Friday, August 03, 2007

Memories of 'The West Coast' From A Surrey Bedroom

Record of the week time I thought and in looking back over what I've picked over recent months I've neglected the groups in favour of solo singers. Looking for something else amongst my 'stuff' I came across this great ad from 1969 for the underground top 10' and in it is one of my all time favourite's, the Steve Miller Band's 'Sailor'. Many of you will know the later FM friendly hits that Steve had with songs like ‘The Joker’ and ‘Jet Airliner’, but this is from the days when he was at the cutting edge of San Franciscan music. His band (when they called themselves the Steve Miller Blues Band) had debuted at the Avalon Ballroom in January 1967 and played Monterey in the summer of the same year, which is what led to them signing for Capitol Records.

After being signed Steve contacted his old friend Boz Scaggs and asked him to join, he dropped the word 'blues' from their name and they all flew to London to record their first album with Glynn Johns. ‘Children of the Future’ came out in May '68 and was quickly a ‘hit’ on the FM stations, but went virtually unplayed in Britain. In October '68 out came ‘Sailor’, for me the quintessential Miller Band album.

The instantly catchy, yet driving and very credible, 'Living in the US was a minor Hot 100 hit in the USA but a huge favourite on FM radio. I don't know where or how I first heard the track - maybe John Peel - but I resolved to get the album. It was not easy as it was import only in Britain. When I eventually bout it sometime in 1969 I was blown away. If anything Living in the USA was the weakest track.

It opens with the brilliant and atmospheric ‘Song For Our Ancestors’, with its boat foghorns and ethereal guitar and keyboards combining in what to my ears was the epitome of West Coast creativity. It segways into the ballad ‘Dear Mary’ and from there into ‘My Friend’, another slice of sound that only bands with the West Coast pedigree could produce. I wish I could recreate that feeling of hearing those first three tracks for the first time, sat in my bedroom, imagining what it must be like to have seen them live at the Avalon or the Fillmore - I knew about these places because I read every word of every music paper I could get my hands on.

Other standout tracks are 'Gangster of Love' (a harbinger of the later FM friendly rock sound that Miller would make his own), 'Quicksilver Girl' and 'Dime-A-Dance Romance' which sounds an awful lot like 'Jumping Jack Flash' (the Stones track came out in June '68).

The Steve Miller Band, or at least Steve with a bunch of younger guys, is back touring the USA this summer. He won't play most of this album having had a career that took off in the later 70s and 80s with all those huge hits like 'Rock'N Me', 'Abracadabra', and 'Fly Like An Eagle' - never mind because they're still great records.


Ian russell said...

Great memories, yeah those bedroom moments.. Interesting that the 'Underground' top 10 includes a lot of top acts.

I see John Fahey there, a name that must have passed me by until a few months back when his avant-garde version of House of the Rising Son was aired on Radio 3, of all places.

Ian russell said...

Rising Son? I must still be in my bedroom.

Richard Havers said...

Ian, I think the 'underground' tag was as much as anything awarded to signify, worthy rather than unknown. It was in that period where 'Rock music' had not really become the term to signify that which wasn't pop.

Taj Mahal's first band was the Rising Sons....

Anonymous said...

Good choice for Album of the Week, Richard, because once again, my ignorance in showing. For one thing, I didn't know Boz Scaggs was in the Steve Miller Band. For another, I never even HEARD of this album. Maybe it was slightly before my time. In the late sixties, my record-buying was limited to Beatles, Jackson Five and the Osmond Brothers.
Thanks again for the schooling.

Richard Havers said...

One of the great things about 'talking music' is the fact that we're always surprised by what other people don't know about, that one takes for granted that everyone knows!

It's an age thing definitely, you can be months too young to know something, or for some other reason be out the loop. Having no teenagers at home means that I don't know about all sorts of things - music and otherwise!

Anonymous said...

Went to a Steve Miller Band concert in Portobello Town Hall just outside Edinburgh in the late 60's. We were backstage after the show having a chat and we introduced the band to Belhaven bottled beer which is made in a brewery in Dunbar (not too far from Paradise). When we left Steve presented us with a little piece of 'contiband' which we humbly accepted and duly enjoyed by the Portobello sea-shore on a beautiful moonlit night.

Fond memories.