Scott Miller really doesn’t have time for interviews anymore. His agent’s message reads as follows:
“Scott is working cows today and tomorrow. He will call Saturday night.”
For years the 47-year old Virginian traveled the world looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rock and roll rainbow, chasing fame, fortune and fun. And believe me, back when Miller was a drinking man, he was an overdose of fun sometimes.
His band, the V-Roys, the first band signed to Steve Earle and Jack Emerson’s E-Squared label and the first band in ages to break big out of Knoxville, made a lot of noise and went around the world several times. When the band broke up after a final hurrah on New Years Eve 1999, Miller began a solo career.
“It’s one thing to be in a band, it’s another thing to call all the shots, pay all the bills, make all the decisions,” Miller explains from his farm outside Staunton, Va. “We’d hit the wall after two records and several tours with Steve, so it was time to do something else. Some of the guys situations were changing, families, kids, responsibilities.”
Something else for Miller meant almost immediately dropping a solo acoustic album, Are You With Me?, recorded on the cheap with an ADAT. The album further demonstrated Miller’s prolific songwriting skills. The plaintive opener “Can You Hear Me Tonight?” found Miller talking directly to his audience, asking them “can you feel me tonight?” Chances were that if you weren’t a fan of Miller before hearing that one song, you were about to be one. It was a direct circuit to the whole singer-songwriter thing.
A toke stops the hurt, the coke starts to work, and the whiskey lights fires in my mind.
But meanwhile Miller had ideas of another band. His first studio album, Thus Unto Tyrants, was billed as Scott Miller and the Commonwealth and was produced by roots-rock genius R.S. Field; it featured some of Nashville’s finest rock players like drummer Jimmy Lester and guitarist Rob McNelly. Once again, keeping a band together proved to be Miller’s biggest problem.
“That life is as addictive as any drug you’ll ever get hooked on,” says Miller. “But it’s grueling, seriously grueling. And if you’re drinking hard like I was, it takes a toll you sometimes don’t realize because you’re fighting the battle every day and you can’t see the true picture.”
After four band albums, Miller hit another wall. He says he was drinking in his favorite bar in Knoxville when it dawned on him.
“I was pretty lit up and I was looking at all the bottles behind the bar,” says Miller, “and it hit me from out of somewhere that I could drink every one of those bottles and it wasn’t going to make me happy. That was big for me.”
Not only did Miller shuck the booze and the pot, he shucked his band and took it back to acoustic guitars and the occasional fiddle or bass.
“That’s really what I started as,” says Miller. “Todd Steed and I used to play all these acoustic, folky, bluegrass gigs. I’d even do old gospel tunes. When I gave up on being a touring band, that was the natural path for me to go back down. That also brought me back to working harder on the craft of songwriting, which is another positive.”
Miller also notes that backing off a bit let him make some other moves that boosted both his career and his private life. He and his wife decided to leave Knoxville and return to Miller’s father’s farm, where they grow some crops and raise cattle.
“We worked cows all day today,” says Miller, “and I just love it. I get to be around my dad, we’ve got a nice, regular, quiet kind of life. So things on the personal end couldn’t be much better.”
Miller also notes that for the first time in his 20-plus year career, he’s finally gotten professional management.
“It’s crazy,” he laughs. “I was such an asshole, I was so driven to be a rock and roll star or whatever I was trying to be for so long. And sure enough, almost as soon as I decided I didn’t give a shit anymore, the doors all opened up. I had the best year I’ve ever had in 2014, and 2015 is looking strong.”
His last few times through Houston, Miller was traveling with fiddler Rayna Gellert, with whom he recorded the album Co-Dependents in 2012, but will be accompanied by bassist Bryn Davies on the current tour.
“Bryn has played with Guy Clark, Tony Rice, and Jack White, so she’s got some serious chops,” Miller explains.
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Miller also notes that his new management has gotten him some unusual gigs going forward.
“I usually don’t book anything May 20 through June 20 because that’s haying season for us,” says Miller. “But I’m breaking that rule this year to fly down to open for Huey Lewis at Floore’s Country Store in late May.
“That’s a cool gig," he says. "I just wonder if any of those folks will want to listen to little old me?”
Scott Miller performs 9:30 p.m. Thursday, May 7 at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk.