“One thing that producers and engineers tend to have in common is their undeniable love of music, and it is the highs they experience in the recording studio--those exhilarating moments when the blending of artistic effort, musical material, and technical input produce great results." --Richard Buskin, from the introduction to Inside Tracks (Avon Books 1999)
Yesterday was Jimmy Miller's Birthday so for today's blog post I thought it would appropriate to celebrate Jimmy Miller, one of the greatest rock & roll producers of all time.
Who was Jimmy Miller?
Even if you don't recognize Jimmy Miller's name, chances are that you've heard his work as a producer on many classic rock tracks over the years. His studio production on such classic rock albums as Mr. Fantasy, Let It Bleed, Blind Faith and Exile on Main Street illustrates that he was one of a handful of individuals, including Phil Spector and George Martin, who defined the sound of sixties and seventies rock & roll.
Miller was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1942, and his early roots were in show business. His father, Bill, was an entertainment director in Las Vegas and was responsible for booking Elvis Presley's memorable return to live performances at the International Hotel in 1969. Miller's earliest musical experience consisted of performing with local bands as a drummer.
In an interview with Richard Buskin, Miller described his developing musical career: "Around '63, '64, I went on the road as a singer and got a recording contract with Columbia, and when I went into the studio, I realized that was what interested me most. So, I soon started writing songs with a young arranger friend of mine and cutting demos of other artists performing our material."
In the early sixties, it was standard practice for fledgling songwriters and producers, such as Miller, to create their recordings independently and then attempt to lease the songs to a major label for distribution. One such song Miller produced, "Incense" by the Angelos, came to the attention of British record label impresario Chris Blackwell, who was in the States looking for suitable material to release in England. Blackwell, impressed with Miller's production work, released the song to great success in the UK in 1965. Shortly thereafter, Blackwell, who was having difficulty establishing the Spencer Davis Group (which featured the young Steve Winwood) in the United States, hired Miller to work with the band.
When Jimmy Miller arrived in England, his first task was to remix the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin." The song, now a rock classic, had been recorded and released in the UK, but Blackwell felt it needed something more to have a chance at making the charts in the States. Listening to the song today, one hears the magic of Jimmy Miller's production technique: a driving bass line reinforced with the slap of a drum hit, cascading percussion throughout the track, and a beefed-up chorus of voices (some provided by members of Winwood's next band, Traffic). The song was a big hit in America, and the band quickly followed up this success with "I'm a Man," which echoes a lot of the production elements in "Gimme Some Lovin." It's interesting to note that Miller's friendship with Steve Winwood had developed to the point that Miller was credited as a co-writer of "I'm a Man." This sort of involvement would become commonplace throughout Miller's career--he often participated in the recording studio not only as a producer but also as a musician. After "I'm a Man," Winwood left the Spencer Davis Group to form Traffic and asked Miller to come on board as the producer of their first album, Dear Mr. Fantasy.
It's important to understand the musical climate that existed when the album was recorded in the fall of 1967. The record's ambiance is one of mystical sweetness and druggy references that reflect the halcyon days of the "Summer of Love," which had just ended. Songs like "Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Heaven Is in Your Mind," "Paper Sun," "Smiling Phases," and "Coloured Rain" captured the psychedelic fever of the day. Miller performed as a percussionist on many of the tracks, and on the jazz instrumental "Giving to You" he speaks the line "You know where I'm at, but I mean jazz."
Mr. Fantasy was one of the first projects at Olympic Studios, one of the first independent recording studios in London at the time. This studio would function as a creative workplace for Miller over the next several years. Phil Brown, one of the original engineers at Olympic, states in an interview at prosoundweb.com that "the kind of producers I worked with originally were people like Jimmy Miller who were producers who set up a situation and controlled things but they were vibe merchants. Jimmy Miller was this incredible kind of energy and drive and force. He made the session feel like you wanted to be there and make music. But he wasn't a hands-on producer. There was more of an overall control, a bit of a vibe." In the book Inside Tracks, Miller explains his view of the producer's and engineer's roles: "As a producer I pretty much let the engineer get the sound together, and I might add my own suggestions if there's a particular sound I'm after or if there's something that I would like to change." Statements like this give credence to the theory that Miller's genius lay in listening to the band and musically participating in the session as opposed to working the mixing board.
In a 2003 interview at mixonline.com, Eddie Kramer, the engineer on Dear Mr. Fantasy (later to become Jimi Hendrix's producer), gives a clear picture of what it was like to watch Jimmy Miller at work in the studio: "Jimmy Miller was my mentor. He just had the most amazing ability to take a group of musicians, rehearse them, get them in the studio and get them so excited about what they were doing and make it all seem so much fun that I realized that this is the way that records should be produced. He was just a terrific catalyst. He had a great sense of humor. And he was unstoppable in the sense that his energy level was always up. He really, really dug the music; he was always so into the band: ‘How can I get you guys to feel this track the way I'm feeling it?' He would sing parts. He was like a master of ceremonies."
Kramer goes on to describe the session that produced the song "Dear Mr. Fantasy": "We had the band set up on a riser at one end of the studio, which is a big room--maybe 65, 70 feet long by about 45 wide with about a 30-foot ceiling. They were set up as if they were onstage and I recorded them live, straight to 4-track. I can remember with such clarity the time when we were actually cutting ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy': We were in the middle of a take and there's a part where the tempo changes--it jumps--and I look around and Jimmy Miller's not in the control room. The next thing I see out of the corner of my eye is Jimmy hauling ass across the room, running full tilt. He jumps up on the riser, picks up a pair of maracas and gets them to double the tempo! That, to me, was the most remarkable piece of production assistance I'd ever seen. They were shocked to see him out there, exhorting them to double the tempo. Their eyes kind of lit up. It was amazing. That was Jimmy!"
From an essay on Jimmy Miller by Richie Unterberger: "Miller was also very skilled at blending several different kinds of instruments into the mix, a crucial consideration as British rock became more sophisticated towards the end of the 1960s. Groups such as Traffic used not only the conventional guitars, bass, and drum, but also prominently featured both electric and acoustic keyboards, horns, and winds. Miller's talents in this regard were amply demonstrated not just by the first couple of Traffic albums, but also by his work on the underrated Blind Faith album, which of course also included Winwood as a principal figure. Miller was also willing to take the time and expense necessary to craft ambitious tracks, and accommodate the temperament of groups like Traffic that were insisting on a more leisurely pace to experiment and develop their material. In fact, he went over budget with Traffic's debut, which although costing only $10,000 was much more expensive than the usual rock album of the period. Since that album and its follow-up were hits, the expense was justified, and bigger budgets and time frames would become common practice throughout rock as bands like Traffic proliferated."
After his success with the Spencer Davis Group and his ongoing work with Traffic, there was a buzz in the rock & roll community about Miller. He was beginning to get a reputation as a "feel" producer, a guy who knew how to find the groove. During the sessions for the first Traffic album, Mick Jagger, at the suggestion of the Rolling Stones' recording engineer, Glyn Johns, dropped by one of the sessions to observe Miller's work up close. Shortly thereafter, Jagger asked Miller to produce the Rolling Stones' upcoming album, Beggar's Banquet. This album marked the beginning of a long studio collaboration between Jimmy Miller and the Stones.
At the start of 1968, the Rolling Stones were in trouble. In an effort to keep up with the style of the current rock music scene, the band had just released Their Satanic Majesties Request, an album heavily influenced by the psychedelic sounds of the San Francisco bands and the Beatles' recent release, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Satanic Majesties had caused the Stones to lose touch with the heart of their own music and their overall fan base. Needing to rehabilitate their image, they decided to record an album based in the blues, a genre that previously had defined the band musically.
In Inside Tracks, Miller describes the beginning of his relationship with the Stones: "Musically they were just coming out of their psychedelic period, which hadn't been too successful for them, and I think that was lucky for me, because I didn't insist that they change direction but they were ready to do so, as was evident from the new songs that they played me. What they had written was rock and roll, yet I subsequently received a lot of credit for getting them back on course, so I benefited a lot from being in the right place at the right time. There again, I think it's fair to say that being American also helped, because--as was the case with many successful British bands during that era--they had been raised on American records. As things turned out, it was not always easy--they could take a long time over certain things--but it was always a pleasure, especially when they'd eventually hit those magic moments as they inevitably seemed to do. The first of those just happened to be on the very first track that I produced for them, Jumping Jack Flash."
This song features the element that was fast becoming a trademark of a Jimmy Miller studio production, layers of percussion, which fill the song with energy and momentum. Excited by the recording, the Stones scheduled it for immediate release as a single rather than holding it back for inclusion on the album.
A remarkable blend of blues, old-style country music, and rock & roll, Beggar's Banquet is arguably the best-produced album of 1968. Miller's studio expertise gave added depth to many of the album's tracks. For example, he chose to record the basic track for "Street Fighting Man" (guitar and drums) on a cheap cassette because the song needed a raw feel to capture its violent political leanings. "Sympathy for the Devil," with a samba-like groove that is reinforced with layers of percussion, is a perfect blend of dark lyrics and sensuous rhythm.
One of the issues in the studio during the recording of Beggar's Banquet was the deteriorating condition of Brian Jones. Years later in an interview, Miller stated that "When Brian would show up at a session—let's say he had just bought a sitar that day, he'd feel like playing it, so he'd look in his calendar to see if the Stones were in. Now he may have missed the previous four sessions. We'd be doing let's say, a blues thing. He'd walk in with a sitar, which was totally irrelevant to what we were doing, and want to play it. I used to try to accommodate him. I would isolate him, put him in a booth and not record him onto any track that we really needed. And the others, particularly Mick and Keith, would often say to me, 'Just tell him to piss off and get the hell out of here.'"
In December 1968, after finishing Beggar's Banquet, Miller worked with the Stones on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, a television special intended to promote the new album. This project remained unreleased until 1996. From Wikipedia: "The show was filmed on a makeshift circus stage with Jethro Tull, The Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull, and The Rolling Stones. John Lennon and his fiancée Yoko Ono also performed as part of a one-shot supergroup called The Dirty Mac, featuring Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards. The original idea for the concert was going to include the Small Faces, the Rolling Stones, and the Who, and the concept of a circus was first thought up between Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane. It was meant to be aired on the BBC, but instead the Rolling Stones withheld it. The Stones contended they did so because of their substandard performance, clearly exhausted after 15 hours (and some indulgence in drugs). There is also the fact that this was Brian Jones last appearance with The Rolling Stones; he drowned some 7 months later while the film was being edited. Some speculate that another reason for not releasing the video was that the Who, who were fresh off a concert tour, obviously upstage the Stones on their own production."
Earlier in 1968, Miller produced Traffic's second studio effort, Traffic. His production work sparkles on the ethereal "Forty Thousand Headmen" and what is now considered a staple jam song, "Feelin Alright." From David N. Howard's book, Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Producers and Their Maverick Recordings: "Yearning to get back to basics, Traffic ditched the candy-colored surrealism of its first album in favor of an organic sound closer to the band's stunning live performances. Once again, Miller spread his positive vibes throughout the sessions and his spontaneous approach imbued the songs with a marvelous improvisational elasticity. Miller's mix emphasized crisply layered production, evident in the propulsive Pearly Queen, the calypso-influenced Vagabond Virgin and the soul-stirring Feelin' Alright. With its tonally diverse arrangements and spatial sound, Traffic's second album was marvelous from start to finish."
Traffic's 2nd album would be the last time Miller worked closely with Traffic in the studio, although he oversaw the production on Last Exit (1969), a pastiche of studio outtakes and live material, and on the live album Welcome to the Canteen (1970), both projects instigated to fulfill the band's contractual obligations to their record label.
In 1969, sessions began for the next Stones album, Let It Bleed. Miller's contributions during these recording sessions were plentiful. "Honky Tonk Women," which would be released as a single in advance of the album and ultimately withheld from Let It Bleed, features a brilliant opening cadence of cowbell played by Miller. "Gimme Shelter" has an urban soul music feel bolstered by Merry Clayton's dramatic vocal and Miller's percussion contributions. Miller's production helps "Midnight Rambler" blend the sinister overtones of "Sympathy for the Devil" and the Chicago blues style of the Stones' earliest records. Miller's presence on this recording is felt in another way; many sources claim that the "Mr. Jimmy" in the song's lyrics refer to Jimmy Miller.
The album's final track, "You Can't Always Get What You Want," which can be interpreted as an elegy for the sixties, features a celestial choir directed by noted arranger Jack Nitzsche, keyboards and French horn by Al Kooper, and Jimmy Miller playing the drums. Miller jumped behind the drum kit when Charlie Watts began having trouble with the song's quirky tempo. In a Mojo magazine interview, Charlie Watts discussed Miller's role during the Let It Bleed sessions: "Jimmy Miller played drums on a couple of tracks on Let It Bleed, including You Can't Always Get What You Want, which I supposedly copied. That's how good Jimmy was at hearing songs. He wasn't a great drummer but he was great at playing drums on records which is a completely different thing. You Can't Always Get What You Want is a great drum track. Jimmy actually made me stop and think again about the way I played drums in the studio and I became a much better drummer in the studio thanks to him -- together we made some of the best records we've ever made, including Honky Tonk Women. One sixth of those songs was Jimmy, for me. Mick might say, 'That's rubbish; you did it all yourself', but that's the way I feel. Jimmy taught me how to discipline myself in the studio. he would show me things and tell me more. He was a very good producer for our band. He was also very fortunate in one way because he was on a high -- literally -- and he'd got Mick and Keith at an extremely creative period as well."
Due to the success of the Let It Bleed album, Miller's services as a producer became much in demand. During 1969, he worked on a variety of projects. Among these were the Move's magnificent single "Blackberry Way" and the Spooky Two album by the fledgling outfit Spooky Tooth. Perhaps Miller's most significant project in 1969 was Blind Faith.
Blind Faith was one of the first bands to be called a "supergroup." Featuring the talents of Steve Winwood (Traffic), Eric Clapton (Cream), Ginger Baker (Cream), and Rick Grech (Family), the band evolved out of a series of casual jam sessions held at Clapton's country estate. When the group entered Olympic Studio, Jimmy Miller was on hand to add his production expertise. One of his most important contributions to the Blind Faith album occurred when he convinced the band that the track "Can't Find My Way Home" would sound better if it was re-recorded using acoustic rather than electric guitars; this proved to be a crucial element in making that song shine. Sadly, Blind Faith did not survive the tremendous audience expectations placed on it, and the band dissolved shortly after touring America in support of this album.
Building on the relationships he had established with the various members of Blind Faith, Miller was soon involved in production duties on the recordings Ginger Baker's Air Force and Delaney & Bonnie On Tour with Eric Clapton, both projects taking place in 1970.
Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Truck
In the summer and fall of 1970, Miller and the Rolling Stones were busy crafting the album Sticky Fingers. This project would take Miller and the Stones out of Olympic Studio, as the album was recorded largely using the Stones' mobile recording truck at Mick Jagger's country estate, Stargroves. Among the tracks that feature Miller's unique contributions are "Brown Sugar," "Moonlight Mile," and especially "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." Like "Jumpin Jack Flash" and "Honky Tonk Women," "Brown Sugar" is an instant Stones classic that benefits from Miller's ability to integrate crisp layers of sound and rhythm within the music. "Moonlight Mile" features layers of instrumentation that provide a certain airy quality. In "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," Miller's use of percussion establishes a funky soul groove that helped the Stones enter new stylistic territory.
“The sound on Sticky Fingers has more texture than the other records Miller produced. Some say the hardwood floors and high ceilings at Stargroves added a natural acoustic vibe to the album. The Stones also used two or more guitar parts on many songs, with more vocal harmonies between Jagger and Keith Richards. Brown Sugar is an example of all that, while Miller nicely integrates a certain crispness and rhythm into the song. Miller helped capture the airy quality on the standout Moonlight Mile as if the feel of the song was mimicking the lyrics of let the airwaves flow, let the airwaves flow. On Can't You Hear Me Knocking, he helped the Stones refine it (listen to the original alternate version of the Sticky Fingers re-release of 2015) into the grooving song that made the original album cut." (Rock & Roll Insight)
During this same period, Miller worked on Sailor's Delight, an album by a new band called Sky. The band featured a young musician named Doug Fieger, later to re-emerge with the Knack and the hit song "My Sharona." In an interview at classicbands.com, Fieger describes his experience with Jimmy Miller: "I grew up in Detroit, yeah. I had a band called Sky, which I have a funny story about. I wrote a letter to the producer of the Rolling Stones and Traffic and Blind Faith, a guy named Jimmy Miller, when I was in high school. I said if you're ever in Detroit, come and hear my band. He answered the letter and came to my house and signed us. A week after I graduated from high school, he took us to London and we recorded our first album. There aren't very many producers around today of the caliber of Jimmy Miller, I'll tell you that. That's how I got into show business. I was seventeen years old."
At the start of 1971, Miller was involved in the production of Refugee, a blues and gospel influenced album by the Danish progressive rock band Savage Rose.
By the spring of 1971, the Rolling Stones had been forced to live and work outside of England to avoid paying high taxes. To record their next album, Exile on Main Street, the band set up recording facilities in the basement of Nellcote, Keith Richards' villa in the small French town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Unlike the pristine surroundings of London's Olympic Studio or the natural-sounding environment of Stargroves, the basement of Nellcote proved to be quite a challenge for Miller.
An article on the guardian.com site describes the difficulty of recording in the basement at Nellcote: "In the intense heat of the dank basement, the group struggled to get started. Musicians set up their instruments in adjoining rooms, with Bill Wyman having to play his bass in one space while his amplifiers stood in a hallway. Initially, they were hampered by guitars going out of tune due to the humidity. Basic communication, too, was a problem, with Jimmy Miller continually having to run from the mobile studio to the basement to deliver his instructions."
From a 2017 GQ article on the Exiles album: “…the conditions in which the Stones' long-serving producer, Jimmy Miller, was expected to work were less favorable. The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, a Bedford truck containing the recording equipment the band had used at Stargroves, was driven down to the Cote d'Azur, only to prove a poor match for both the area's electricity supply and the long, hot Provençal summer then under way. To compound the problem, musicians were spread throughout Nellcôte's warren-like basement, unable to communicate with the truck outside, forcing the young Andy Johns (younger brother of Beatles engineer Glyn Johns and credited as engineer on the album) to race to and fro to communicate the producer's wishes. ‘That Nellcôte thing was very, very difficult,’ remembers Jagger. ‘The house looks great, but I can assure you the basement did not look very good. Things were getting done, but they were very disorganized... We should've recorded in the drawing room, which is what we did in my house in England before, but we didn't. We were very impatient and we ended up in Keith's basement, and the basement was crummy in every possible way. But it wasn't the ideal recording environment. It was very hard to record there. Probably the sound in there was adequate, but there were power problems, which made it very difficult. And we took ages and ages and ages to get it to work. And then of course, you had all these hangers-on. We did get stuff done, but it was pretty chaotic. But we made it more difficult for ourselves by making it a double album, I think. That just doubled our workload.’"
In a Goldmine Magazine interview with Andy Johns (engineer who worked closely with Jimmy Miller), Johns describes his working relationship with Jimmy Miller and the obstacles of recording via the Stones Mobile Recording Truck and the basement in Nellcote:
Goldmine: What are your memories of Exiles On Main Street and the Stones’ mobile recording truck?
Andy Johns: Well, the gear in there was made by this fellow Dick Swetenam who really made the first mixes that you would recognize as a modern mixer. Dick put the truck together. It was his very cool stuff with four speakers in Lockwood cabinets. It could sound very nice in there but it could also be very difficult. The confined space. The camera never worked. The talk back never worked. So you couldn’t see or talk to people. You had to keep runnin´out of the truck. Jimmy and I went to France with that truck. Ian Stewart was supposed to find a house that we could all go to everyday to work. And he couldn’t find one. So we ended up recording the album in Keith’s basement.
Goldmine: Did you have to make some overt adjustments about actually recording in the Nellcotte Villa?
Andy Johns: The first room I put them in was this basement which was a disaster. It just was too dead. So I moved them to another room that had stone walls. And I had Charlie and Keith in there and Mick Taylor and Bill had his bass underneath the stairs. Nicky Hopkins was in a separate room. And it was tough but some of the things came out rather well. It was just these rooms were a bit weird. The villa was a local Gestapo headquarters when the Nazis occupied France. I didn’t notice that until we’d been there for a while and the floor heating vents in the hallway were shaped like Swastikas. Gold Swastikas.
Goldmine: Let’s talk about “Tumbling Dice...
Andy Johns: Obviously it was going to be great but it was a big struggle. Eventually we get a take. Hooray! I thought, ‘Let’s kick this up a notch and double track Charlie.’ ‘Oh, we’ve never done that before.’ ‘Well, it doesn’t mean we can’t do it now.’ We double-tracked Charlie but he couldn’t play the ending. For some reason he got a mental block about the ending. So, Jimmy Miller plays from the breakdown on out that was very easy to punch in. It was a little bit different than some of the others. That song we did more takes than anything else. It was a very busy mix. It was very difficult to mix. At Sunset Sound I tried mixing it a couple of times and it wouldn’t work. On the last batch Mick called up and said ‘Come back. We can’t beat your mixes.’ I mixed about another 12 songs in a marathon session. I would just leave the booth to have a piss and just go back in the room and that was it. For some reason I brought ‘Tumbling Dice’ up and it just started to work.
Goldmine: Tell me about Jimmy Miller as a producer
Andy Johns: Well that’s easy. Jimmy was an extremely talented man. His main gift I think was his ability to get grooves. Which for a band like the Stones was very important. Look at the difference between Beggar’s Banquet and Satanic Majesties. He put them right back on the rail. So, he was quite influential then and came up with all sorts of lovely ideas for them. In fact that’s him playing the cowbell at the beginning of Honky Tonk Woman. He sets it up. He was somewhat of a frail individual and they got to him like they got to everybody. Sooner or later you lose your mind. By the time we got to Exile on Main Street they weren’t really listening to him anymore. So, he felt a bit like a fifth wheel. He was being squeezed out a bit and I was watching that go down.”
In Inside Tracks, Miller sheds some light on the primitive conditions there: "For Exile, we suddenly found ourselves in this concrete basement with very little ventilation during a hot summer in the south of France. The sound was really harsh, and no matter how hard we tried, no matter how many different microphones we tried and no matter how many different positions we tried, we could never get it right." Besides the acoustical problems that Miller was dealing with, Keith Richards' growing addiction to heroin and Mick Jagger's frequent absences while spending time in Paris with his new wife, Bianca, added additional obstacles that had to be worked around as the chaotic sessions dragged on for the remainder of the summer.
In retrospect, it's a testament to Miller's production abilities that he was able to salvage the album under such trying circumstances. In part, Miller pulled this off by using some tracks that had been recorded previously: "Sweet Virginia," "Sweet Black Angel," "Loving Cup," "Stop Breaking Down," and "Shine a Light" were originally created during sessions for the Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers albums. In November 1971, Miller and the band flew to Los Angeles to conduct extensive overdub sessions and to mix the final version of the album. Despite his professional and personal difficulties at the time, Miller's deft production touch is apparent throughout the album. Once again, many tracks are enhanced by his work as a percussionist. On "Happy" and "Shine a Light," he handles the drum kit. At the end of "Tumbling Dice," he reinforces the rhythmic breakdown to great effect.
Some sources claim that Miller's ongoing frustration with the recording situation during Exile led to the beginning of his own narcotics addiction at this time. Other forces may have been at work as well. In Robert Greenfield's Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones (2006, Da Capo Press), a comprehensive description of the album's making, Andy Johns, the engineer on the sessions, describes some of the difficulties Miller was having with the band: "When they first started working with him, he was a lot of help. Then after a year or two, they kind of used Jimmy for what they wanted, and learned Jimmy's tricks, and started shutting him out a bit. So by the time of Exile on Main Street, they weren't listening to Jimmy very much, and it did him in. They weren't really rude, but they would ignore him a lot more than he would have liked."
By the end of the project, Jimmy Miller was, in Andy Johns' words, "burnt out on the thing, and I didn't blame him." After his association with the Rolling Stones ended, Miller frequently disowned Exile, saying, "I was never happy with the sound of that album, especially after Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers." In a 2003 interview, Mick Jagger said, "Exile...is not one of my favorite albums, although I think the record does have a particular feeling. When I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I've ever heard. I'd love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time, Jimmy Miller was not functioning properly." There is a certain irony in all this. Decades after its release, Exile on Main Street has achieved a legendary status. It is a complex album, filled with dense, raw sounds that seem to literally capture the restless cultural limbo of the early seventies.
Toward the end of '73, Miller embarked for Jamaica, where sessions for the next Stones album, Goats Head Soup, were underway. After the frenetic experience of making Exile on Main Street, Miller and the band seemed to take a lackluster approach during the sessions in Jamaica. Andy Johns, also the engineer on these sessions, describes what was taking place: "Because of drug habits, those sessions weren't quite as much fun. And there are a couple of examples on the album the basic tracks we kept weren't really up to standard. People were accepting things perhaps that weren't up to standard because they were a little higher than normal." Keith Richards, in a 1975 interview, portrays Miller as having reached the end of the line creatively: "Jimmy Miller went in a lion and out a lamb. We wore him out completely. He ended up carving swastikas onto the wooden console at Island Studios." In a 2002 interview, Marshall Chess, the president of Rolling Stones Records describe the atmosphere of the recording sessions: ""We used to book studios for a month, 24 hours a day, so that the band could keep the same set-up and develop their songs in their free-form way, starting with a few lyrics and rhythms, jamming and rehearsing while we fixed the sound. It amazed me, as an old-time record guy, that the Stones might not have played together for six or eight months, but within an hour of jamming, the synergy that is their strength would come into play and they would lock it together as one."
While Goats Head Soup seems anticlimactic after Exile on Main Street, there is some fine production work here. The textured nuances of tracks such as "Winter," "Angie," and "Coming Down Again," along with the hard hitting "Star Star," indicate that, while Miller wasn't at the top of his game here, he had not lost the ability to blend multilayered instrumentation on tape to capture the groove. In 1974, when the Stones gathered in Munich, Germany, to record It's Only Rock and Roll, Miller was not invited to participate. A golden era for both Miller and the band had quietly drawn to an end.
Jimmy Miller's post-Rolling Stones career has been subject to his being written off as a drugged-out has-been who never produced any significant music again. This is false. While his projects following his involvement with the Stones did not have as much visibility and rock & roll cachet as albums such as Exile on Main Street, he worked as a producer until the end of his life. Following his tenure with the Stones, he signed a lucrative production deal with the ABC/Dunhill label and recorded with a wide variety of artists such as Genya Ravan, Beck Bogert & Appice, Henry Gross, Bobby Whitlock, Locomotive GT, and Joey Stec.
In the late seventies, Miller produced two excellent albums, Overkill and Bomber, for the heavy metal band Motorhead.
In 1980, he worked on projects that covered two ends of a musical spectrum,producing New Hope for the Wretched, by the wild punk band the Plasmatics, and Billy Falcon, the self-titled debut album by a New Jersey singer-songwriter.
In the late eighties, thanks to a production deal with his manager Joe Viglione, Miller was heavily involved in producing Boston bands.
Especially notable is Miller's work on the song "Movin Up," on the 1992 Primal Scream album, Screamadelica. The sound of this track recalls the majesty of Let It Bleed and is solid evidence that Miller still possessed the chops of a great producer. In 1994, while producing sessions for a reissue of the 1975 Joey Stec album, Jimmy Miller passed away due to liver failure.
In recent years, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger have been prone to revising history regarding Miller's importance as a producer, often belittling his contributions to what now stands as their band's finest work. To understand Miller's contribution, one need only compare the albums Jimmy Miller produced for the Stones with the albums the band has made without him. While a handful of songs might aspire to the level of quality that Miller brought to the proceedings, the Rolling Stones have made an overwhelming amount of mediocre music since Jimmy Miller's departure.
Concerning Miller's legacy, Greenfield may have said it best in Exile on Main Street: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones: "Although Jimmy Miller certainly deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest rock producers who ever lived, virtually no one who listens to his music now on various greatest hits compilations has any idea who he was. Nameless and faceless, he has become just another name on the back of a repackaged CD case. Perhaps that is the way he would have wanted it. To be remembered for the music and nothing else."
Jimmy Miller’s Technique: How to Mic a Hammond Organ
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