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Labor of Love: John R. Miller
Listening to John R. Miller feels like you're talking to an old friend. His honest, inspired lyrics accompanied with his folky finger-style guitar playing makes for a perfect match with our acoustic room. We sat down with John to discuss the whats and whys of his music in this Labor of Love.
How did making music become your life? How did you get your start?
I was enamored with music early on. When I was very young, music would make me hallucinate wild and bizarre things in my head, which I thought was pretty cool. I pulled a cheap old old nylon-string classical guitar out of my dad’s storage room when I was 14 and banged on that until I could get a guitar of my own. Back then I didn’t really have anything to write about except food and girls, so that’s what I wrote songs about.
When I got a little older I started playing with bands, we would rent out local halls and put on our own shows until we were old enough to travel and hang out in bars, and it eventually became something I simply had to keep doing. I think once I realized I could do this thing that I loved and it might allow me to see new places, I resolved to do it whatever the cost.
It's an incredible challenge getting by making music. Everyone at CME has found a happy home here to support our passion for music. How do you make it work?
I do a lot of work as a bass player for other songwriters and bands, which helps to make ends meet and keeps things varied and fun. I’m fortunate to have that in my skillset, and to know some really great musicians and artists who take me along for their ride sometimes. When I’m off the road I take odd temporary jobs as well, most recently on a bottling line at a distillery. Landscaping, cooking... I wear a lot of hats when I have to, and I’m not afraid to work.
Who are your major influences?
It shifts around from time to time, but I have had many. When I was younger it was the Replacements, CCR, the Bottle Rockets, and a whole bunch of other bands. After a while it was Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mississippi John Hurt, J.J. Cale, Blaze Foley, Lightnin’ Hopkins... One of my very favorites is a guy named Michael Hurley, who is a wonderfully eccentric songwriter and painter who was plugged into some of the Northeastern outsider folk scenes in the 60s & 70s.
What guides your playing style? How would you describe that style?
I learned to play so I would have a medium through which to present the songs I wanted to write. I love fingerpicked guitar in general, and eventually gravitated toward Mississippi John Hurt and Merle Travis’ playing styles to try to accompany myself as a solo performer. Though those two were masters, and my playing could probably be better described as “catch as catch can.”
What do you love about playing music?
I think it’s one of the most amazing and mysterious things in life, that we have the ability to have a meaningful exchange with each other through rhythm and melody, and that the whole spectrum of emotion can be manipulated by it. It’s really fun, anyone can participate, there’s infinite possibility, and it never gets old.
What do you love about the type of music you play?
It makes me happy when other people get something of value from it.
What's your rig?
I run my Rocket through a Fender Blues Deluxe, with a Joyo tremelo, Box of Rock boost, & occasionally I’ll kick on an Echo Brain analog delay. My Yairi acoustic is fitted with LR Baggs’ Anthem SL pickup.
A “Rhapsody” small-body acoustic I bought for $25
1976 Yairi Alvarez DY-77, 1969 Harmony Rocket H53/1
Any gear you can't live without?
LR Baggs Venue DI & preamp, Golden Gate Ivoroid thumb picks
What is your dream gear?
An old J-45 at home would be obviously be pretty wonderful, or a Martin 0-18, for different purposes. But more recently I am super impressed with the Collings Waterloo guitars I’ve played, especially the WL-14. I’ve been wanting to spend more time with one of those for a little while. But I’m pretty happy with what I have.
What are five albums you love?
Michael Hurley - Ancestral Swamp
Sleep - Dopesmoker
Darrin Hacquard - Signs and Wonders
Lucinda Williams - The Ghosts of Highway 20
Yo La Tengo - Electro-Pura
What do you have coming up? Albums? Tours?
We’re going in January 2020 to work on a new full-length album.