By Ray Chelstowski
It’s probably a crime in some circles that Steve Miller is not known at all for his guitar chops. His best known work from The Joker, Fly Like An Eagle and Book of Dreams uses the guitar as an equal contributor. The guitar contributions are very efficient, play a specific role and don’t spill over outside their intended lane. But early on, Miller put on quite a display, usually live. His playing was fast and fluid, really tasty stuff. That’s on terrific display with 1971’s Rock Love, often called “Rock Bottom” by his most loyal fans. It was largely panned upon release but has begun to be better received for its singular standouts.
Half of the album is live, recorded in Pasadena and Hollywood, Florida. The other half is extended studio cuts. Nowhere to be found among the tracks: a hit. This is Steve Miller in a holding pattern, having just lost his band and playing with a loosely assembled outfit that included Ross Valory (later Journey) on bass and Jack King on drums.
It opens with “The Gangster Is Back”—a Freddy King inspired Dallas jump-blues sizzler. Miller quickly slows things down with the grinder “Blues Without Blame.” As blistering as his guitar licks sound, they are met with equal amounts of proficiency in the vocal realm. His voice is clean and his control is impressive without being showy.
Largely a jam record there are some really fun studio cuts. “Let Me Serve You” and the title track, “Rock Love” are songs that come right out of the Steve Miller mill. Earmarks of every song to be found on The Joker are also found here. “Harbor Lights” keeps at least one foot firmly planted in the world of psychedelia. But even in 1971 it seems a bit out of place. It might the most out of place track on the record. The side one counterpart is Jack King’s extended drum solo on “Love Shock”.It just isn’t impressive enough to gobble up this much track time.
The album stand out is closer “Deliverance.” A smoky cool live jam where Miller flies up and down the neck of an acoustic guitar throwing around syrupy sounds that bend, wind and unravel through a nine minute romp. If you have only spent time with his greatest hits, the guitar chops you’ll find here will surprise you then quickly put Miller in a different guitar god plane. The song is hypnotic, fun and frankly could have easily run for another nine minutes of running time.
Is the record uneven? Absolutely. Is it easy to understand how this may have been poorly received back in 1971? Of course. This is more an expression of where Steve Miller’s head was at the time than a cohesive musical effort. But in that sense it becomes more interesting, more compelling and maybe more important a piece in Miller’s discography. It’s as though he wasn’t out to really prove anything. He had some recordings and some material he wanted to formally document and here it is. Do with it what you will. For me, it’s about mining both sides for small performance nuggets that would rarely show their faces ever again. Maybe instead the record should have been called Rock Lost!