Ever since the Black Keys so badly fumbled the induction of Steve Miller into the Rock Hall I have found myself digging even deeper into his rich catalog. Had the Keys done the same they probably would have not only become fans of his cannon – they would have probably sampled it in their music. With that in mind, I turn my attention today to the transition album, 1969’s “Your Saving Grace.”
Miller’s beginning was indeed prolific. In about a year Capitol Records got him to release three studio albums. Together they delivered over 400,000 unit sales – in no small part the result of heavy touring and a loyal commitment to airplay among the emerging FM base of album oriented rock stations. In an effort that can only be described as pushing boundaries, Capitol pressed Miller to knock out one more record before the year’s end. In what appears to have been an act born out of necessity, Miller stripped his band down to bare essentials and in June of 1969 headed to San Francisco’s Wally Heider Studios, where Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival had also recorded some of their most memorable work. In November of that year he delivered to Capitol his fourth studio record in less than two years.
Working again with producer Glyn Johns, Miller began recording with Lonnie Turner on bass and Tim Davis on percussion. Legendary keyboardist Nicky Hopkins flew in from London and rounded out the operation. The music was recorded quickly allowing for the overarching sound to be more organic and natural. The process also moved Miller away from the psychedelic footing his music had previously enjoyed toward a more blues based sound that would come to define his best known work. Moreover, Miller in this context became a more involved member of his own band, guiding the musical direction with more confidence. This in part is reflected in the comfort he had with using material from the band, and handing lead vocal duties to others where it made sense. This is no better demonstrated than on the title track (hands down the strongest song among truly fat tunes) where drummer Tim Davis takes over lead vocals. The result is a song with a timeless arrangement that slips in and out of its blues base into soul and pop touch points. Davis would soon depart the band, and this song would become his epitaph. It also kept Miller from stretching too thin.
Songs like “Feel So Glad” allowed Miller to instead apply his guitar talents in meaningful ways. In fact throughout the record you find many moments where there is a little hook or a blues application that make the songs just shine a bit brighter. The album opener demonstrates this best. “Little Girl” has about three different guitar lines that dance on top of the dribble thumpin’ of Lonnie’s bass. The work is crystal clear and concise. It’s a technique that you rarely heard from Miller again; in fact solo guitars in general would begin to step back from his music, living more in the body of the song. From here things changed.
Across the entire album you begin to hear the sound that would soon emerge on 1973’s “The Joker.” It’s close to something now of a Steve Miller fixture, and largely what was missing as part of his induction. While “Your Saving Grace” is largely dismissed by critics, the importance this record played in helping Miller shed his psychedelic roots can’t be overlooked. Necessity bred a rock construct that shaped the sound of a future hitmaker. Here he doesn’t leave his past behind without sharing some crazy guitar work. It may be the last single place where his range is so evident. But the sacrifice and the transition allowed for the creation of some of rock’s most beloved songs. An exchange most would allow every single time.
Below is the value of the aforementioned album in Near Mint (NM) condition, according to Goldmine’s Record Album Price Guide, 8th Edition. Note: As a standard rule, a vinyl record in VG+ condition is 50% of NM value and VG record is 25% NM value.