Guitarist and vocalist Pete Miller has been at the forefront of the music scene since the early sixties. Rockin' became Miller's business, in fact, back in 1957, after he caught an eyeful of Chuck Berry duck-walking across the screen in the movie classic "Rock Rock Rock". Dreaming of the mythical Johnny B Goode, Miller - a gangly teenager living in Norwich, sold his Hornby Dublo electric train set for five pounds to buy a secondhand guitar. It had been a mere two hours since he left Chuck Berry at the Regent Theatre on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich.
Within the year, Miller and a few schoolmates rehearsed at their youth club and thrashed about at local teen dancehalls as The Offbeats. The affection they maintained for their idols was reflected in the songs they performed: Jerry Lee, Chuck, Gene, Eddie, Buddy, Fats, and, of course the Elvis.
The Offbeats promo photo. 1959
Not a collectors' item by design, "Introducing the Offbeats"- their 1958 six song E.P. survives as the Offbeats' only recorded legacy. The members of The Offbeats were: Luke Watson - drums, David Wilson - bass (later replaced by Mike Parish), Mike Lorenz - rhythm guitar, Tony Woods - vocals (later replaced by Andy Fields who also played piano), and Pete on lead guitar.
The Offbeats at Catton Village Hall in Norwich. 1959
Poster for the Offbeats at the Chantry Hall in Norwich. 1959
Miller was lured away from the Offbeats in 1961 by Peter Jay, who fronted the rival group "The Jaywalkers" - also from Norfolk, a popular road group that played the big theatres and was courting a record deal with Decca. Jay was particularly fond of Miller's creative guitar techniques, which bolstered
Admission ticket to the Offbeats at the Chantry Hall in Norwich 1961.
Also on the bill are the Jaywalkers. The Jaywalker's non-stop road show and helped boost them into the charts with the classic "Can Can 62". Although produced by Joe Meek, Can Can 62 was actually recorded at Decca's studios in Broadhurst Gardens, Hampstead. The hit landed the Jaywalkers second billing to the Beatles on that legendary tour in the autumn of 1963, from whence the term Beatlemania was coined. Then came a couple of dozen dates with the Rolling Stones. Pete"Buzz" Miller (as he was known in those days), still plays the very same two-tone green Gretsch Anniversary guitar that was featured as the lead instrument on all of the Jaywalkers records.
Big Boy Pete, Peter Jay and The Beatles
December 13th., 1963 - Final night of the tour at The Gaumont Cinema, Southampton
Advertising flyer for one of the Sunday rock and roll shows at the Britannia Theatre,
Great Yarmouth. (The Jaywalkers' home town).
1961Pete's playing debut on a major label however, was not with the Jaywalkers - he played lead guitar for Marty Wilde on his minor hit single "Ever SinceYou Said Goodbye". The late Heinz (Burt) was the bass player. It was recorded at IBC studios in Portland Place, London.
Sheet music for Marty Wilde's "Ever Since You Said Goodbye"
on which Pete played lead guitar. 1961
Between1962 and 1965, the Jaywalkers enjoyed immense popularity in Britain releasing a dozen singles for Decca and Pye records. Many of these sides were produced and engineered by the legendary Joe Meek (Outlaws, Tornados, Honeycombs, Heinz etc.) from Joe's bedroom recording studio at 304 Holloway Road in London. It was from Joe that Pete learned many tricks of the trade as far as recording techniques are concerned which is quite apparent in the sounds on his records. It was around this time that Pete turned down and offer from Clem Cattini to join the Tornados - just days before they recorded the world-wide smash Telstar.
List of Venues for Pete's first major U.K. tour with the Jaywalkers.
October-November 1961 Equipped with two bass players (a strategy that Pete employed in many of his later recordings), and a barriage of Vox equipment, the Jaywalkers made numerous TV appearances (Ready Steady Go, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Arthur Haynes Show, Cool Spot, etc.) and stole many a show from their headliners, sharing bills with the diverse likes of the Kinks, The Animals, Dave Clark 5, Billy J. Kramer, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, The Cream, Donovan, Freddy and the Dreamers, Billy Fury, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, The Tornados, The Moody Blues, Maryanne Faithfull, Carl Denver Trio, Joe Brown, Eden Kane, Shane Fenton and the Fentones, Brian Poole & the Tremeloes, Marty Wilde, The Byrds, Gene Pitney, Freddie Cannon, Del Shannon, Gene Vincent, in addition to the Beatles and Stones stints.Pete eventually grew tired of the endless road work and finally quit the Jaywalkersin 1966. He was replaced by Terry Reid who settled in as guitarist duringthe group's final year.A few weeks after quitting the Jaywalkers, (October 29th., 1965 to be exact) Miller's first solo record "Baby I Got News for You" came out on Columbia. Jaywalker Johnny Larke, Gary Taylor, Mick Underwood, Andy Bown and members of The Herd were among the backing musicians. The record was cut at R.G. Jones Studio in Morden and some demos were produced on the Oak label. Miller undertook a few solo appearances to promote the record at such places as the Marquee, Hammersmith Palais and the 100 club on Oxford street. This record was re-released in1990 on a couple of independent compilation albums.
Demo disc of "Baby I Got News for You" on the Oak label. From the R.G.Jones recording studio in London. 1965
He began doing extensive work as a studio session musician in London, playing on dozens of records from that golden era of British Pop. He even contemplated working with Jerry Dorsey (later Engelbert Humperdinck) and did a coupleof rehearsals with him, but decided this was not the avenue to pursue. Deciding that five years in London was enough (1961-1966), he quit his flat in MaidaVale and returned to Norwich. This brings us into the beginning of the "psychedelic era". . . Psychobollux?Over the next two years, Miller concentrated on songwriting and had over 100 of his songs published by major publishing houses in London. Frequent trips to solicit the music publishers in Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street) found him often hanging out in the infamous Giaconda coffee bar. One lunchtime an informal jam session took place in the upstairs studio of one of the publishers' offices with Pete, Clapton and Page exchanging licks.Some of his demos were recorded at Advision studios in New Bond Street with MickyWaller playing drums. Others were cut at R. G. Jones studio, Regent Sound, and Olympic studios. His songwriting soon rewarded him with a writers' contract from the Campbell Connelly publishing company. Freddie and the Dreamers, Sounds Orchestral, Boz, and The Knack were just a few of the artists who recorded his compositions. More recently The Damned covered Pete's song"Cold Turkey" on their Nazz Nomad and the Nightmares album.Back in Norwich Pete was able to do what he liked best - writing and recording. From his studio in Margetson Avenue, Norwich, surrounded by lava lamps and Hindu visuals, literally hundreds of recordings were completed between 1966 and 1969, including "Cold Turkey". Many of these, rejected at the time by the London publishers as being "too far out" are now available for the very first time. Comparisons to tracks from the classic albums of those days are inevitable - Pete unashamedly admits to the influencesof Sgt. Pepper, Satanic Majesties Request, and Axis Bold as Love.
Interview with Pete and Keith Richards (Rolling Stones)
from Beat Instrumental magazine. 1965
For you hi-finatics, the equipment in his studio consisted of the following: For tape recorders - Vortexion, C.B.L, Bang & Olufsen, Brenell, and later, an old mono monster EMI BTR-1 (which came from Abbey Road studios). Bouncing signals between machines gave Pete multitrack capabilities. Up to nine bounces were achieved on some songs before severe signal degradation prevented further. Tape speeds of 15, 7 1/2, 3 3/4 , and even 1 7/8 inches per second were used to produce various delays of slap-back echo. Other echo devices included a Binson Echorec, Watkins Copycat, and a couple of Farfisa spring reverb units to achieve stereo reverb. Extra reverberation was acquired by commandeering the bathroom as an acoustic echo chamber, and also the underground concrete-walled bomb shelter from World War 2, which was located in Pete's garden. A visiting producer once remarked that it may have been illegal to have so many echo devices in one place!A custom made six input mixer linked to an RCA orthophonic equaliser provided frugal mixing power. The monitor system consisted of a Norwich-made HACO amplifier linked to a pair of Golden Wharfdale speakers. Two local electronic wizards - Granville Hornsby and Tony Howes built Pete a couple of unique effects boxes (the Goobly Box and the Humbert Humbert) with which some unprecedented sounds could be created. The sound of a monophonic synthesizer was simulated by hand-twisting the oscilator dial on a Honor sine wave generator. Pete discovered that the recognizable Joe Meek sound (squashing signals through a Fairchild 670 compressor), could almost be duplicated by carefully overloading the valve pre-amps of certain tape recorders, hence saturating the tape.Studio instruments included Fender, Marshall, and Haco amplifiers; an upright piano with tacks in the hammers, a Fiesta red '62 Fender Precision bass, electric violin, electric sitar, wooden flutes, various percussion instruments, Levin acoustic guitar with DeArmonde pickup, and of course let's not forget Henry- Pete's trusty Gretsch guitar -which he still plays to this day.
Some of Pete's family (left to right)-
Billy Joe (1962), Bobby Jo (1968), Bradley (1978), Henry (1961), Marilyn(1958), Darlene (1979), Danny (1960), Clayton (1956). Big Red (1964) andPedro (1980) are in the foreground. Amplifiers - Fender Concert (1960),Fender Bandmaster (1958), Fender Deluxe (1964), Fender Vibroverb (1964),Gibson GA90 (1964).
Writing and recording in the afternoons, he worked nights in the resident houseband at the now infamous Washington 400 club in the rural outskirts of Norwich (casino - striptease - cabaret - gangsters - you name it, it all happened there!) As personnel were replaced, the Washington houseband went through various incarnations - Paul Saint Trio, Peter London Trio, and finally The News. Pete played in all of them. Some of these musicians, along with the cream of Norwich's rockers are featured on "Cold Turkey", and all of the others perform on various tracks on this album. Many of Norfolk's local bands also recorded demos at Pete's recording facility. He helped local songwriters get their works published through his contacts.
Advertisement in the New Musical Express for Big Boy Pete's "Cold Turkey" 1968
Big Boy Pete's first release -
"Cold Turkey" - on the Camp (Polydor) label. 1968
His second solo single "Cold Turkey" was released on January 26th., 1968 on the Camp label - a subsidiary of Polydor. This record is now regarded as one of the most collectable 45s from that era. As it was the heyday for strange names, Polydor issued the record under the name Big Boy Pete. It was re-released on a compilation album in 1990, sparking several "Where is he now?" items in Melody Maker. Pete's five years of strenuous roadwork with the Jaywalkers had left him drained, so when there was talk of promotional touring for "Cold Turkey", he absolutely refused and told the executives to get stuffed and find another "Big Boy Pete" to do the dirty work. Miller agreed to continue to perform on, and produce the records, but someone else must be found to hit the highways. This is why there has been some conjecture as to who exactly was Big Boy Pete. The record company reluctantly agreed and employed a touring stand-in. A German video exists of the stand-in, lip-synching to the record on the now famous Beat ClubTV show. Eventually the stage beckoned once more and, searching for excitement, in July of 1969 Pete took his current band (The News) on an extended tour of the Far East, entertaining the Vietnam G.l.'s for three years in Bangkok, Singapore and the U.S. bases scattered throughout the Jungles of Thailand. In 1972, Miller ended up on the beautiful island of Hawaii with a young Hawaiian girl he'd met and stole from another lead guitar player - an American, in Bangkok.Upon discovering the liason, the American's retort was "You want my Strat as well?" The lady would later become Pete's wife.
Pete playing electric sitar through a wah-wah pedal, Binson Echorec, and Fender Amplifier
at the Impossible Cafe, Bangkok, Thailand 1969
In 1974 Pete returned briefly to the U.K. just long enough to record an album with some of his old cronies from the sixties Big Boy Pete sessions and released the resulting album on his newly formed label .22 Records. The album was entitled "Music from Little Flint". On his return to the U.S. he relocated to San Francisco, California, He realized a lifelong dream by building his own recording studio in America and spent the remainder of that decade putting together a somewhat eclectic album entitled "Pre C.B.S." (Pete Miller and The Wildcats). Since the studio became operational, Peter has been responsible for producing and engineering hundreds of American artists and has won great respect within the industry as an engineer and producer. Thanks to Joe Meek.
Pete Miller and The Wildcats at the "On Broadway" club,
San Francisco 1981
The next album "Rockin' is my Bizness"was released in 1985. Aptly titled considering the course of Miller's life, this LP focused on rockabilly and the traditional aspects of rock and roll. It celebrated the spirit and abandon of Pete's fifties idols and his years spent with The Offbeats andThe Jaywalkers. No drum machines, no synthesizers, just real musicians - real gone cool dudes who knew how to play the shit right! Some famous veteran American rockers accompanied him on this project, including drummer Kenny Dale Johnson, currently with Chris Isaak. Honking and squealing on saxophone is none other than (the late) Steve Douglas who waxed many unforgettable performances during the golden years on hits by Phil Spector (Ronettes, Crystals, Sam Cooke, Duane Eddy etc.) Vocalist Roy Loney from The Flamin' Groovies sang back-up vocals for Pete. Pete made a surprise appearance in the British clubs in 1986. He guested as bass player with the American Cajun band, "LeRue" on a gruelling three week tour ending with a one hour BBC Welsh TV special which was taped by the Manor Mobile recording unit and later released as an album.Tucked away in a quiet courtyard between yuppie boutiques and chic restaurants on San Francisco's famous Union Street, Miller's studio is still recording Loud & Proud and was the base for the recording of his recent album: "DoubleDiamonds" (1995, Maitai Records). Maybe surprisingly, it is an instrumental album in the style of Pete's idol Hank B. Marvin. (Pete and Hank became aquainted early one morning in 1962, over breakfast in the Golden Egg restaurant- opposite the 2 Is coffee bar in Old Compton Street.) Double Diamonds was released under the artist name "Shig & Buzz". (Shig was drummer for Hot Tuna for many years.) The sound is authentic, yet brand new. Rave reviews have prompted a follow-up entitled "Lucky Charm".
Pete with instrumental friends Clem Cattini and Roger Laverne of the Tornados 1996
Then came a series of three albums from the Tenth Planet label in England which issued 36 never-before-heard recordings that he had made in his home studio from 66-69 in Norwich. They were named "Homage to Catatonia", "Summerland", and "Return to Catatonia" and were released from 1996-1998.Next year, the San Francisco label (3 Acre Floor) released a Big Boy Pete 45 rpm single containing two more of his songs from the sixties - "Me" and "Nasty Nazi". The latter was the song that Pete had written as a follow up to Cold Turkey back in 1968 for the sole purpose of getting him out of his contract with Polydor Records. They were a German record label! Needless to say, the song title did its job! (He had been pissed that they had put out Cold Turkey under the artist name of Big Boy Pete without even consulting him about this choice of name.)Finally, in 1999 Pete's masterpiece was released by Gear Fab Records and Comet Records. This was his 1968 creation entitled World War IV - a Symphonic Poem which had taken him 3 months to write and 9 months to record. This was the 46 minute piece that John Lennon had expressed an interest in putting out on Apple records. The album cover was the original artwork that Pete had commissioned from a Norwich painter back then. She was the heroin-addict girlfriend of the piano player from his band in the Washington Club, Norwich.
Album cover for World War IV
In the summer of 1999, Pete had reached the point whereby God entered the picture and declared "Thou shalt record no more than 999 drummers or the next one thou shalt kill". Pete had reached this point and after 25 wonderful years on Union Street he carefully disassembled and closed the studio, moving everything - even the soundproofed walls into the basement of his new home at Ocean Beach on the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. Since then he rarely records anybody else except for a few friends (including Rambling Jack Elliott and Arlo Guthrie.)The new millennium heralded a new direction for his music. Pete collaborated for the first time with different artists. First came a couple of psychedelic albums with "The Squires of the Subterrain" which was actually a New York singer/songwriter named Christopher Earl. All the songs were more unreleased BBP compositions from the sixties and the albums were released on Rocket Racket Records. "Big Boy Pete Treats" and "Hitmen" were the titles.Another collaboration, this time with bass player Bill Bonney (from the sixties UK band "The Fentones") resulted in three albums of brand new surf style instrumentals that Pete wrote specifically for the great US label Double Crown Records. The album titles were "Rock-Ola", "Bang It Again", and "Play Rough".In 2004 and 2006 came "The Margetson Demos" on Gear Fab records, and "The Perennial Enigma" on Angel Air records.
Ocean Beach Studio
More unreleased sixties masters from his studio in Norwich.Yet another guitar instrumental album entitled "Bark" was a combination of 12 new melodies which rested upon a bed of six Bach piano preludes. These new compositions were played on guitar and totally melded with but in no way imitated the notations of the original preludes. The Bach underlay was completely unaltered. There was a slight jazzy feel to a couple of the tracks. The remainder of of the melodies were romantic in structure. This uncharted sea of creation began in 1966 at the Washington Club in Norwich, they were a set of public domain tunes which Pete had been asked to record for Roy Dashwood, the club owner - just so Roy would not have to pay music performance royalties! This album came out on Pete's •22 Records label in 2010.Who else but Big Boy Pete would make the first real skiffle album in over 50 years! And he did it with the original members of his group from 1959 - The Offbeats. No worn-out old skiffle songs here. Twelve brand new originals, complete with washboard, strumming guitars and upright bass. To those who are unfamiliar with this musical genre, skiffle predated rock and roll in England’s mid fifties. It was an acoustic style of effervescent folk music played by strumming guitars, washboard and either an upright or tea-chest bass. The main proponent of this music was Lonnie Donegan who gleaned his ideas from Woodie Guthrie and Huddie Ledbetter songs. Some of Lonnie’s hits were engineered by the legendary Joe Meek. Almost every veteran Brit rocker from that era cites Lonnie as a major influence on their musical careers. Even the Beatles had a skiffle group (The Quarrymen) before they played rock and roll.This album, "Winklepickin" was actually conceived in 1996 beneath a starry midnight sky in the middle of a cornfield, about one mile from the village of Pulham Market in the rural county of Norfolk, England. Pete coaxed the members of the original Offbeats into his recording studio in San Francisco and over the course of the next decade or so, the album slowly took shape. The onerous task of attempting to find a record label to release the Offbeats’ long-awaited first album was fruitless. Most A & R men had never even heard of skiffle. So rather than let it fade away, Pete finally decided to release the CD himself on •22 Records in 2010.
Hilton Valentine and Pete recording "Merry Skifflemas" in mid-summer!
Staying in a skiffle frame of mind, Pete had heard that his old friend Hilton Valentine (lead guitarist from The Animals) had also recently released a skiffle record. So they decided to collaborate and do one together. In 2011, Hilton flew out to Pete's Ocean Beach studio in San Francisco from his home in Connecticut and they recorded the complete album the old way . . . in only three days! But it wasn't just another skiffle album - they decided to do an album of Christmas skiffle! Mostly new original compositions. "Merry Skifflemas" came out on •22 records. Later that year Pete went to Hilton's 70th birthday party on the East Coast and they did a rocking good gig. Pete even sang Cold Turkey for him!
Pete and Hilton on stage
And the albums still keep coming. In 2012 Gear Fab Records released the first album ever to contain the actual track Cold Turkey. Of course "Cold Turkey" was the name of the record. Then in 2014, "Through The Back Door" came out. This was the first album in many years which had a dozen brand new Pete Miller compositions . . .Who else but Big Boy Pete would sneak though the back door into Louisiana and write a dozen new fables around the nastyArcadian and Creole heritage and create an entirely new gumbo. Not a traditional meal of cajun or zydedo. Certainly there are elements of these genres throughout the album but the pschloretic prince of obtuseness has - as usual, stamped his own indelible footprint of spices all over this record - in no mean terms. What better than ghosts, voodoo, curses, and ragtime partying to invoke Pete's seventh sense and his appetite for riverboat clowns. For a couple of weeks Bad Boy Pete sat transfixed in the back shadows of Louisiana dance halls as they pulsated to the beats of zydeco music with its syncopated rhythms. What's next? A music video of course. No, not quite like you'd see on YouTube. This is a sixty-minute DVD album containing twelve brand new songs, including a sixteen-minute sitar composition. 'Scumming soon to a player near you.
"Miller's Tales" - Pete's twelve-song video album
Miller still plays out live occasionally, dragging out Henry, his beloved Gretsch, along with a '63 Fender Vibroverb amplifier, and a Watkins Copycat tape echo unit. However, with more material waiting for a release in his archives, he'll probably be toiling away in his studio for quite some time. “I'll just keep releasing albums until I get sick of it, or until the public gets sick of them.” He smiles. "I have at least 300 more songs that have not yet escaped from the studio vault. Plus I intend to continue to share my recording knowledge and experiences with all the students in my Audio Institute of America recording school. I’ve had students in over 160 different countries. It's great to travel around the world and visit with them” he says proudly. History, they say, is written by the winners. But Pete Miller's stories are too good to write off, even if his name hasn't gone down in the books -- yet.And so, as the twilight is filtered, the man with a propensity for uncommonly good Gretschs hammers a dowel through poor Henry's sun-warped neck, and deep into his green green body. A song is on. And finally - this just in: The man who died last night in the back of a Vox AC30 has issued a plea for peas. And picture this if you will before you go: A young Bob Dylan and John Lennon lose their skates on lake Michigan. Twilight is fading fast. Phil Spector is frothingly fumbling and Sam Phillips is busy bleeding. Cell phones are forever farting. Now who do you think will refill our inkwells? Mull it over. No answer? Okay. Try this one: Jerry Lee Lewis died instead of Elvis. Graceland is now the Library of Congress and Queen Elizabeth makes a Mahatma Ghandi look-alike album. Who will the next chord be? And then there was the time when there was no more time.
Pete on stage at the "Make Out Room" in San Francisco - Christmas 2017
Stay tuned! Source material for this biographical bollox was gleaned from the following publications: Guitar Player magazine (Writers Darrin Fox and Barry Cleveland); San Francisco Weekly (Writer: Dan Strachota); Ugly Things Magazine (Writer: Jason Kuczenski). The blurb was condensed, regurgitated and edited in a single vowel movement by Evangeline Mitchell (The Oakland Tribune). All material in this biography is copyright 2015 Peter Miller. Permission must be obtained from him in writing before any of this material can be used in any manner whatsoever. However, you may certainly print this out and use it as toilet paper if you so desire.
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