Since penning a string of hits, including Space Cowboy, Rock 'N Me and The Joker in the '70s, the Steve Miller Band's songs have been blasting nonstop out of car stereos, jukeboxes and karaoke bars. At any given time, you might be hearing the original version, or one of the hit covers, such as Seal's recent take on Fly Like an Eagle. (Miller's verdict: Seal's was too much like the original, but "I wasn't that disappointed because I think he sold a million and a half copies.'')
Forty years after recording his first album in San Francisco, Miller is on a tour that brings him to the Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa tonight. He recently chatted about the '70s and what it's like to do your own tunes at karaoke bars.
San Francisco Chronicle
You could easily live off the royalties of The Joker alone. What keeps you on the road?
I just love to play. I've been playing for, I don't know, 52 years or something like that. It's not that I'm compelled to stay out there. Playing music, to me, is the most fun thing there is to do. The gigs just happen to be out there so I have to go.
What's your secret for surviving the music business for so long?
I rarely get involved in the music business. As a kid, I met Les Paul and Charles Mingus and a bunch of people like that, and they were musicians and that's really what I wanted to be, so that's where I set my goals. Les Paul is 92 and he's still working. That's kind of what's interesting to me.
What's your most decadent memory of the '70s?
I'd say probably playing at the Fillmore (in San Francisco) and seeing what was going on in the audience — all the drugs, drinking and just the general mess of those early gigs before it went to the football fields and basketball arenas.
You kind of stopped making albums in the '80s. Did you think you weren't good-looking enough to get on MTV?
Television does make me sweat. You know, during the '80s there was a very hard campaign against groups from the '70s, so I took a break after Abracadabra. I was off the road for about five or six years, and that's when I found out I wasn't really happy unless I was writing music, playing music, having a band, performing and doing those things.
The best part is that you're totally unrecognizable to the general public.
I can generally go to my own concert, stand in line and buy a ticket, and nobody would know who I am. It really is like that, and that's a good thing.
When was the last time you sang one of your songs in a karaoke bar?
I went to a karaoke club in Vancouver, Wash., and sang my song, and no one had any idea who I was. Another time, we were playing a gig in Detroit and we were back at the hotel and my band foisted me onstage with the club band to sing Abracadabra. They had no idea who I was. They thought I was some drunk. I kind of like it that way.