Steve Miller on Career Longevity and Being Sampled: “It’s Been Amazing”

Steve Miller never intended to have a music career. The Steve Miller Band frontman started playing music at 12 and says it wasn’t until he “got really bored with college” that he saw a chance to make an album and took it.

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More than 18 albums later Miller, now 79, continues to leave his mark on the music world. His influence can be heard in countless samples, covers, and up-and-coming artists like King Calaway. The country band released their tribute to Miller, “I’m Feelin’ Good (Steve Miller Band),” in late 2022 and joined forces with the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer onstage at New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash on CBS on Saturday (Dec. 31).

[RELATED: 5 Deep Cuts From Steve Miller Band That You Should Be Listening To]

Ahead of his set at The Stage on lower Broadway, Miller spoke with American Songwriter about his career, being sampled, and first hearing the Neville Brothers’ cover of “Fly Like an Eagle.” Miller also discussed his performance with King Calaway and described their New Year’s Eve collaboration of “Take the Money and Run” as “a big jump off a cliff.”

“We had never met, and we had never played together,” he tells American Songwriter of working with King Calaway. “We said hello and we hung out a little bit and I said, ‘Well, why don’t we sing some harmony?’ We sang a little bit and right away I could see that they had really listened, they had done their homework and they were ready to sing my songs with me which was touching. As a writer, you always appreciate it when people learn the stuff right.”

While King Calaway’s song “I’m Feelin’ Good (Steve Miller Band)” namedrops the Steve Miller Band’s “Rock’n Me,” other bands have also sampled or covered the act. “Take the Money and Run” alone has been sampled by Nas, N.W.A., Run-DMC, and De La Soul. Miller says it was always unexpected when another act sampled his band’s music.

“It always surprised me when other people sampled my music or when the Neville Brothers did ‘Fly Like an Eagle,’” Miller says. “A friend of mine said, ‘Hey man, the Neville Brothers just recorded Fly Like an Eagle’ and this huge warm glow just came over my whole body. I was so thrilled because I love the Neville Brothers and the fact that they would do one of my songs was so unexpected.

“Then as time went on, pretty soon everybody was sampling my music and that was cool. A lot of diverse musical groups where you have country music guys and rap guys and R&B guys and rock guys and blues guys, English pop bands were using it.”

Miller says his whole career has been a surprise. He relocated to California in the 1960s, garnered a recording contract, and started making records as the Steve Miller Band.

“A mere seven or eight years later I finally got a song that went viral and became a real hit, and that changed everything,” he reminisces. “That gave me the money to improve my production and to improve my band and just improve all of our work.”

That “viral” song was No. 1 hit “The Joker,” which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. At the height of the song’s success in late 1973, Miller recalls “The Joker” being played on the radio twice an hour, 24 hours a day.  

[RELATED: King Calaway on Steve Miller Band’s Influence]

“Everything changed,” he says of the song’s success. “I was driving to the Fox Theater in Oakland, and it was on four radio stations at the same time. … That’s when I kind of went, ‘Wow, I’ve really got a real hit.’

“I’m 79 years old now and I’m still playing for some reason,” he continues. “I feel great and the band, these songs have endured for 50 years. It’s been amazing. It’s crazy, you can go to Fiji and the Fijians know the ‘Space Cowboy.’”

Photo Credit: Tim Brown / Courtesy of Big Hassle

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