Frankie Miller, 1990
For a life’s body of work, it seems impossible. To have overcome the medical hurdles in his path, unprecedented. And to still walk among us, well... how freakin' lucky we are to still have him in our midst.
He was born Francis Scott Miller in Glasgow, Scotland on November 2, 1949. He played a little football as his grandfather was signed to the Glasgow Rangers FC. His mother instilled a love of music in him at an early age because of her stunning record collection — especially her Ray Charles 45s. He started writing songs at the age of nine. When he was 12, he wrote “I Can’t Change It” which was later recorded by Ray Charles (!).
He moved to London in 1971 and formed the band Jude with bassist and boyhood pal James Dewar, Robin Trower, who had just left Procol Harum, and Clive Bunker, ex-Jethro Tull drummer. They disbanded a year later without releasing an album. Dewar remained with Trower and the Miller-Trower cowritten “I Can’t Wait Much Longer” was on Trower's first solo album. Frankie was signed as a solo artist to Chrysalis Records in London and began a longstanding relationship with them. His first album Once In a Blue Moon featured pub rock stalwarts Brinsley Schwarz as his backup band. The record company put out a duet with Frankie and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott on the next Thin Lizzy album.
Frankie’s next album, High Life, was produced and partly written by New Orleans maestro Allen Toussaint and contains some timeless gems. Still Frankie could not burst through the charts, although his live performances and albums started making many new friends, this one specifically. I became a huge fan and related to his backing bands, which frequently contributed perfect horn arrangements, any of which I would have been proud to have dreamed up. Rod Stewart remarked that Frankie was “the only white singer that ever made me cry.” He obviously never heard Mrs. Miller, not of the same family, I am sure.
As the years progressed, Frankie started to REALLY concentrate on songwriting, garnering covers from the likes of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Lulu, Rod Stewart, Waylon Jennings, Kim Carnes, Bob Seger, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Clint Black, The Bellamy Brothers, Joe Walsh, and even the Eagles! He also had many songs appearing in films such as All the Right Moves, Thunder Alley, Act of Vengeance, Light of Day, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and still more.
In 1994 tragedy struck. While writing songs for a band he had joined featuring Joe Walsh, Nicky Hopkins and Ian Wallace, Miller suffered a brain hemorrhage in New York City, spending five months in a coma, silently not giving up. When he awakened again, he began massive therapy and returned to London as soon as he could. I recall hearing that Ringo paid all his expenses to relocate him back to the UK.
After you listen to all 16 of these tracks, you should take some time and watch the BBC documentary, Stubborn Kinda Fella, which details his career and recovery. It says tons more than I could in this small space. You'll find it just above the jukebox.
I concluded the recordings with two tracks of our only recorded collaboration. The first is me introducing him to the audience at The Central, a bar that was my hang back in the ‘80s when I lived in LA. It is now The Viper Room. I had a pretty great band of locals: Richie Hayward from Little Feat on drums, Hutch Hutchinson on bass, Jerry Weber on keys, Brian Cole on sax, and at that time I rather enjoyed playing the Strat guitar that Jimi Hendrix gave me back in the day, so I forewent the keyboards for a few years. Frankie was in town and we got together and rehearsed one of his songs I loved and played it that night. The sound guy recorded it and gave me a copy so it ain't top audio quality but it’s listenable enough that I will never forget it. Later in life when I lived in London, he invited me over to his place one night and also in attendance were James Dewar and Dr. John. We all passed a single acoustic guitar around and sang at each other; I was fer sure the low man on the totem pole THAT evening!
So pack up all your cares and woes and listen to a master of blues and soul consistently pour out his heart for you. All original songs are asterisked.
1. "The Devil Gun (I Don't Mind") — Frankie Miller* (3:28)
This is a perfect example of his craft — a simple, repetitive riff to draw you in, and then slowly but surely, that VOICE curls all around you and then slowly but surely he is yours, but mostly, you are his. Love the piano and the horns.
2. "Jealous Guy" — Frankie Miller (3:20)
This is probably my favorite John Lennon cover. It doesn’t hurt that the original great horn section, the Memphis Horns, are the ones imitating the Memphis Horns. Whereas the original track was, as usual, Lennon’s stripped bare confessional, this ain’t that. This is a guy right in your face telling who he is, apologizing ... and take it or leave it.
3. "A Fool in Love" — Frankie Miller* (3:04)
Co-written by Frankie and Free bassist Andy Fraser, this is the best worlds of these two. Fraser was later shown to be a pretty good singer when his solo albums were later released. This was produced by Elliot Mazer and is a classic Miller track.
4. "Take Good Care of Yourself" — Frankie Miller (2:35)
The marriage of Frankie and the Memphis Horns just couldn’t have been better, especially since he was one of those rare individuals who could conjure up the spirit of the great Otis Redding. This was written by Jim Doris, who was in Frankie's first band the Stoics and also wrote the hit song “Oh Me, Oh My, I’m a Fool For You,” recorded by Lulu and later Aretha.
5. "I Can't Break Away" — Frankie Miller* (3:25)
This was co-written with Paul Carrack and again pays Memphian tribute. It’s on the Double Trouble album and as co-writers Frankie and Paul Carrack are indeed double trouble. Chris Mercer did the horn arrangements.
6. "This Love of Mine" — Frankie Miller* (3:17)
I feel that this track, in all aspects, provides indisputable musical evidence that Mr. Miller could have held his own musically on a stage with the late Otis Redding. Now I know that is a wild claim, but just listen and tell me what you think. Although it sounds uncannily like a Redding/Cropper composition, it is actually from the pen of Miller/Trower, and holds the deepest respect and debt to the other pair who created the original with Otis’s original single “Pain In My Heart.” Elvis Presley bequeathed similarly to Gene Vincent and Ricky Nelson. But if you played this for somebody other than me in a blindfold test, I am sure the name Otis Redding would be uttered more than once. That would be the highest compliment one could pay to this track.
7. "I'll Take a Melody" — Frankie Miller (3:35)
From Memphis, we take that little hop to the Crescent City, and under the direction of writer/producer Allen Toussaint, his song is sung perfectly in a true New Orleans tapestry of sound. Again, Frankie rises to the task artistically and surely leaves any resident of that city satisfied musically as well as listeners all over the globe.
8. "Sail Away" — Frankie Miller (3:25)
In this version, Frankie's intention is unclear. This oft-covered Randy Newman nod to his native soil becomes a little awry delivered by a Glaswegian. My favorite line change is “buckwheat cakes” to “puffed wheat cakes” (whatever those are). Still, amusing at its worst. Zero cringing necessary, however. I just meant it’s a strange choice.
9. "Be Good to Yourself" — Frankie Miller (2:20)
Another Andy Fraser tune done to a T by Mr. M, with the wonderful Memphis Horns yet again. When I first heard this I thought they had certainly gotten the exact Memphis Horn sound and feel. Little did I know then, they had gotten the exact Memphis Horns themselves.
10. “Good Time Love” — Frankie Miller* (3:04)
Another Frankie/Paul Carrack composition. This time the Memphis Horns are replaced admirably by Chris Mercer and Martin Drover who play it more New Orleans than Memphis. Carrack plays keys and the infamous Procul Harum drummer BJ Wilson adds his sound to the festivities. The string parts are good but they could be synthesized.
11. “Fallin’ in Love Again” — Frankie Miller* (3:08)
Kinda like a contained, slower “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Marvin’s version) with Frankie’s equivalent of a lower growl voice.
12. “Standin’ on the Edge” — Frankie Miller * (2:36)
Another songwriting collab with Andy Fraser. There are too many guitars at once down there in Muscle Shoals on this one; it would have been better if they had taken the minimalist approach of Fraser’s ex-band Free. However, the song and vocal are, as usual, first rate.
13. “All My Love to You” — Frankie Miller (2:56)
Along with “This Love of Mine”(#6) this is the most Otis Redding-influenced track contained here. It’s startling to think of Miller as a white Scottish guy while listening to this. And it’s not just the singing and songwriting. All aspects of the Stax-Volt sound are dealt with here with extreme taste and accuracy.
14. “Ain’t Got No Money” — Frankie Miller (2:19)
This is so good! Henry McCullough’s Keith Richard-Brian Jones guitar sound gets it started and if I had to pick one track that was quintessential Frankie Miller, it would be this one. Exceptional original rock and roll!
15. “Down the Honky Tonk” — Frankie Miller (2:27)
Unabashedly letting loose his pub-rock roots in this original composition, this is a peppier version of the last track with piano and guitar highlights.
16a. “Spoken Intro” — Al Kooper (0:38)
This was approximately 1984 when I invited Frankie to sit in with my band at the time. This was me bringing him onstage at The Central in LA, which is now The Viper Room.
16b. “Jealousy” — Frankie Miller and The Rekooperators (5:08)
This was a favorite Frankie song of mine and he graciously agreed to perform it with us. At this time, I had temporarily abandoned keyboards and just played guitar in this band — Richie Hayward (Little Feat) on drums, Hutch Hutchinson (Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt) on bass, Jerry Weber on keyboards, Brian Cole on tenor sax. The sound guy was kind enough to give me a cassette of our performance together after the show. I thought this would be a good way to end my Frankie profile.
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