Lex Neon on Steve Miller

I think that everyone goes through an experience in his / her life that changes the way they view the world.  They go through life as they are until something pivotal hits them when least expected.  This happened for me during the summer of 1976.

While my mom was at work, I had access to her prized quadraphonic stereo system.  The unit’s four speakers were truly a sight to behold, especially considering that my system was a small child’s phonograph with a huge tone arm and a dinky speaker that played back everything in mono.  One day I fired up mom’s stereo.  Up til then I listened to AM radio, which was mostly Top 40, oldies, talk radio, and classical music.  While fiddling with the knobs, I accidentally switched over from AM radio to FM.

Within seconds, my life would go from black and white to brilliant color.

I tuned the giant knobs on the receiver, and heard static.  My eyes were glued to the red indicator light, then suddenly, I heard a voice I had never heard before.  It said, “This is the L.A. Cowboy Jim Ladd, and I’m gonna play one of my favorite cuts from the new album by the Steve Miller Band.  This is “Rock N’ Me,” and you are listening to  94.7, KMET.  Enjoy.”

Then it happened.  The double trouble combination of guitar and drums spanked that song into high gear.  I remember a sharp tingle shooting up my spine as I listened.  My heart started beating faster and faster as the song’s intro played on.  My mouth hung there wide open, and I found it hard to breathe.  It was the most fascinating sound I’d heard in a long time.  It was like nothing that I’d been privy to on AM radio.  No one was home, so I turned the music up; four speakers blaring a hypnotic, propulsive groove.  Then came the vocals:

Well, I’ve been working real hard
And I’m tryin’ to find a job
But it just keeps gettin’ tougher everyday . . .

Save for the Beatles, I don’t recall ever being stopped in my tracks by such powerful music.  By the end of the year, “Rock N’ Me” would be a number one single and would be played on AM radio.  When I first heard it, it was just another great track from Miller’s Fly Like An Eagle album.  The album would also yield hits with “Take The Money and Run,” and the title track.  Unbeknownst to me, I had previously heard a Steve Miller track a few years before called “The Joker,” which was usually sung (very off-key) by my uncle Will around the house and in his beloved candy apple red ’73 Toyota Corolla.

Over the years, Miller’s music would mark more pivotal moments in my life.  One of the first albums my mentor Harriet loaned me was Miller’s Sailor, which to this day is one of my favorite albums of all time.  “Swingtown” from Miller’s album Book Of Dreams was played at the beginning of every televised game played by the L.A. Dodgers.  I used to go with my Uncles Kenny and Ronald every once in a while to watch the Dodgers play baseball.  My first game was a total disappointment.  The Dodgers did win, but not once did I hear “Swingtown” played over the speaker system.  After the third time and no Miller, I stopped going.

Back in college, I had a radio show called “Lex’s Violent Playground,” where I would spin the music I liked as a young freshman.  Steve Miller’s music was featured on damn near every show: “Kow Kow,” “Seasons,” and “Space Cowboy” from Brave New World; “Something To Believe In” from The Joker; “Motherless Children,” and “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around” from Your Saving Grace.

After “Rock N’ Me” finished, there were other FM wonders to be discovered, like Steely Dan, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and others; they would also become part of my musical vocabulary.  But there is something to be said about your “first” experience.  In the wondrous medium that was 70s FM radio, I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when her Auntie Em’s house landed in a new world.  AM radio was the witch underneath the house, FM radio was the new land.  Steve Miller?  Well, Miller was the rock and roll tornado that started it all.

On this October 5, I’d like to say happy birthday to Steve Miller.  Thanks for making me aware of a wonderful new land of music.  Thanks also for still being around when so many others from that magical, musical land have fallen by the wayside.  You are a true inspiration in every sense of the word.  Let’s jam sometime . . . I want you to show me how to really play that groovy like that opens “Kow Kow.”

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)
Please note: This album was originally released in May 1976.

Currently listening :
Fly Like an Eagle
By Steve Miller Band
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~ by Poppermost on October 7, 2008.

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