made hundreds of home recordings between 1966 and '69, and estimates he
has enough material for 30 albums - with styles ranging from rockabilly
to mainstream pop to psychedelia. "I'm always working on stuff,"
he says. "If I have an idea, I go down to my studio, record it, put
it in the archives, and, when the time is appropriate, I'll find a way to
put the tracks together in a format that makes sense as an album."
who now owns a 24-track facility in San Francisco, recently guided the first
two of those potential 30 albums out of his vaults: Big Boy Pete's "Homage
to Catatonia" and, under his own name, "Summerland", which
contains what he describes as "mid-'60s English-pop love songs."
(Both albums are available from Dionysus, Box 1975, Burbank, CA 91507).
veteran of the '60s English pop scene, Miller listened to contemporaries
such as Hank Marvin of the Shadows, Vic Flick of the John Barry Seven, and
Big Jim Sullivan. But it was Chuck Berry, Scotty Moore, James Burton, Johnny
Meeks of Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps, and other American rockers that
were his main influences. "I'd wear out the records learning the solos
note by note," he remembers.
1961, he gained notoriety in the sax-driven instrumental group Peter Jay
& The Jaywalkers. "We were basically copying American bands such
as the Champs and Johnny & The Hurricanes," says Miller, "but
we featured the guitar quite a lot." The Jaywalkers toured incessantly,
playing more than 300 gigs a year and backing op countless acts. Miller
credits the heavy gigging with developing his chops and versatility. "If
there were nine acts on the bill, we would be backing up seven of them",
he says. "So I was able to gain a lot of experience playing different
Jaywalkers released dozens of singles, with "Can Can 62" becoming
popular enough to earn them second billing on the Beatles' 1963 European
tour. Endless touring took its toll, and a burned-out Miller quit the band
after five years. Freed from the road, he sequestered himself in his home
studio in Norwich, England. Under the spell of psychedelic-influenced albums
such as the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Rolling
Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, Miller laid down many of the tracks
now found on "Homage to Catatonia", and Big Boy Pete was born.
Catatonia owes a great deal to British psychedelia, Miller's rockabilly
roots poke through on cuts such as "John Celery" (where he mixes
fuzzed-out wah textures with a Scotty Moore-style solo) and the all-out
rockabilly rave-up on "1,500,000 Volts." On "The Procession"
and "The Candleman," however, he tosses aside his roots-rock influences
and unleashes lewd ring-modulated fuzz squawks that presage Adrian Belew's
tames the sonic experiments on the pop-oriented Summerland, producing more
subtle textures. But that doesn't mean the songs are uninteresting - just
check out the slide parts on "Forget Me Not" and the slippery
fuzz lines on "Where Did It Go?" Both albums are full of well-conceived
guitar parts developed through Miller's process of "letting the tune
do the talking." "I always get my inspiration from the song and
what the song calls for," he says ". I ask myself questions such
as "What kind of tone would enhance the mood?" and "What
kind of parts would help communicate the song's message?' Then I try to
come up with something appropriate."
the sessions for Homage to Catatonia and Summerland Miller used a '61 Gretsch
Anniversary (his main guitar of the past 37 years), as well as Vox AC30
and Fender Pro Reverb amps. For recording clean tones direct-to-tape, he
plugged into a homemade D.I. box. His stompbox collection included a DeArmond
volume pedal, a Selmer fuzzbox, a Vox wah-wah, and a ring modulator - dubbed
"The Googly Box" - that was built by a friend.
Miller was limited to four tracks at best back then, he often had to bounce
tracks among four different tape machines to construct his songs with the
desired instrumental arrangements. (He sometimes bounced tracks up to nine
times - a dangerous move in the days when tape hiss could be a real problem.)
Signal processing options were also limited. The echo- and reverb-drenched
tracks on Catatonia, for example, were processed with an Italian-made Binson
Echorec and a Farfisa spring reverb. To record ambient guitar tracks, he
placed amps inside his bathroom, or in a concrete World War II-era bomb
shelter in his backyard.
40-plus years of guitar playing, Miller still credits his musical diversity
for keeping him fresh. "I stay out of ruts because I'm always play-ing
different styles of music," he explains. "If I work in one genre
too long, I burn out. So if something gets old, I put it away and get out
an-other tape to work on for a while. Then when I come back to what I was
stuck on, I'll have a different perspective and the left side of the brain
will start working again."
part of the generation that produced Hendrix, Page, Beck, and so many other
influential guitarists, Miller feels that young musicians can continue to
learn a lot from the guitar heroes of the '60s. "For example,"
he says, "guitarists in those days were much more melodic than they
are now. And I'm not just talking about song composition. Listen to all
the signature riffs and melodic solos that '60s players produced - whether
they were in pop, blues, progressive, or very heavy bands. Today, unfortunately,
melodies are even lacking on some pop records!"
still plays live occasionally, dragging out his beloved Gretsch Anniversary,
a '60 Fender Concert, and an English-made tape echo unit, the Watkins Copycat.
However, with more ma-terial waiting in his archives, he'll probably be
toiling away in his studio for quite some time.
plan to compile nine to ten more albums, splitting them between Big Boy
Pete and my other '60s work, as well as eventually releasing some rockabilly
albums," says Miller. "I'll just keep releasing albums until I
get sick of them, or until the public gets sick of them."