Some people call him the Space Cowboy. Some people call him a Texan. Although the Steve Miller Band hails from California, its leader grew up partially in Dallas, starting when he was old enough to start learning from the local blues greats and young enough to really accept it as home. Miller returns with his band on September 19 and 20 for an Austin City Limits Live recording.
The Steve Miller Band’s last and only ACL appearance was in 2011, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, both playing their ACL debuts. At a glance, it was an unusual pairing, but it was stylistically fitting considering the adventurous tunes that made the Steve Miller Band famous. (Miller’s official bio describes his parents as “jazz aficionados,” and Miller himself is now a member of the Board of Directors for Jazz at Lincoln Center.) The veteran rockers make their slick and exceedingly laid-back studio hits sound much more lived-in onstage these days, with a more upbeat and groovy show.
Despite Miller’s interest and influence in jazz, the band was initially known as a blues band in 1966 and even backed Chuck Berry in 1967. An early lineup also included Miller’s former classmate, Boz Scaggs, who as a teen lived in Plano and is now recognized as one of the revolutionizing players of contemporary blues.
The blues are clearly evident in the band’s early work, but California pop sensibilities won over in the form of semi-acoustic instrumentation, crisp vocal harmonies, and bright, sunny melodies. Things started getting weirder around the band’s first decade, when Miller’s writing turned more funky and futuristic.
Miller was welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, decades into his eligibility at age 72. The induction made even more news than expected when Miller criticized the organization for its undervaluation of women (a complaint shared by The Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine, also a long-time Texan and Californian, whose band was not inducted until 2021), and for charging band members exorbitantly to attend the ceremony. Miller is also part of the Country Hall of Fame, the Les Paul Advisory Council, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In 2021, the Steve Miller Band released a live album, Live! Breaking Ground August 3, 1977. The record opens with Miller’s lively harmonica work and moves through 17 tracks of classics and slower, gentler jams. The Coda Collection, available through Amazon Prime Video, preserves a video recording of the entire concert.