Les Paul was Steve Miller’s Godfather and one of his chief supporters in guitar playing.

When his family moved to Dallas, his father continued his recreational recording, and artists like T-Bone Walker, Charles Mingus, and Tal Farlow all stopped by. It was T-Bone Walker who taught Steve how to play his guitar behind his back and with his teeth.

By the time high school rolled around, Miller had entered St. Mark’s School, where he had started his first band, The Marksmen. Joining he and his brother was fellow future musical luminary, Boz Scaggs.

After leaving St. Marks, or getting “kicked out”, he finished his high school career at Woodrow Wilson High School …another guitar slinger from Wilson? Dusty Hill, the bass player from ZZ Top.

Bailing on his degree in literature from The University of Wisconsin — Madison, just six credits shy of completion, he dove headfirst into the world of the Chicago blues scene.

During his time in Chicago, he played with harmonica great Paul Butterfield and jammed with legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Buddy Guy. All encouraged Steve Miller to continue his pursuit of music.

Eventually making his way out to San Francisco around 1966, he formed the Steve Miller Band. The band was good enough to back legend Chuck Berry on his Live at Fillmore Auditorium album.

Landing a contract with Capitol Records, Miller released a succession of five albums in which the Steve Miller Band embraced the psychedelic blues sound that permeated much of the San Francisco scene. Boz Scaggs had made his way to San Francisco by this point and reunited with his high school buddy for the first two albums, Children of the Future and Sailor.

All five of his first albums, including Brave New World, Your Saving Grace, and Number 5, performed well enough to sustain his career and trajectory.

It would be 1973’s The Joker that would prove to be the breakthrough for Miller.

As he embraced a less hard rock and more straightforward sound on The Joker, he found a door had opened to the second stage of his career.

After the success of The Joker, rather than release a double album (which were very popular in the mid-70s), Miller took the songs he recorded during the Fly Like an Eagle sessions and split them out over two albums — Fly Like an Eagle in 1976 and Book of Dreams in 1977.

These two albums would mark the commercial peak of the Steve Miller Band and would prove to contain some of the most memorable and likable songs in classic rock.

Famous graphic designers Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse, credited as “Kelly and Mouse” designed the winged horse that dons the front of Book of Dreams. It’s one of those rare graphic designs that transcend the work it represents. The winged horse on the album has become one of the most iconic images in rock and roll, and exclusively associated with the Steve Miller Band.

The album itself contained three singles, “Jet Airliner”, “Jungle Love”, and “Swingtown” and all three are staples on FM radio to this day …in addition to being the air guitarist’s dream songs.

Produced by Miller, Book of Dreams balances the straight-ahead rock with “trippier” songs like “Winter Time”, “Electro Lux Imbroglio”, “Sacrifice.” The record also still notes his love the blues, “The Stake” is a nice clean little blues riff, and “True Fine Love” is a playful little ode to ’50s rock.

The diversity that Miller packs into Book of Dreams is what makes this album easily one of his best. It’s also a testament to Steve Miller’s flexibility and vision that he wrote only six of the twelve songs. The album’s biggest song, “Jet Airliner”, was written by Paul Pena.

One of the most critical ingredients in making a song or album a classic is the sound. That goes without saying, sure, but only a few artists can capture that lightning in a bottle. Just listen to “Jet Airliner” today (the more extended 4:25 version, not the shorter radio edit), and what you hear is unlike anything you hear today …at 43 years old, it still sounds like it is of this moment.

Not only that, but that song speaks to the pre-pandemic days of travel. Whether you were a business person or a rock star, if you traveled with any frequency, you could relate.

CRITICS:

  • Robert Christgau, the curmudgeonly verbose rock critic, gave it a B- saying: “This one avoids significance as aggressively as a Coca-Cola commercial (unless “My Own Space” counts). And thanks to the sidemen’s songs, it isn’t as catchy as a Coca-Cola commercial. Not to mention Fly Like an Eagle.”
  • Stephen Cook, at AllMusic, wrote: “…this is a highlight of the ’70s classic rock era and one of Miller’s finest releases.”

In 2016, Steve Miller threw down the gauntlet when he shined a light on the manipulation of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame committee.

After hearing about and speaking with fellow inductees NWA (who had backed out because they weren’t being treated well), Miller also came close to backing out …but instead decided to voice his displeasure:

  • He called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony as a “private boys club” attended by “jackasses and jerks and (expletive) gangsters and crooks.
    [note: some people call Steve Miller is a gangster of love, but not a “gangster” …some call him Maurice]
  • “And, then, other bands being inducted are like: ‘Oh, man, I’ve waited all my life for this! This is the most important day of my life.’ And, to me, it’s not that important. I’d like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to advocate for musicians’ rights, and do something for poor musicians’ health and retirement funds.”
  • Notably referring to the whole process as “unpleasant” he noted — “When they told me I was inducted, they said: ‘You (can) have two tickets — one for your wife and one for yourself. Want another one? It’s $10,000 — sorry, that’s the way it goes.’ What about my band? What about their wives? They make this so unpleasant.”
  • Miller was also very unwelcoming to the band that inducted him. Miller had wanted Elton John to induct him because “knows me and probably knows my music better than most people,” but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame put the kibosh on that and selected The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach, and Patrick Carney. It was so awkward and uncomfortable for those two that they left immediately after the induction. [seriously though, why can’t the inductee choose who inducts them]
  • Steve Miller also didn’t wait to vent until after the event to speak up; he did it backstage at the ceremony. When a publicist for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame interrupted him and suggested he “wrap things up.” That was a mistake, he replied:

“No, we’re not going to wrap this up — I’m going to wrap you up,” an understandably annoyed Miller responded. “You go sit down over there and learn something. Here’s what you need to know: This is how close the (induction) show came to not happening, because of the way the artists are being treated right now.”

Steve Miller’s body of work speaks for itself. His artistic breadth is broad, from psychedelia to blues to rock to pop. Regardless of what he may think of it, he’s more than worthy of being recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Hell, Book of Dreams is reason enough to have inducted him.

If you like what you read, you can buy me a cup of coffee to support my irrational love of coffee …and help support the writing.

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