Saturday, 15 March 2014

It's Miller Time

Frankie Miller is someone I had always meant to check out. I mean, I was vaguely aware of the man and the musical ballpark that he operated in, but never quite got around to giving him a proper listen. Until recently.

No doubt I saw Frankie Miller on Top Of The Pops back in 1978 when Darlin' hit the UK top ten, but probably found his music a bit grown-up alongside fluffier distractions such as Blondie, Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip, Queen and Boomtown Rats who all charted at the same time. I next heard Frankie's name around 1984 when I found myself in a recording studio for the first time. It was a tiny, pine-clad space in the converted loft of a terraced house in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The studio owner, a charming gent called Stewart Blandamer, had a clock on the studio wall fashioned from a copy of Miller's Darlin' 7" single. It turned out that Stewart had written the song for Frankie and been rewarded with the financial wherewithal to set up a home studio in which to record talentless local bands such as my own. As a bunch of teenage headbangers we were excited to discover that Stewart was responsible for playing the tenor sax on Status Quo's Hello LP, but the Frankie Miller writing credit was, no doubt, far more lucrative. To his eternal credit, Stewart was patience personified and sent us home, dreaming of stardom, with a tape sufficiently well-recorded to make our numerous deficiencies achingly clear. I would never have knowingly thrown away such an important historical artefact, but my copy does seem to have disappeared. Perhaps a music lover stumbled upon it and decided that the only humane thing to do was to put it out of its misery and have it destroyed. The world will just have to cope without ever hearing High Time For Love or Don't Let It End. An incalculable loss!

Even when not pursuing his solo career Frankie Miller's fingerprints seem to have been all over the music industry. Before setting off on his solo path, Frankie was in a band called Jude with Robin Trower, Jimmy Dewar and Jethro Tull's Clive Bunker, but they never recorded together. What a waste! Having said that, could you realistically have two vocalists of the calibre of Miller and Dewar in the same band? Surely Dewar wouldn't have been content to just play bass? The Live And Dangerous version of Still In Love With You by Thin Lizzy is, quite possibly, my all-time favourite ballad, but for years I was unaware that it is Frankie who duets with Phil Lynott on the studio version of the song. Twenty years after that recording, in 1994, while in the process of putting a band together with Joe Walsh, Nicky Hopkins and Ian Wallace of King Crimson, Miller suffered a brain haemorrhage and fell into a coma. Another of those 'what if?' stories that seem to litter the music industry. Miller's Paul Rodgers / Rod Stewart / Bob Seger-hybrid of a voice fronting that line-up would have been quite something! Most importantly though, Frankie survived.

No doubt discouraged by a more modest level of commercial success than his vocal talents deserved, Miller would often write for others and had the likes of Ray Charles, The Eagles, Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker queuing up to record his songs. Bob Seger covered Miller's Ain't Got No Money on his Stranger In Town album and has cited him as a major influence. Perhaps Miller has a Stranger In Town clock on his wall to remind him who pays his mortgage.

Here's a couple of killer tunes from Miller's The Rock album, complete with one-time McCartney sideman Henry McCullough on lead guitar. Blues-Rock at its best!

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