Mixing it up with 'Biscuit' Miller
WANT TO GO?
Biscuit Miller and The Mix
WHERE: Charleston Brewing Company, 702 Quarrier St.
WHEN: 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dave "Biscuit" Miller turned down the stereo right after he answered the phone. He made it a point to say he was listening to music and not watching television.
In fact, Miller, who performs Saturday at Charleston Brewing Company, said he often wonders why he even bothers to keep a TV in the house.
"I guess for the news," he said.
Otherwise, he mostly just listens to music. It's something he's done since he was a kid, hanging around his grandmother's kitchen in Chicago.
"That's all she did was play music," he said. "There was always music on when I was little, and it lingered."
Miller owes his grandmother a lot. He learned a lot, although not a lot about cooking.
"I was doing more on the eating side," he laughed.
And it was the eating that got him his blues name. One day, just before supper, Miller polished off an entire pan of his grandmother's biscuits. His family teased him about it, calling him "Biscuit," and the name stuck.
Miller learned to love music listening to the radio in his grandmother's house, but he said he didn't grow up in a musical home.
"I had an uncle who played guitar," Miller said, "but he didn't do anything with it, you know, didn't pursue it as a career or anything."
Miller got into the blues through the public schools and blues great Willie Dixon.
"I went to school with Willie's kids," he said, "and Willie did one of the first blues programs in Chicago. Once, he brought in this little kid named Lucky Peterson."
Peterson was about 5 years old at the time and had been performing a cover of James Brown's "Please Please Please" called "1-2-3-4." Around the time he performed at Miller's school, Peterson also appeared on "The Tonight Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "What's My Line?"
Miller said hearing the band play excited him and made him want to play music.
"It just looked like so much fun."
A short time later, while playing at a friend's house, he spied a bass guitar sitting in a corner.
"I'd never seen anybody playing it," he said.
Miller picked it up, and the noise that followed attracted his friend's older brother, Darnell.
"He came down the stairs, screaming," Miller said. "He was screaming, 'Don't touch my bass,' but he was just joking."
Darnell showed him how to play a little. By the time Miller got home, he wanted a bass of his own, so he went through the Sears big book holiday catalog, found a listing for the instrument and showed it to his grandmother.
He said, "I don't remember if it was for Christmas or for my birthday."
Miller's birthday is just after Christmas.
"I told her I wanted a bass," he said, "and she ended up getting it for me."
When Miller was a kid, he said there was always a lot of blues music around Chicago. It wasn't hard to find other musicians to play with, and people were always glad to show a young musician what they knew.
"Back then, everybody wanted to get together," he said. "You'd get a guitar and a bass and some guys, and you'd just go to somebody's house and jam."
It was a different time.
"The younger generation doesn't get together like we did," he said. "People do things differently."
Miller became a regular sideman. He played with bluesman Tony Rogers and then Mojo Buford, two of blues icon Muddy Waters' bandmates.
"I even played a little with Prince -- just for a little while," Miller said.
And then he worked with blues great Lonnie Brooks for 10 years, before deciding to strike out on his own a few years ago.
"I was getting on up in my 50s," he said. "I'd done all this playing with everybody else, and it just seemed like time. I can play this bass fairly well and I can sing a little bit and I know how to smile."
Miller stays busy. He plays constantly and records, but he said he was looking forward to getting back to West Virginia, where he plays often.
"I try to stay connected to West Virginia," he said. "The people there are so nice to us. It's that Southern soul hospitality, I guess."
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.