One month after fronting the house band at this year’s Americana Honors & Awards, Buddy Miller sits down with Chris Shiflett – podcast host, Foo Fighters bandmate, solo artist and fellow multi-tasker – for the newest installment of Walking the Floor.
The episode makes its way through more than a half-century’s worth of history, from the original Woodstock, where a teenaged Miller caught Jimi Hendrix’s set, to present-day Nashville. Along the way, Miller – who helped strengthen the left-of-center country scenes in Austin, New York and Los Angeles before moving to Tennessee – geeks out over the Grateful Dead and takes some well-deserved shots at Nashville’s obsession with co-writing. There’s also a story about the time he suffered a heart attack onstage, only to drink half a beer with the creator of The Wire before heading to the hospital. (Priorities, people.)
Here are five highlights from Shiflett’s conversation with one of the founding fathers of Americana music. (Listen to the full episode below).
1. The Lone Star Cafe, Manhattan’s now-closed country club, was the reason Miller moved to New York City.
“When the movie [Urban Cowboy] came out, a club opened up in Manhattan called Lone Star Cafe,” remembers Miller, who was still living in Texas at the time. “They’d bring in Delbert McClinton, Muddy Waters, Eta James … I remember getting us booked at the Lone Star Cafe. It was a big deal. That scene was so electric, and I thought, ‘We need to be here. This is a cool place. They make records in New York.’ I convinced my wife to move up with me, and we became part of that scene up there … I got great players to play with me, and I started playing guitar with Kinky Friedman. Every Sunday night at the Lone Star. It was like church.”
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2. Nashville, now home to soaring real estate prices, was wholly affordable when Miller moved to Music City.
The Millers went “completely broke” during their time in Los Angeles, prompting Buddy to move the family to Nashville during the early Nineties. He’d already visited the city to play shows with longtime friend Jim Lauderdale, and Nashville – whose home values rose by 13.7 percent last year – still seemed like an affordable headquarters for musicians. “I figured, ‘They think musicians are almost people here,'” he says. “‘We could probably talk our way into [a house],’ which is what we did. We’d gone bankrupt, but we were still able to swing getting into a house.”
3. Miller loves country music, but he isn’t a fan of co-writing.
“I don’t write with other people,” admits Miller, who takes issue with the heavily collaborated country songs emanating from Nashville’s Music Row community. “I write with my wife [singer-songwriter Julie Miller]. I write with [Jim] Lauderdale, but the way we write is I’ll stick something in his mailbox and say, ‘Can you please help me finish this?’ I don’t understand the whole thing about co-writing. Matter of fact, I think it’s not a great thing. I think it’s ruined a lot of music. It just dilutes things down. Your personality doesn’t come through as much in the song. I can only say that from listening to the thousands and thousands of songs I have to listen to for [the TV show Nashville, whose music is executive produced by Miller], and I see so many names on a song. It seems like this town is just writing one of three songs.”
4. Robert Plant’s soundchecks are, predictably, pretty awesome.
“I got to know him on the Raising Sand Tour,” says Miller, who caught Led Zeppelin’s first show at the Fillmore East and, decades later, joined Plant and Alison Krauss on the road as a sideman. “And then he asked me to help put together that Band of Joy [lineup] and make the record with him. I love him. He’s incredible. He’s so inspiring. It would all be about soundcheck – creating something new at soundcheck. And if we’re doing old songs, we’re not doing them as they were. He just wants to keep moving forward.”
5. After suffering a heart attack onstage, Miller insisted on drinking a beer with The Wire creator David Simon before undergoing a triple bypass at a Baltimore hospital.
“Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris and me had this thing called Three Girls and Their Buddy,” he says, recounting the in-the-round tour that took Miller across the country in 2010. “As I was singing my last song of the night in Baltimore, I had a heart attack. I made it through, so I could get paid. Not only did I finish the gig, but I heard the creator of The Wire was there. I think he was friends with Patty. And I just wanted to hang and have a beer at the meet-and-greet afterward. I knew it was a heart attack. I went down there – I was soaking wet, in pain and sweating – and I almost finished the beer. Then they took me to the hospital and said, ‘You’ve suffered a massive heart attack.’ They gave me an emergency triple bypass.”