By Amanda Cunningham, London Correspondent
Rock At Night had the pleasure of sitting down with blues-rock guitarist Larry Miller prior to his gig at The Borderline, London on May 8, 2015. What a lovely man and talented artist! Please see the interview below:
When I was 15. Well, I just discovered this, but I’m an August baby. And I was thinking there must be something I’m good at (and I’m getting nearer and nearer to leaving school). I thought, “I’m still rubbish at everything.”
My brother’s guitar was at the end of the bed with a little book on how to play guitar. I picked it up and strummed these chords [for] “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes.” I thought, “That’s alright. I’ll write my own.” I changed the words around and changed a few of the chords on my very first day.
Then, it was the music of Rory Gallagher. My brother had an album called Live! In Europe. I didn’t know what was going on musically but it sounded so immense! And so powerful and savvy! It sounded so great! And the sounds he was making (I didn’t know what it was) but it sounded so great! Then, I went to see him play. I was right at the front of the stage and I saw him running back and forth…and he was getting so excited!
It was pitch dark and then there was such a roar from the crowd (it was down in Brighton). I thought, “Wow! He could do this in a town tomorrow night. Ah, this is so great! I’ve got to do this!”
And this was at 15?
When I discovered blues, it was…duh duh duh duh ….it was ROAR and not “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain.”
I thought, “This is what I’ve been put on the planet for.
Where are you from?
Mars…no (laugh) I grew up in Surrey, Guildford. You might think that’s “nowheresville.” They call it the “Surrey Delta.” Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Paige [came from] all that same area.
Larry started scatting blues at this point……I want to be like you….scooby doo….and continued saying…..
I was talking to my mum and she remembered when I was seven [that] a teacher asked ”Can you get up and sing a nursery rhyme?”
I asked, “Oh, do I have to?”
So I got up and sang a song by Freddy and the Dreamers called “You Were Made for Me.” Everybody sang [nursery rhymes]….so at seven it was obvious that I really, really loved music.
So, every Monday this teacher would make me sing a song to the class. It’s weird, isn’t it? It’s funny, isn’t it?
I’ve since discovered that my granddad and his brother, in the first World War, were called the Miller Brothers and they played stuff called “ragtime music.” Ragtime music is the “father of the blues”, you see. So obviously I was tapping into this.
That’s amazing! How did you find that out?
My mum gave me a program from somewhere in France….and I knew they played music…I thought that they had played on lines, you know, like the ones that go across the ocean. It was around the time of the Titanic. [They were] aboard these ships. So they were obviously musicians then doing that but I didn’t realize they had actually been in the war and [played on] ships as well.
I know you really admire Rory Gallagher and he has influenced your playing. Have you explored some of the historical blues figures, like Robert Johnson?
I’ve played and listened to some of his and all the traditional guys as well. For a long, long while (you can even go back further than that), [I’ve listened to] the jazz players. [I’ve listened to] Freddie King and B.B. King. These are the guys that inspired those guys. You’ve got to find out where they got their stuff from.
I think when you are 15 I really think they are the ones who really move you the most. So really Rory and Jimi Hendrix….those are the guys who really influenced me.
Oh, please!! Yes, please!
It’s really weird to really make it in a country you have to leave your….
Yes, you do, or as it says in the Bible “No profit…no…irrespective in his own town….” If you look at Hendrix, he was playing in a [place] with about 14 people, and he said to Chas Chandler, the bassist from the Animals, “Can you get me out here?” So people saw that Chas Chandler brought him to England, he established himself as a star here, and then he brought him back to America. By then, he was a big star to everybody. People who saw him at Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967 would say, “Hey, that’s that guy you played in that café with his teeth?” So they all knew about him but they just took him for granted, you see.
It’s the same here with Zeppelin. Zeppelin was kind of a really slag off in this country but in the states…the states picked up on them. Then, ‘he’s alright then.’ It goes on and on and on…it really does!
You find somebody abroad and then say, “he’s alright afterall.”
What is your songwriting process?
Most songwriters will tell you “it just happens.” Sometimes it’s the words….other times it is the music. I’ve done it on a mandolin….other times on guitar…and other times on the piano. Or sometimes, in my head!
Sometimes you’ll hear and song and will think, “Oh, I like the idea of that song. I’ll take a bit of that idea there and will morph it into something else.” You listen to stuff all the time.
Like the blues guys…they’d hear a train going along…choo, choo….choo, choo…You, know that beat. All sorts of things, really.
When you start closing it off, you are robbing yourself really. So, I’ll start my Hoover up when I get home tonight and will see what I can from that!
<Whirring vacuum noise>
<After a long pause, Larry answered>. Well the thing is, you see, my little fans (you see, I say ‘my little fans’ it’s the small amount of people that ‘get’ what I do), they like it because I chuck in my 100 watt Marshall stack amp.
The thing about Rory (we were talking about this with the chaps in the band last week)….his brother brought out a CD of 12 acoustic tracks. He didn’t do anything [acoustic] because people wanted to see Rory doing his electric stuff, you know, really on fire!
Who is somebody you would love to collaborate with?
Dead? Mozart and obviously Mr. Rory. ..John Lennon…Alive? Eric Burdon
I see you have Marshall amps. What kind of effect pedals do you use?
A Tube Scream, a distortion pedal….I don’t tend to have too much. I tend to add gain to it so it is a little bit of a volume base….a Wah Wah pedal. I really prefer to use (what Rory used)…my hands. Let say, you have your tone controls, you just press a button on the floor. It’s the guitar and the hands…that’s all you really need.
I try to give people more heart and soul. You know, sometimes.
What about your taste in guitars?
I’ve always been a Fender-Strat-Man but the last 10 years or so I moved onto a Les Paul.
It’s funny because of have a number of gigs where I’m flying abroad next year. The Les Paul is so fragile [though]. The necks get broken. I could get a cheaper Les Paul so when they throw it on a plane it will survive. So, I went down to my music shop and I tried something cheaper saying, “Can I just compare it with a better one?”
So I kept trying out guitars. I tried out a 1957 Gold Top…and then I tried out the Collector’s Choice, a 1957 Limited Edition. I thought, “Aha, I’m gonna’ get this!” And then I thought, “Uh, this is really, really expensive.” It was one of the most expensive Les Pauls in the shop. I called one of my friends and asked, “Can you lend me the money?” He said “No..no.”
So, I remembered the old saying, “If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.”
About three months later, I got onto a site and the same Les Paul was there and they had knocked 1,000 pounds off of it. That was God, you see. God loves to say ‘yes.’ And I had read it as no, no, no. God was saying ‘yes, just listen to me Larry, in a few months time you’ll see 1,000 pounds knocked off it, Larry.’
So this is the Les Paul….
Are you playing it tonight?
Yes, I play it all the time now. I just love this Les Paul so much!
[Larry explained that if he breaks a string, he changes it on his favorite Les Paul rather than grabbing another guitar]
What are your future plans?
I look to God for that. I really do. Every breath is in his hands. He’s brought me this far so I just keep looking to him. He’s blessed me this far. He’s given me this great band and I just love what I’m doing.
Before we go, tell me about the Cambridge Rock Festival. You were the first in the history of the festival to get eight encores.
I had played about 6 p.m. a few years earlier. About mid-day, no magic is going to happen, it’s broad daylight. I asked if I could be on later about 9 o’clock. I said, “I could really do the business. I really can do the business!” So eventually, he came back with “Yeah, you can play at 9 o’clock on the blues stage.” Doh! The blues stage! Yeah, the blues stage…with me and about 30 people? Then I thought, “I’ve complained enough. I’l leave this with God. I’ll just let it go.”
I started in the blues tent at about 9 o’clock. All of a sudden, people started flocking to my tent. What had happened was the sound desk at the main stage had gone off completely…..so everybody came into my tent! Hundreds and hundreds were there!
Did you know what had happened?
No, I just saw hundreds and hundreds of people coming in! I just felt this immense love from all the people! There had been a lot of raining going on and these people had a lot going wrong…but I felt enormous love! I just played my heart out!
Then after I finished, they didn’t want it to end. So, I said to the guys, “What do we do right now?” We had seven encores! It was miraculous! It really was!
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