Interview with Buddy and Julie Miller
[While we waited for Julie to appear, Buddy and I were shooting the breeze technically, about a recording software called ProTools. At one point I just started the recorder for the heck of it.]
Buddy Miller: I have a friend in NY who says that they get the rhythm section to play all day, and then use four bars of it -- loop it, dupe it, and quantize it. I don't use it like that. You can just use it as a real nice tape recorder. That's what I do. And the plug-ins are great, it's great technology. I've got a real big system, I beta tested for them for seven years. I had a two inch machine here, too. But it was really big, and every time I pressed the stop button on the remote, the button would fly across the room. It would rattle like a washing machine on rewind, and the hiss was louder than I liked to talk over. And, for what we do, I don't need it. I switched to digital, and was amazed. There are things about tape that I miss, the actual smell of tape is the thing I miss the most. And you can get the sound a little silkier, you know, things like that. In the end product, nobody can really hear the difference.
Puremusic: Right, since you're going to end up in the digital domain anyhow [a CD], and largely listened to in someone's car.
BM: It is all cumulative, digital makes you work a little bit harder.
PM: Do you master to an analog machine?
BM: Generally what I do is, I'll mix to an ATR Ampex half inch machine, it's the finest half inch mastering machine. Then I'll dump that back into ProTools and do the mastering. I didn't do the mastering on this last record, we didn't have time. I've been out on tour most of this last whole year, and it wasn't easy getting this record done.
PM: I never realized until I read some bios that you spent some time in Jersey and PA. What part of your life was spent there?
BM: High school, in the Princeton area. You say you're from Bucks County [PA], then you know there's a lot of good bluegrass going on around there.
PM: You remember a fantastic band called Bottle Hill from Jersey? What happened to them, they were amazing.
BM: I don't know, man, I don't know what happened to a lot of people... I used to play bluegrass there with the guy that just wrote the biography on Bill Monroe, Richard Smith [Can't You Hear Me Callin', Da Capo Press, www.dacapopress.com]. Then I lived near the northern PA border towards Woodstock after high school, and beat it outta there as soon as I could.
PM: Joined a band and went out West?
BM: Within a year or so, right. We thought we had a deal, with ABC Paramount or A&M, but ended up playing on the streets. Whoever it was, they'd just signed the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and didn't need two bands in what seemed a similar vein. We had two frailing banjo players, a fiddle player, and bass and drums. I played electric guitar and pedal steel. We went out there in our school bus with eight guys and their girlfriends, and twice as many dogs. So we had no money. We had to play on the streets in Berkeley and San Francisco. We'd live off discarded food in trash bins of restaurants and crash on friends' floors.
PM: This is what, early 70s?
PM: I was in Berkeley in '72 as well.
BM: Probably saw me playing on the street. We'd set up right there by campus, whatever that was.
PM: Right, Telegraph Ave. and Bancroft Way.
BM: So, we'd play and try and get some money. Finally somebody heard us who was friends of that fiddle player from Sea Train.
PM: Richard Greene.
BM: Right. Well, this guy appreciated what we were doing. We were pretty acoustic on the street at this point. He owned the Russian River Inn. [In beautiful Sonoma County, about 60-70 miles North of Berkeley.]
PM: Nice joint.
BM: You know it?
PM: Sure, we used to play the Highland Dell in Monte Rio and some other clubs up there.
BM: So, at this time, the Russian River Inn was closed. He said, "Well, I own this place, and I see that half of you are sleeping in this bus. If you guys want to stay here, you can, nobody's renting it or using it as a bar at the moment." So we had our sleeping bags on top of the bar, you know, found a couple of cots. The kitchen was great, set up for business. We lived there for about six months. We'd play all the joints around there, like the Inn of the Beginning in Cotati. We opened our share of good dates for bigger acts.
PM: What was that band called?
BM: St. Elmo's Fire. And as tough as it was, it was still fun. We finally got enough money to drive East, and we stopped here in Nashville along the way. I talked them into going to the Opry. It was Christmas time, and everybody was home, it was a great show. Marty Robbins was playing, and Dolly Parton came out solo and sang a song she'd just written, "Jolene."
PM: Oh my.
BM: It was amazing. We were up in the balcony, eating fried chicken. Anyhow, we continued on, looking for the right situation. We ended up in Massachusetts, in the Stockbridge area.
PM: Where "Alice's Restaurant" is.
BM: Exactly. There was a studio there called Shaggy Dog Studios, and the guy who owned it took a liking to us, and gave us whatever time we wanted. So we figured, "This is a good opportunity, let's move here." So we did, and we had a beautiful house. The previous owner or tenant was Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. At this time, things were getting a little depraved, we liked to drink. We were playing a lot, and bought a Greyhound Bus, a great GMC 4103 with the round windows, but one of our banjo players totaled it, too much drinking. After I left the band, he totaled a second bus while reaching for a beer. Instead of making a turn, he slammed into the house of an elderly couple, knocked it right off the foundation.
[At this moment, a gentleman showed up bearing one of those Music City plaques with the gold or platinum records, couldn't tell which. He introduced himself as John Lomax. He was presenting it to Buddy for working with an Australian artist named Kasey Chambers. He also had a book that he'd written about her family's epic saga, and was showing it around, the Millers were impressed. He'd also come to pick up their latest record. Julie had appeared at this moment, and offered me something to drink, an Odwalla. Buddy asked for water.] continue