Jerry Miller (born July 10, 1943 in Tacoma, Washington) is an American songwriter, guitarist and vocalist. He performs as a solo artist and as a member of the Jerry Miller Band. He is also a founding member of the 1960s San Francisco band Moby Grape, which continues to perform occasionally. Rolling Stone included Jerry at number 68 on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time and Moby Grape's album 'Moby Grape' at number 124 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Early Years: Late 1950s-1966
Jerry Miller's professional career began in the late 1950s, playing and recording with popular Northwest dance-rock bands including The Elegants. He was apparently a member of The Kingsmen (of Louie Louie fame) at one time, with promotional photos that exist as evidence of that. He contributed guitar work to an early version of the hit record I Fought the Law by The Bobby Fuller Four, and toured with Bobby Fuller in his predecessor group to The Bobby Fuller Four.
While both were playing locally in Seattle, prior to becoming internationally famous, Jerry Miller befriended Jimi Hendrix. Along with Larry Coryell, who was developing his reputation as a guitarist while attending the University of Washington in Seattle, they would regularly get together to watch touring bands visiting the Seattle area. One particular club was the Spanish Castle, in Des Moines, Washington, between Seattle and Tacoma. The later Hendrix song, Spanish Castle Magic, was based on his experiences with fellow guitarists at the Spanish Castle in Des Moines.
Formation and Evolution of Moby Grape, 1966-1969
Before co-founding Moby Grape, Miller and bandmate Don Stevenson were members of The Frantics, a Pacific Northwest bar band, based in Seattle. The band relocated to San Francisco and, with the addition of Bob Mosley, formed the nucleus of what would become Moby Grape. Moby Grape was formed in San Francisco in 1966. Jerry Miller was the lead guitarist in the three-guitar band. The Grape signed with Columbia and recorded four albums for that label, released between 1967 and 1969. During this period, Miller co-wrote (with Don Stevenson) three of Moby Grape's best known songs, "Hey Grandma" and "8.05", both from the self-titled first Moby Grape album (1967) and "Murder In My Heart for The Judge", from the Wow album (1968). The latter song was covered by both Three Dog Night and Lee Michaels, while Robert Plant covered "8:05" and The Move covered "Hey Grandma". More recently, "Hey Grandma" was included in the soundtrack to the 2005 Sean Penn-Nicole Kidman film, The Interpreter, as well as being covered in 2009 by the Black Crowes, on Warpaint Live.
Moby Grape toured the U.S. and Europe, but fell apart as of 1970. Members regrouped for one album on Reprise Records in 1971 and played and recorded intermittently thereafter, in various configurations. Moby Grape continues to perform occasionally today.
The Rhythm Dukes, 1969-1971
In the late summer of 1969, subsequent to the release of Truly Fine Citizen, Moby Grape's last album for Columbia, Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson joined with John Barrett (bass) and John "Fuzzy" Oxendine (drums) to form The Rhythm Dukes. Don Stevenson played guitar, rather than drums. It is speculated that he left the band shortly after its formation for that reason, preferring to remain a drummer. The band came together at Jerry Miller's initiative, at a time when the future of Moby Grape was uncertain. The band lived together in Santa Cruz, and was later joined by Bill Champlin on organ and vocals. Champlin, along with Miller, became the group's principal songwriters. The Rhythm Dukes shared the stage with such artists as Albert Collins, Lee Michaels, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead and Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, generally being second-billed. They recorded one album in 1970, which saw release in 2005 as Flashback, featuring three Jerry Miller songs. The Rhythm Dukes disbanded in 1971, when Moby Grape reformed to record 20 Granite Creek.
Continuing Evolution of Career
Jerry Miller went on to share the stage with many musical greats – Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and The Doors. His admirers include Jimmy Page, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Taj Mahal, David Fricke, Eric Clapton, and Robert Plant. Eric Clapton called Jerry the "best guitar player in the world" when he first came to the U.S. Robert Plant cites Jerry as a major influence for Led Zeppelin – the band even played Moby Grape songs at its first rehearsal. Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead are just two of the famous bands that have covered Jerry Miller songs live and on record.
He is #68 on Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, ahead of Eddie Van Halen (#70), Johnny Winter (#74), Robbie Robertson (#78), David Gilmour (#82), Neil Young (#83), Robbie Krieger (#91), Angus Young (#96) and Leigh Stephens (#98). In being so ranked, he is described as follows: "His playing was never self-indulgent, and his soloing was propulsive, always aware of where the song was headed." "Hey Grandma", from Moby Grape's first album, is cited as an essential recording of Jerry Miller.
1995-Present: Return to Tacoma
Since 1995, Jerry Miller has been based in Tacoma, Washington, for the most part living a few blocks from his childhood home. He currently fronts The Jerry Miller Band, with Tom Murphy and Darin Watkins on drums and Kim Workman on bass, among other musicians. In July 2007, the Jerry Miller Band performed in Monterey for the 40th Anniversary of Monterey Pop.
In July 2008, Jerry Miller participated in a benefit to raise funds for medical care for Rick Burton, a bassist with the Jerry Miller Band and a close personal friend, whose days of playing with Jerry went back over forty years. They had been in The Elegants together. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Burton had been in another band fronted by Jerry Miller, DiaBando. He had also contributed to a 2005 benefit when Miller himself was in need of assistance to fund the Jerry A. Miller Foundation for the Advancement of The Arts, with an objective of using local facilities to provide practice and teaching space for local musicians. In the fall of 2007, the 60 year old Burton had been assaulted and gravely injured in what was viewed as a random, gang-oriented attack, where those responsible have not yet been found. The benefit, "Harm None" was also intended to raise awareness about violence in Tacoma.
In January 2009, Miller lost virtually all of his personal possessions and career memorabilia to flood damage. Included in the loss were numerous concert tapes and photographs of Miller with other musical notables, including Jimi Hendrix and Robert Plant. Local Tacoma musicians held two benefit concerts to assist Miller financially.
In the summer of 2009, Miller joined the "California '66" package tour, featuring reformed versions of The Electric Prunes and Love. Miller substituted for Sky Saxon, who had been scheduled to perform with The Seeds, but who died unexpectedly a month before the tour was set to begin. Miller performed with his own band, rather than with a Moby Grape configuration.
In 2010, Jerry Miller, Don Stevenson and Omar Spence (son of Skip Spence) performed at the South by Southwest festival, playing a mix of classic Moby Grape songs and newer songs, principally composed and recorded in 2009.
Despite continuing to write new songs, Miller has not released an album of original material since 1998. In addition, similar to Moby Grape bandmates Bob Mosley and Peter Lewis, his solo work has not yet been subject to broad-based national or global distribution.
Images of the Jerry Miller Band (with Tom Murphy, drums and Rick Burton, bass) are accessible here.
- Now I See (1993)
- Life Is Like That (1995; Jerry Miller Band)
- Live At Cole's (1998; Jerry Miller & Co.)
- "Jerry Miller | Rolling Stone Music | Lists". Rollingstone.com. Retrieved 2010-08-09.
- Contrary to many popularized statements that Miller played lead guitar on the national hit record version of "I Fought The Law" and was a member of The Bobby Fuller Four as the group was popularly known. Neither is true. The Biography of Jerry Miller on the Jerry Miller Band website (accessed August 31, 2008), which Miller apparently does not directly control, also contains these errors. It is also inaccurately stated that Miller was with Bobby Fuller until the time of his murder. Jerry Miller clarifies matters in Interview with Jerry Miller in Goldmine as reprinted in Moby Grape discussion group: Goldmine: A little known fact is that you played and recorded with Bobby Fuller in Texas. How did that come about? Jerry Miller: In 1962, after I left high school, a guy named Larry Thompson from Tacoma who was playing drums with Bobby Fuller, heard me playing at the Crescent Ballroom. Within two days I jumped on the Greyhound for El Paso where I moved in with Bobby and his parents. At that time it wasn't known as the Bobby Fuller Four, just Bobby Fuller, with his brother, Randall, and Larry and myself. I recorded four tracks with them including the original "I Fought The Law" (released as a single on Exeter), "Wine, Wine, Wine" and "King Of The Beach," though my guitar didn't make it onto that final track. We toured around Texas mainly, wearing those cool matching suits, with long hair even before the Beatles! About the time Bob Keene took over as manager, I thought things were looking a bit shaky, so I returned to Washington state in the summer of '63.
- See Larry Coryell.
- Images of the Spanish Castle are accessible here . Despite its unique architecture and history, the Spanish Castle was demolished in 1968.
- Interview with Jerry Miller, "Mods & Rockers Festival: Grapeful for Monterey". Huffington Post, July 19, 2007; www.huffingtonpost.com. Jerry Miller's recollections are confirmed at Spanish Castle Magic.
- On their Harmony album (1971).
- On his Barrel album (1970), where Michaels' cover of the song is described by Richie Unterberger as the "undoubted highlight" of the album.
- Robert Plant included "8:05" as a B-side to a 1993 single; it is also included on the expanded reissue of his Fate of Nations album on Rhino Records. Robert Plant also performed "Hey Grandma" live when with his pre-Led Zeppelin Band of Joy, during the 1967-1968 period. See Rare and Unrecorded Songs by Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin. See also "Robert Plant albums reborn with nine lives". News Release, Rhino Records, September 20, 2006.
- On their self-titled first album (1968).
- John Oxendine would later play drums with Moby Grape on their Live Grape album (1978).
- Moby Grape members had been shocked by Bob Mosley's abrupt departure to join the Marines, shortly after the release of Moby Grape '69. This added to uncertainties that commenced at the time of the 1968 departure of Skip Spence from the band, as the result of a six month involuntary psychiatric committal during the course of recording Wow/Grape Jam. The recording of Truly Fine Citizen had been similarly strained, in that Columbia had imposed a three day limit on recording time, thus demonstrating little support for the band's future.
- Details of the band and the CD release are accessible here  www.rhythmdukes.com. The CD is artist-distributed directly. See also Profile of The Rhythm Dukes www.bay-area-bands.com.
- Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time; www.rollingstone.com.
- Interview with Jerry Miller by Frank Goodman, June 2007. www.puremusic.com
- Friends of The Oppressed, Lovers of Truth: A JAMFA Benefit for the Community. News release, February 6, 2005. "JAMFA will provide facilities so musicians can concentrate on music and make a reality their ideas written and formulated within and for the community. Jerry Miller, once heralded as the best guitarist in San Francisco, is interested in a church that he went to as a child, mainly because it is in the community and there he can use it for an out reach for local musicians and teach music."
- Earnest A. Jasmin, Playing for keeps: Benefit for Tacoma musician impaired after beating. The News Tribune (Tacoma), July 8, 2008.
- John Larson, Friends and fans lend a hand to Jerry Miller; The Tacoma Weekly, February 5, 2009; www.tacomaweekly.com. As described by Larson, "On January 8, the Army Corps of Engineers released water from Mud Mountain Dam into the White River. The action was done to relieve pressure in the reservoir, which had reached its capacity due to heavy rain that was causing flooding around the Puget Sound region. Too much water was released too quickly, causing massive flooding in Pacific." Miller had recently moved to Pacific from Tacoma.
- Moby Grape vet subs for Saxon on tour Psychedelic Sight, July 17, 2009
- As "New Wine"; see SXSW Events: New Wine (Jerry Miller, Don Stevenson and Omar Spence of Moby Grape); www.mysxsw.com.
- Interview with Jerry Miller by Frank Goodman, June 2007. www.puremusic.com.