By Al Kaufman
Steve Miller has sold exactly 1.6 gazillion copies of the Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits 1974-78. In the ’80s, every single person in the United States either owned a copy or knew a person who owned a copy. For college freshmen, the album came in the orientation packet. If you turned on a rock radio station, you heard “Space Cowboy,” “Take the Money and Run,” or, mostly, “The Joker.”
Miller had another hit in 1982 with “Abracadabra,” but the strain of rhyming the title with “Reach out and grab ya'” must have been too much for him. He retired to his ranch. He put out a couple of blues albums (the latest, 1993’s Wide River went predominantly unnoticed), but mostly he just toured enough dates a year to survive. His protest song, “Fly Like an Eagle,” (“Feed the people who don’t have enough to eat/Shoe the children with no shoes on their feet/House the people living in the street”) became a jingle for the U.S. Postal Service. Miller seemed primed to live out his time playing under tents in the summer time with the likes of Eddie Money and Glen Frey.
But with Bingo!, Miller is back. The CD is the first from multiple recording sessions (the second should come out next year), and it offers that blues rock played with a twinkle in the eye that Miller fans have grown to expect. “Hey, everyone, I think I’ll take this time to have some fun,” sings Miller in his best Jokerman voice in the first line of the opening track, “Hey Yeah.” The song, written by Paul Henry Ray and Jimmy “Fabulous Thunderbirds” Vaughan, is the first of 10 blues/rock covers that comprise the CD. Two more Vaughan compositions – “Don’t Cha Know” and “Sweet Soul Vibe” – appear later on.
Miller also pays homage to some classics. With his trademark heavy guitar sound, he brings an air of mystery to Otis Rush’s “All Your Love (I Miss Loving).” He allows Sonny Charles, former vocalist for the Checkmates, to take over the singing duties on B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” which opens with a rockabilly piano before quickly giving way to Miller’s big, beefy guitar.
So while it seems true that Miller can no longer be bothered to write new songs, he still loves his guitars and he still loves the blues. That love bursts forth on Bingo!.