I have to assume, because it’s so cinematic in my own head, that this is everyone from the 1990s’ first high school party experience: You’re a sophomore at a mid-century modern home on Telemark Lane. Your friend Kelley’s parents are gone, replaced by the kegs of beer his older brother purchased.
It’s mostly the older brother’s party, but it can be Kelley’s, too, if you stay cool. Don’t get drunk, cry, barf, barf-cry. You squish into a spot at the kitchen table. You destroy the contents of the snack cupboard. You hold your breath, squinch your eyes, take a sip of something ridiculous — wonder if you’ll immediately be changed into an entirely different human. Or does it take time?
You cue up “Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits: 1974-78” and “Swingtown” eases in, one of those songs that builds and builds and immediately offers itself up as a singalong rally cry. Welcome to your new party anthem. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
I asked my Facebook friends: What’s your Steve Miller Band memory? My brother responded via text message before the ink was dry.
“The tradition of the Steve Miller Band at Lourdes (High School) parties goes back at a minimum to the class ahead of me,” he confirmed, class of ‘89. It started with the hockey players, he said.
It seemingly carried on, year after year, by a fraternity of humans marked with acne along their helmet lines. So maybe it was just momentum. Steve Miller Band begat Steve Miller Band begat Steve Miller Band. But where did it end? Whose greatest hits dethroned those greatest hits? Or did everyone just stop partying?
'It takes me back'
Christine Dean, music director at KUMD-FM, also has a clear Steve Miller Band vision — hers is from the 1970s. She grew up out in the country, she said, and her older brother and his friends used to sit out in the car and blast Steve Miller Band on an 8-track tape.
“It’s left me with great fondness,” Dean said, adding that she might still play it today. “It takes me back. I think a lot of people probably feel that way.”
JP Rennquist has visual proof that people feel that way. The longtime party DJ knows that if he plays Steve Miller Band’s “Dance, Dance, Dance,” people will dance, dance, dance.
“It’s kind of a down-home one,” Rennquist said. “That one is, for sure, what DJs call a ‘floor filler.’”
Meanwhile, on Facebook, my aunt and a former coworker — strangers to each other — learned that they were both at the same Steve Miller Band concert: 1978 at the Met Stadium. Also on the bill, The Eagles, Pablo Cruise. There were 65,000 people there, and they all stayed through “a monsoon.”
My partner’s cousin wrote about recording “Jet Airliner” onto a cassette tape.
“Same memory,” a best friend from high school responded. She was also at Kelley’s party; she’s the only one who got busted by her parents that weekend.
Steve Miller Band, in summary
Steve Miller, the only musician in his band to sign on in 1966 and stay on, is a blues-bred guitar player and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer — though the latter part caused a bit of a ruckus when it went down in 2016.
Long story short, according to Rolling Stone magazine: Miller took advantage of the induction to call the record labels “gangsters and crooks” and The Black Keys, selected to induct him, found him unpleasant and fled the scene before he finished his performance that night.
Steve Miller Band fared best on charts between 1973-1982, starting with “Joker” and ending with “Abracadabra.” He seemingly invented the word "pompatus" and is self-described as both a "space cowboy" and "gangster of love" and "Maurice." The most recent studio album, “Let Your Hair Down,” was released in 2011 and is a collection of covers by artists like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.
The band is expected to release a 3-CD, 1 DVD collection in October. “From the Vault,” according to Rolling Stone, also comes with a booklet and swag.
The Steve Miller Band plays Duluth, seemingly for the first time, on Sunday at Bayfront Festival Park along with country musician Marty Stuart. If recent setlists from shows on the “Classic Rock Meets Classic Country” tour are any indicator, expect a night that stays true to the hits — while mixing in a few covers.
He’s been coming in hot with “The Stake,” “Jungle Love” and “Abracadabra,” boosting the center with a surprise trio of songs, then closing with “Rock ‘n Me” before playing a solid encore.
'Funky and eccentric'
To Dustin Tessier, who performs as Timber Ghost, Steve Miller Band can sneak up on you. He grew up with a sense of the band, as heard on the radio, but dug in deeper when he was older.
“The takeaway I get from his music is that he wasn’t as enigmatic as David Bowie and also wasn’t part of the pop music machine,” Tessier said. “He made records that were a little funky and eccentric.”
The albums, he said, are easy to listen to and typically no longer than 40 minutes.
“‘Fly Like an Eagle’ has amazing synthesizers,” Tessier said. “It has a psychedelic and trippy drug fuel happening. I think people might have a bias against someone like Steve Miller: ‘Oh my god, it’s on the radio again.’ Some of that stuff that was on the radio was on a par with what Pink Floyd was doing.”
Eldo Abrahamson, a local musician, said Steve Miller has something for everyone.
“His lexicon is both vast and common,” he said. “A pretty rare and special quality to have.”
A song that jumps out at Abrahamson: “Wild Mountain Honey,” which he describes as a “hidden dreamy gem” — or rather, “conspicuously hidden,” as its on one of the band’s more popular albums.
“Even still, it’s in its own world, sonically,” he said. “He has a way of making potentially garish keyboard sounds into perfect fits for particular songs. ‘Swingtown’ is like that, as is ‘Fly Like an Eagle.’”
Come on and dance
Listen. I’m not sitting here in a Steve Miller Band T-shirt, drinking LeCroix wrapped in a Steve Miller Band can koozy. I’ve never bought a Steve Miller Band CD and until today, never cued up Steve Miller Band on Spotify. Why bother? Steve Miller Band is everywhere — including Bayfront Festival Park this weekend.
But I do like stumbling on “Swingtown” in the wild, at a shop or while fumbling with the dial. It’s strong stuff, right? Nostalgia. I can’t hear the song without getting moony about old friends and beer breath cloaked in cinnamon gum.
One of the News Tribune’s summer interns, a music-minded twenty-something who recently suggested I check out Local Natives, had not — as of today — heard of the Steve Miller Band. But I sang three words of “Joker” to her, and she knew. She knew.
Christa Lawler is a features reporter for the News Tribune. Follow her on Twitter at @dntane.
If you go
What: Steve Miller Band and Marty Stuart
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Bayfront Festival Park
Tickets: $55 in advance at jadepresents.com, $65 at the gate