Interview with MILLER ANDERSON
A look at his discography makes one wonder why Miller Anderson is a musicians' musician and his is not the name that everybody knows. Maybe that's because of the road he's chosen early on which leads to the pastures of Miller's own liking and not everybody else's. Still, the British blues aficionados recognise and adore Anderson's work with THE KEEF HARTLEY BAND where he was the main singer and T.REX fans are familiar with the sound of his guitar on "Dandy In The Underworld". Yet these are only two of many great collectives the veteran's been in. With a new album called "Chameleon" a time comes to look closely at the great artist's multicolor career.
- Miller, what does being Scottish mean to you?
Scotland, for such a small population, has produced many talents in all areas, such as shipbuilding and engineering. We even founded the Bank of England and the United States Navy. And a lot of good music, poetry etcetera. I am proud of that and it is a really beautiful country.
- How did the music start for you? I mean what did draw the Glasgow boy to the sounds?
Music always seemed to be with me. At first, I made a pair of drum sticks and played all around my home village, Houston, in Scotland. I was maybe only five or six years old. I had no idea why I felt I should do this, but it felt right to me. I drummed on everything: oil drums, paint pots, walls and doors - everywhere. I must have driven all the people in the village insane. I then started to play harmonica - mostly Scottish tunes. My father was a great harmonica player. At about ten years old I discovered blues and rock 'n' roll. I got an acoustic guitar and, because of my small hands at that time, I started to play slide guitar first. I actually went to lessons for Hawaaian guitar for three years. When I was about fifteen, I met with some local guys and we started a little band playing early skiffle and rock 'n' roll. That's when I started to play regular guitar. I loved the early Elvis stuff, Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent and all the blues artists, but my big hero then was Chuck Berry.
- Is there such a thing as Scottish blues as opposed to blues that come from England?
Not really. Although the Scots who first settled in America had an influence on any music that came out of the USA later.
- If you were to name just one band you played in, what would it be?
I have had fun in almost all the bands I have been in. I would find it hard to name a favourite.
- Do you think of yourself as a guitarist, in the first place, or as a vocalist?
A singer, songwriter, guitarist - in that order. Whatever the band needs me for.
- There was a band called THE VOICE that you brought Mick Ronson in. Where did you know the Hull guy from?
Mick auditioned for the band I was leaving but agreed to help find my replacement. I chose Mick and we were friends from then on.
- You had several bands with Ian Hunter: was there a competition with regards to the lead vocals?
I never a problem with Ian Hunter. We shared the vocals and are still best friends.
- Who were the artists that THE SCENERY, one of those bands with Hunter, did sessions for?
THE SCENERY were the house band at Regent Sound studios where THE STONES recorded their first album. Ian Hunter played bass and I was the guitarist. It was really early days and we were broke. We did the sessions cheap, so we were working all the time! We had a drummer, John Vernon Smith, and sometimes a keyboard player, Dante Smith - no relation to John V. Smith. Sometimes people were added to this line-up, and we had Mitch Mitchell on drums for one session. Mitch had just left Georgie Fame, so I asked him what he was going to do next. He said, I'm starting a new band with a black guy Chas Chandler of THE ANIMALS has discovered in the States. I think he is a piano player, Mitch said... It was Jimi Hendrix! Funny days!
Ian, John and me did live gigs all over the UK as THE SCENERY. We did a tour as a support for THE DUBLINERS UK - that was the first time I played The Royal Albert Hall. It was a great tour, we were backing David McWilliams, the guy who wrote and recorded the original version of "The Days Of Pearly Spencer". Many years later, "Pearly Spencer" was a big hit for Marc Almond. I was the only guy on the show with an electric guitar, a Telecaster, and a Vox AC30 amplifier. Ian had a Fender bass. Some of the folk audience were purists and hated the electric sound, but most people loved David's music. He was a really talented songwriter.
- Was Bill Bruford a great drummer already in the days of PAPER BLITZ TISSUE, another of your early groups?
I thought Bill Bruford was a great drummer even right at the begining, with PAPER BLITZ. The rest of the band thought he was too jazz-influenced and actually wanted to sack him. I said if they did that , I would quit the band. Bill made us sound different to a lot of the other bands at that time. He was great to play with, and I was not surprised when later he became a top class drummer.
- How come that with you the main songwriter on KEEF HARTLEY BAND's "Overdog" and "The Time Is Near...", there was so little from your compositions on the group's other albums while you certainly had a lot of music in you?
I wrote under my wife's name, Hewitson, on "Halfbreed" and "The Battle Of North West Six" because of contractual reasons. In fact, I wrote most of "The Battle Of North West Six" and shared it with the other guys in the band! I was very generous then! I wrote "Overdog" and "The Time Is Near..." using my own name, as the contractual problem had been sorted out by then.
- What memories do you have of Woodstock? How did KEEF HARTLEY BAND get to play there in the first place?
Decca / Deram Records got us on to the Woodstock festival. It all happened so fast. It was a new line-up of the KEEF HARTLEY BAND, and we were very under-rehearsed... We did not play well as we could not use our own equipment. We used SANTANA's gear. It was a missed chance for the band.
- Was it there that you got hooked on the West Coast style to re-imagine it for your first solo album?
There was no West Coast influence. That was just me at the time.
- How do you remember Gary Thain who's become a legend by now?
In the early days of THE KEEF HARTLEY BAND we had to share rooms when we were on the road. It was always me and Gary Thain. We got along well - you had to, living so closely together. But we were very different as people. Gary left his family in New Zealand when he was seventeen and had to grow up very quickly. I left home at nineteen but was married to my wife Fiona before I was twenty-one. We are still together! So I had a pretty stable situation while Gary had to be more street-smart. He was very outspoken and would put someone down in a second if he thought there was any bullshit. He was always the best musician in the band and I learned a lot from him. It would be great to know how good he could have become if he had lived longer. I would think he would be one of the best bass players in the world by now.
- Have you heard Thain's work in URIAH HEEP?
I knew all the guys in URIAH HEEP, and they where good guys, but it was never my kind of music. I knew they were great - but not for me. I was surprised when Gary Thain joined them. I'm not really sure it was his kind of music either. They were great at what they did, though. I saw Gary with them at a gig in London and he was brilliant. A great bass player! I still think about him. It was really sad when he died. They put him in prison for drug offences, and he could not find anyone to put up his bail money. None of URIAH HEEP would do it, not even their wealthy manager [Gerry Bron]. I put the money up to get Gary out, but he died of a drug overdose when he got out of prison. I often think it might have been better if I had refused to put up the money to get him out. Would he still be alive? He was really into drugs at the end, so I think it would have happened anyway. Sad!
- Was HEMLOCK a logical extension of the "Bright City" album and an attempt to create a progressive soul group?
"Hemlock" was recorded as my second solo album for Decca. I used the same musicians later and called the band HEMLOCK.
- Did THE MILLER ANDERSON BAND that you formed after leaving Keef and that, as reported, recorded some BBC tapes evolve into HEMLOCK or was it a different line-up?
HEMLOCK was the title I chose for that solo project for Decca / Deram. We toured the USA as Miller Anderson with HEMLOCK, but I decided to make it just the group name later. And it was a slightly different line-up: Pete Wingfield played keyboards as Mick Weaver could not make the sessions.
- What has become of the Beeb tapes?
The BBC tapes were for The John Peel Show. I don't know what happened to them.
- Why did the band split so soon - was the SAVOY BROWN offer so alluring?
HEMLOCK split after one major tour of the USA as guests on a SAVOY BROWN tour. HEMLOCK was a great live band but it was so hard to get a new thing off the ground, and Kim Simmonds offered me, the drummer, Eric Dillon, and bassist, Jimmy Leverton, the next SAVOY BROWN American tour as part of his band. So, we joined the band.
- Why did you, having left Hartley for a solo career, join Kim Simmonds' band?
I had made two solo albums, "Bright City" and "Hemlock", and did not have a lot of luck with these, so when Kim asked me to join SAVOY, it felt good to just be a member of a band again. SAVOY BROWN were very famous in the US then. So it was a good step up at the time.
- How did you feel in SAVOY BROWN playing alongside Simmonds and Stan Webb, two guitarists who are as accomplished as you?
Kim, Stan and me had a real good time together... Stan is a really funny guy and a good friend. He is a great guy to be in a band with musically and socially. Kim, too, is a fine guitarist. I wrote most of the songs on our album "Boogie Brothers" and sang most of the time. I remember Stan saying that he really enjoyed being the guitarist and having more of a chance to concentrate on that part of the band. I played a lot of second guitar parts as I was busy singing, and three guitars all playing lead parts can get really silly anyway!
- Was it too much talent onboard that another band, BROKEN GLASS' wonderful combination of the players proved unstable?
I was brought in to help on the "Broken Glass" album, and wrote under the name "Alexander": more contract difficulties! It was a great band but we had poor management. So it all fell apart... It was a real shame!
- How did you, working in the UK, get involved with BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS, the Americans?
BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS came to me through my good mate Ian Hunter who recommended me to them. He had moved to the USA and knew them. I got offered the job as singer and guitarist, and we rehearsed for a few days, but I started to feel it wasn't the music I wanted to play and I didn't want to live in the US at that time. So, it was just a short experience. They were nice about it when I told them I didn't want to stay.
- What was the DOG SOLDIER concept that saw you unite forces with Keef one more time?
Keef an me just decided to get together again but it was a bad time for both of us. Nothing seemed to go right for us this time, so we just gave up on the idea.
- Why, having reunited with Hartley in DOG SOLDIER, you didn't revert to the old name? Because of the much heavier direction?
DOG SOLDIER was an Indian name that Keef Hartley thought of as a band name. When Al Teller, the boss of United Artists in the USA, heard I had more or less turned down the gig with BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS, he was interested to see what else I was doing. Keef knew that if anything came from this it would be because of this interest and wanted to be just part of the the band for a change. Al Teller came to London to hear the band and signed us to United Artists. And that was the "Dog Soldier" album.
- DOG SOLDIER soldiered on after Hartley left. Why did the band breke up?
It was never the kind of band Keef and me thought it would be. It was good enough - but not good enough for Keef and me.
- The SOLDIER tour with BACK STREET CRAWLER... What was Paul Kossoff like then?
Paul was a nice guy but he too had a drug problem. It's so sad and such a waste of talent!
- Is there a chance the album you recorded with Mick Taylor will see the light of day?
It was not an album with Mick Taylor. Only four songs were recorded, which was not enough for an album.
- If your old friend Ian Hunter offered you to join MOTT THE HOOPLE back in the Seventies, would you go for this?
Well, I think Ian always knew I was never into the glam rock look. MOTT were very fashion-concious, but I was never into that. Not even when I was with T.REX. I was a jeans and T-shirt guy. Marc didn't care about that, but it wouldn't have been right for the early MOTT THE HOOPLE. Ian knew that and I did, too.
- The T.REX stint seems the strangest move in your career. Was there a special reason to join Marc Bolan and wasn't his music too simple for you?
Dino Dines who was in THE KEEF HARTLEY BAND on Hammond organ got me in to play live on "Top Of The Pops", the biggest music show on UK television. T.REX were the first band to play live on the show and Marc Bolan wanted to have another guitarist. I got on really well with Marc. He was a typical East End of London Jewish kid with a real good sense of humour. He knew exactly who he was and had a real talent for creating pop songs that people still play today. He was not Mozart, for sure, but there was no doubt he was Marc Bolan, a real little giant.
- The short-lived DUKES with the STONE THE CROWS guys. Had this band done any recordings save for one single?
THE DUKES were the band on the demos with Mick Taylor. We went on to be backing band for Donovan on a world tour with YES, and Warner Bros in the USA signed the band. We got Jimmy McCulloch into the band and recorded one album for Warners called "The Dukes".
- Did you know THE CROWS and Maggie Bell from the Glasgow days?
I knew Leslie Harvey from STONE THE CROWS, he worked in the biggest music store in Glasgow in the early days. If you wanted to try out a guitar, you had to ask Leslie. He was a nice guy and a great guitar player .
- How come you played bass, not guitar, for CHICKEN SHACK and then MOUNTAIN?
I played guitar on some of the MOUNTAIN recordings when we went on the road with the band. Leslie West and Corky Laing wanted to keep it to just three band members, and of course, MOUNTAIN was, and still is, Leslie West, so I played bass and sang on the road. I was in the band for four years. With Stan Webb, we had been in SAVOY BROWN together and are still good mates, and when he was stuck for a bass player, I said I would do it. It was always a lot of laughs working with Stan!
- How did you join MOUNTAIN in the first place?
Again, it was Ian Hunter put me in touch with Corky Laing, and we recorded some songs together. We finally got Leslie West to agree to re-form MOUNTAIN. Just the three of us.
- Didn't you meet Leslie at Woodstock?
No, I didn't meet Leslie West at Woodstock . Woodstock was not as romantic as it has later been suggested. It has become quite historic, I know, and I am proud in a way to say I was a little part of it, but at the time it was a mess, mass confusion. Look at Hendrix's' face on his set! He was suppossed to play the night before, but things were so screwed up that he didn't get on the stage until 5 AM the next morning. He was tired and seriously pissed off. I think that's where all the anger and emotion came from when he played "Star-Spangled Banner". You can bet that was never rehearsed. That comes from sitting around in the rain for ten hours! If you listen carefully through the music, you can almost hear a big "Fuck this shit".
- The "Extremely Live At Birmingham Town Hall" album isn't credited to THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP. So when did you officially become a part of this band?
The Birmingham CD was THE R&B ALLSTARS, and Spencer was a guest on that the same as everyone else. It was all put together by Pete York. It was a year or so later that Pete and Spencer decided to get THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP back together with me and Colin Hodgkinson, and we had quite a few different keyboard players for a while until Eddie Hardin rejoined as the obvious fifth member.
- Having played with Dave Cousins, were you ever invited into THE STRAWBS?
Yes, after I did Dave's first solo album ["Two Weeks Last Summer"] he asked me to join THE STRAWBS. I was thinking about doing it but I didn't join in the end. Dave Lambert is a great guitarist anyway. So it all works out in the end!
- How did you get involved with Jon Lord - which led to the DEEP PURPLE tour?
Jon Lord was in THE ARTWOODS with Keef Hartley. I met him through Keef, and he always liked my voice. Later. I was asked by Pete York to do gigs with him and Jon. So I really got to work with Jon and then DEEP PURPLE because of Pete.
- A great singer yourself, how do you feel when you sing alongside such talents as Chris Farlowe or Maggie Bell?
Chris Farlowe and Maggie Bell are two of the best singers to come out of the UK. But I have my own voice and I am happy with it. The human voice is a personal thing. It might sound great to some people. Then again, others might not like that sound. Who knows? Just be yourself!
- Through the years,you've played with a lot of great guitarists. Who did you find the most interesting to trade licks with?
Every guitarist should have there own approach to what comes out of their instrument. We all have influences, but it's important to take those and use them to make your own noise! Stan, Kim, Leslie West and Mick Taylor all had that, so you can't compare them. They are all great in their own way.
- How stabile the BRITISH BLUES QUINTET line-up is with each member involved in their own project?
BBQ is a gathering of musicians who have all done many things. We love each other as people and musicians. It's a great band to play in, very easy, as everyone is a soloist in their own right. It makes for a great fun show. We will play together and do other things. It's a bit of a TRAVELLING WILBURYS without the money!!!
- Will there be a BBQ studio album any day soon?
It would be nice if BBQ did a studio album Our live album is doing relly well on the Angel Air label.
- What's more there in the BBQ: a musical connection or a friendship?
BBQ are a band of old friends. Maggie and me are both Scottish, and we Scots stick together... I'd worked with Colin Allen in THE MICK TAYLOR BAND and with Donovan's band. Zoot Money is another guy I met and worked with through Pete York. Pete has been very helpful to me, I owe a lot to him. Colin Hodgkinson, I also met through Pete York, and we have worked together in Pete's bands and, of course, THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP. I have worked with Colin for longer than any other musician in my career. You have to be on your toes with Colin. He is the best and a great person to be in a band with.
- What kind of personality should a musician have to be prominent in such personality-filled ensembles you've been in?
Personality? I don't know. I always just did my thing. I never particularly wanted to step out from the band. I just do what I do, and if that makes it look like I'm the front man on that song, then OK! A band is only as good as its bass player and drummer. All the rest is fancy wrapping paper.
- Is there still a musician you'd like to work with?
There are too many musicians I would love to have a jam with to single just one out.
- What's the reason for cutting a new version of the wonderful "Fog On The Highway" on your new album?
Yes, I did "Fog On The Highway" again on "Chameleon". On "Celtic Moon" it was an acoustic version, and Frank Diez played the electric guitar on that song. Frank is one of my favourite players. He produced "Celtic Moon", so he was there and I thought what a great chance to have Frank wail out the solo, and he did it for free! What a guy! The "Chameleon" version is the way I played it with THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP when we did it live. People liked it like that, too. So it's electric with me doing the guitar... Hope Frank thinks its OK!
- The album's titled "Chameleon". Do you think of yourself as an ever-changing person? You can't be the mimicrying one, can you?
"Chameleon" was my daughter Blane's idea. She has grown up with my music and she and my son Miller Junior and my wife Fiona have always said I have so many styles from ballads to rock to blues. So I'm ever-changing, but I hope, in a way, always the same! Maybe it would have been easier and safer for me to have stuck to one thing and never change. But I am the Chameleon.
- It was you who drew the new CD cover. For how long you've been into this art?
I am a self-taught artist. I draw everything I see and always have done since I was a child. Pete York has kept a lot of my drawings. He says they will be worth money one of these days!!!
- Blues with Keef, soul with HEMLOCK, funk with GLASS with folk and jazz in-between, on solo albums: was it trying out the different facets of yours in search of the ultimate expression?
My music, like my life, is ever changing. I hope it's honest and how I feel at that moment in time.
- Did you ever think of compiling the Miller Anderson anthology?
I have never thought of doing a Miller Anderson anthology, I am just happy that people like the music I play. It keeps me working. Other than that, I have no big plans for myself. I take it as it comes!
- What do you think is your definitive recording?
I usually do not listen to anything I have recorded. When I play my songs live, I like to make them a little bit different each gig. I helps to keep me and the band, and I hope the audience, iterested each night . You have to take chances with music!
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