Born Steven Paul Miller on September 6, 1952 in Fairborn, OH; married Julie Griffin, 1981. Addresses: Record company--Hightone Records, 220 4th Street #101, Oakland, CA 94607.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Buddy Miller scored a career breakthrough in mid 1995 after working in semi-obscurity for two decades. On his own and in tandem with wife Julie Miller, he has emerged as an important artist in the burgeoning alternative country scene. His poignant, rough-hewn songs deal with life's disappointments (especially those of the romantic kind). Miller's lyrics quietly reflect his Christian faith, displaying a sense of compassion and forgiveness for the weak and fallen.
The son of a United States Air Force serviceman, Miller was born on September 6, 1952, near Dayton, Ohio, and moved with his family to Princeton, New Jersey, some years later. Once there, he was drawn to the local bluegrass music scene and absorbed the influence of such seminal artists as Ralph Stanley. As a teenager, he performed as a rhythm guitarist and upright bass player with much older musicians. By his early 20s, he was travelling with a country group in an old school bus, hitting the performing circuit from New England through upstate New York all the way to California's Bay Area. Then, in 1975, Miller ended up in Austin, Texas, the mecca of the "outlaw country" movement.
It was in Austin that Buddy met his future wife Julie, then singing with a local group called Rick Stein & the Alleycats. When he auditioned for the band, "Julie told them not to hire me, because she was 16 or so, and she wanted to appear discriminating," he recalled to Dallas Observer writer Rob Patterson. "But they hired me anyway, and we became pals." He and Julie later went on to join another band, Partners in Crime, while Miller continued working the Texas dancehall circuit, playing with his good friend Gurf Morlix.
Friendship blossomed into a romantic relationship, and the pair moved together to New York in the late '70s. They performed together in the Buddy Miller Band, which also included guitarist Larry Campbell (later a member of Bob Dylan's touring group). Miller's band performed at Greenwich Village's Lone Star Cafe and other notable New York venues, and began to attract record company interest. Just when their careers seemed to be heating up, Julie experienced a spiritual awakening and left everything, literally overnight. Miller recruited Shawn Colvin--later to win renown as a solo artist--as her replacement and kept his band going. Not long afterward, Miller followed suit and embraced Christianity after he began reading Julie's old Bible, which the couple had been using to prop up a leg of their couch. "Julie and I kept in touch while she was in Texas and, over the next few weeks, I saw a change in her," Miller told No Depression magazine's Bill Frickics-Warren, "It got me thinking, and I guess God started working on me a little bit."
Miller joined Julie in Lindale, a small Texas town, near Tyler, where they married in 1981. Soon after, their involvement in a religious community led them to Seattle and later to the San Francisco Bay area in the late '80s. After leaving Texas, the Millers stopped playing or writing music for some time. In California they ventured out again, playing music together. Julie's demo caught the attention of producer T Bone Burnett and Buddy reconnected with Jim Lauderdale, an old friend from New York, who was now in Los Angeles. Buddy began playing as Lauderdale's guitarist and in 1989 the Millers relocated to Los Angeles, where they found camaraderie with a number of other left-of-center country musicians, including singer/songwriters Lucinda Williams and Rosie Flores. Still, as Miller told Rob Patterson of the Dallas Observer, "I didn't have time to make a record. I was too busy doing whatever I needed to do to pay the rent, and selling whatever guitar I needed to sell at the end of the month to pay the bills." The Millers were tired of the high rents in Los Angeles and had watched an exodus of their musical cohorts move to Nashville. In 1993 Buddy and Julie followed suit. By that time, Julie had signed with the Christian-oriented Myrrh Records label and had released two albums by the time they moved to Nashville. As her co-writer and guitarist, Buddy earned his share of notoriety as well.
Once in Nashville, Buddy and Julie threw themselves into their music. Buddy set up their home recording studio, Dogtown, where they produced Julie's next two Christian music albums, Orphans And Angels and Invisible Girl. These albums featured a number of artists that would continue to be collaborators and friends, such as Emmylou Harris, Victoria Williams, and former Jayhawk Mark Olson. After Emmylou Harris recorded Julie's song "All My Tears" on her 1995 CD Wrecking Ball,she asked the Millers to join her touring group as well. Buddy took over the lead guitarist's slot, which previously had been occupied by such outstanding talents as Rodney Crowell and Ricky Skaggs. Harris told writer John Milward in a Los Angeles Times interview that she chose Buddy because "he can create that atmospheric sound and play more traditional styles with equal empathy. He's also a great singer. When he and Julie sing, they have a blend that creates that wonderful third voice." Buddy went on to produce Harris's 1999 live CD Spyboy.
Buddy Miller began to gain recognition as a singer and songwriter in his own right, which led to a recording contract with HighTone Records. "The deal came along, and they asked me if I had any songs, and I just said, sure, and then we sat down and finished them," he told Dallas Observer writer Rob Patterson. "Julie is actually much more of a writer than me. I bring in a small piece of a song, and then I beg her to finish it. And then, when she doesn't have time left, I just beg [Jim] Lauderdale."
Your Love and Other Lies,Buddy Miller's 1995 debut on HighTone, earned the praise of such peers as singer/songwriter Steve Earle, who called it "the country record of the decade." The album showcased his gruff yet tender vocal style and traditionally rooted songwriting touch. Miller had self-produced this record in their newly set-up home studio. Two years later, he released Poison Love, which likewise drew upon Appalachian and Southwestern honky tonk sounds for inspiration. USA Todaypraised the album and called Miller "one of the country's great contemporary singer/songwriters."
The songwriting relationship between Buddy and Julie was critical to his success. "Consider the evolution of 'Don't Tell Me', a heartstopping ballad from Buddy's Poison Love," reported Frickics-Warren. "Julie wrote the song for her widowed uncle upon the death of this wife of some 50 years. 'When I came up with that,' she says, '... I didn't even like what I heard. But when Buddy was looking for songs for his record, he found it on a tape and liked it. I had written it off, but after hearing him do it, I thought, "'Wow, this really is a good song.'"
It was not only the songs that kept winning him accolades; his voice left a remarkable impression on people. "His large, pitch-perfect voice has a world-weary quality," Craig Havighurst of the Wall Street Journal said, "a gritty edge, and a soul singer's capacity to slur and wail that is hard to find among male country singers of any era." Or, as Steve Earle told Bill Frickics-Warren, "I think that the best country singer could have sung Otis Redding songs and pulled it off. All my favorite ones could have anyway, and Buddy is my favorite country singer, period."
The release of 1999's Cruel Moon elicited even more favorable response. Produced with restraint in the Millers's home studio, the album's stripped-down arrangements helped to capture the stark, often mournful sentiments of its songs. Such brokenhearted laments as "In Memory of My Heart," "I'm Too Used To Lovin' You," and the album's title track displayed both emotional vulnerability and expert songwriting craftsmanship. Other tracks, including "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go" and "It's Been A Change" (the latter a cover of an old Staples Singers tune) added a rhythmic touch of Southern R&B to the sound. Much of the material was co-written by the Millers, and their vocal harmonies were heard throughout the album. "Much as family singers have done from the Carter Family on down, the couple's harmonies convey a rarely matched depth of intimacy," Frickics-Warren wrote. "Their voices--his reedy, hers willowy, both exquisitely soulful--modulate in much the same way as partners who anticipate each other's moves on the dance floor."
At the same time, Miller's songs were being recorded by other artists. "Hole In My Head" was recorded by the Dixie Chicks on their Fly album, country artist Lee Ann Womack cut "Don't Tell Me," Brooks and Dunn did "My Love Will Follow You," Suzy Bogguss and Garth Brooks performed "Take Me Back," and jazz singer Jimmy Scott recorded "All My Tears." Miller has also made a name for himself as a producer, working on albums for Greg Trooper, Spyboy, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and the Vigilantes Of Love.
In 2000, Buddy and Julie Miller prepared to release their first-ever joint record, a collection of duets, in the fashion of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, or perhaps more accurately, in the alternative country style of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. Miller's talents have continued to be in demand since moving to Nashville. As a musician and singer he has accompanied the touring bands of Emmylou Harris, Jim Lauderdale and Steve Earle, and recently toured as a multi-instrumentalist with Harris and Linda Ronstadt to support their collaborative album, Western Wall.
Throughout his career Buddy Miller's music has not fallen into an easy commercial radio slot, but the Millers are used to thinking of themselves outside the lines. "I don't care too much about what label they put on it," Miller told Peter Applebome in the New York Times, "Americana's fine. I'm just glad there's a place for us. I'm so out of it; when I made my first record, I thought I was making a country record. Then I found out it was alternative country or whatever it is. Like Julie says, 'I like to think what we do is country and what they play on the radio is the alternative.' But that's the way it's always been. Radio is basically like McDonald's--you know, a billion customers served."
by Barry Alfonso
Buddy Miller's Career
Released first album as singer/songwriter, Your Love and Other Lies, 1995; released Poison Love, 1997; released Cruel Moon, 1999.
Buddy Miller's Awards
Nashville Music Awards, Guitarist of the Year, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Your Love and Other Lies , Hightone, 1995.
- Poison Love , Hightone, 1997.
- Cruel Moon , Hightone, 1999.
- Dallas Observer, April 27, 2000.
- Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2000.
- New York Times, April 16, 2000.
- No Depression, September-October 1999.
- Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2000.
- Buddy and Julie Miller website, http://www.buddyandjulie.com/ (September 20, 2000).
- Additional information was provided by HighTone Records publicity materials.