Some people call him the space cowboy. Some people call him the gangster of love. Some people . . . well, you know the rest. Steve Miller (of, what else, the Steve Miller Band) has spent the last several decades as an elder statesman of sorts, a legitimate American rock legend, pumping out classics like “The Joker” and “Fly Like an Eagle” for the teeming masses. But for as laid back as Miller’s brand of bluesy classic rock is, his passion has remained the same for decades, something evident in his riled up responses to the current state of music, specifically the role that technology has played.
“All this technology, man, has destroyed a lot of things,” says Miller. “The technology companies made it possible for people to steal [music] and laughingly said, ‘Yeah, rip and burn, ha, ha, ha!’ I’d love to do a rip and burn to Steve Jobs; I’d like to take his house away from him. Put his ass on the street, that thief.”
Issues with Apple aside, Miller is spending a considerable portion of his time these days supporting Kids Rock Free, a non-profit organization that provides no-cost music lessons for kids ages 7 to 17, including a benefit concert on Friday at the Fender Center in Corona.
“The basic goal is not to create rock stars [ . . . ] it’s basically to teach them how to listen and how to work and play together. We’ve all seen the studies about what music does for a child’s brain, a developing brain and how important that is.
Music’s been cut out of all these schools, and this is really self-defeating for us as a civilization. We need to have music taught in schools. So now I’m trying to start 1,500 of these schools. The state of California could probably use 300 of them. I’ve seen it all, man. I’ve been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I’ve been to the Experience Music Project. If you took the money you spent on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Experience Music Project, you could have started 500 of these schools instead of those ego palaces.”
The Steve Miller Band’s latest release, an album of cover songs called simply Bingo!, dropped in June, their first studio release in nearly 20 years. Don’t think Miller was forced out of the limelight against his will, though; while he’s been recording steadily in the meantime, the nature of the industry, well, let’s say it wasn’t to “Maurice’s” liking.
“I’ve recorded and recorded and recorded lots of stuff, but you know, when you’re finished with it, it’s like taking a newborn baby and giving it to Rumpelstiltskin. That’s what it’s like giving your music to a record company. They’re gonna tear the arms and legs off of it and kill it. And [at one point,] I didn’t have to do that fight anymore, so I just sort of eliminated that from my world and my smile got a lot bigger.”
With his very own eponymous band as well as his own record label (Space Cowboy Records, an imprint of Roadrunner), Steve Miller doesn’t have to answer to anybody, a fact that comes in handy when the rocker would much rather tour non-stop, as opposed to the normal touring cycles imposed on artists by labels.
“It’s not like, ‘Well, you can only tour 18 months, and then you have to stop for 18 months because the record company says, and blah blah blah, and you can’t overexpose yourself,’ Well what am I gonna tell my truck drivers and my musicians? ‘You’re out of work for a year and a half’? What am I gonna do? My chops aren’t gonna be any good if I don’t play all the time! I’m a musician, man, that’s what I do. I play all the time. And I have, from the time I was 12 years old until now, and I’m 66. I don’t plan to stop. I’m really enjoying what I do.”
The Steve Miller Band at the Fender Center Amphitheatre, 365 N. Main St., Corona, (951) 735-2440; http.fendermuseum.com, www.kidsrockfree.com. Fri, Sat. 17. 6PM (VIP admission and dinner, 9PM concert.