Tony Cummings interviewed the hard working blues journeyman LARRY MILLER
Say the name Larry Miller among aficionados of blues rock and you will get signs of adulation usually reserved for a Mr Clapton. Belonging to the same school of virtuoso axe men who, given a Gibson Les Paul and some Marshall stacks, can produce delirium in an audience, down the years Larry has plied his trade in British clubland to become a much loved fixture of the UK blues scene. What sets Larry apart from most of his blues rock colleagues is, as well as possessing a dazzling guitar technique and a gritty rock voice, his strong Christian faith. Larry and his band are in the middle of an extensive British tour promoting his latest album 'On The Edge' which Guitar & Bass magazine described as "blues rock brilliance." He took time out from his demanding schedule to talk to Cross Rhythms.
Larry began by talking about his childhood. "I was one of four children - all totally different. My brother wanted to make loads and loads of money and he succeeded in that big time. I was born in Claygate, Surrey; grew up in Esher, then we moved to Guildford. My folks split up and I moved with my mum to a place called Chiddingfold, and then Bowlhead Green, and then moved to Reading in the early '80s, because all my band and manager were based in Reading. I grew up listening to the Beatles; I totally love them. But it was blues rock that really spoke to my heart and soul. I learnt the violin from about the age of seven to about 15 when I just couldn't keep it up anymore. I was only doing it because my granny told me to keep playing it - don't give up. I never even practised during the week, so it must've been torture for my violin teacher."
When having switched to guitar the teenage Miller was determined to forge a career in the music industry. "I was still at school. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew my character, so going to the careers officer, if I say, 'I don't need any of these exams, thanks very much, because I'm going to be a rock star', you know what the reaction's going to be. 'We all want those things, but we need something to fall back on.' I was absolutely positively determined I wasn't going to have anything to fall back on. My hero was Rory Gallagher. I noticed that I was really nervous about dedicating my whole life to doing something that just seemed to be a bunch of guys who just happened to get together to make a great sound and to get a deal - and then they split, the lead singer forming his own band. But all his best stuff was written with that original band. I thought, if I bypass all of that, so all my songs are under my own name. . . With Rory Gallagher's 'Live In Europe', it had Rory Gallagher with guitar, mandolin, harmonica, with drums and bass. If it's under your own name, if the guys fall away, then it's not the end of the world. If I'm the only singer, you're not going to notice any difference."
Larry describes his early years trying to keep a band together as "pure frustration." He remembered, "There weren't any gigs at all. But you knew you had to have a band together - so it's rehearsing and rehearsing, and keeping a band together when there aren't any gigs, and finding somewhere to rehearse. In those days it was like, find yourself a hall somewhere. It was a real struggle."
By 1977 things seemed to be looking up for Larry and his band. But there were still plenty of difficulties. "I had a number of people saying they were going to make me rich and famous, and, of course, absolutely nothing ever happened. I thought, 'If you're going to make something happen, you've got to make it happen yourself'. I started looking at similar bands to myself, seeing where they were playing. I had an electric piano and I sold that - sold this, that and the other. I got myself a van; I phoned up every pub and club in the south of England. That's when things started to really happen, when we were regularly going out, even playing small places. I said to the boys, 'If we just keep on, somewhere someone's going to spot us'. They did. He was somebody starting out by himself, really, though he didn't, in all honesty, have a clue what he was doing. The combination of the two was a fairly disastrous LP. Now and then they crop up on eBay. It was a really good band, but the recording sucked the life out of what we were doing. It just wrecked it, it really did. The album was called 'Right Chaps'. One reviewer said something like, 'Larry is guaranteed to make it big time however his first recording is basically rubbish.'
Larry and his band made a further recording, the EP 'Red Italian Boots' though it was never actually released. He recounted, "That was a lot better but I was having trouble with the manager. It just wasn't working - they hated him, he hated them - it was a nightmare scenario. I had to knock it on the head with him. Everything was going wrong with the band. Then I saw this advert: 'Is music the most important thing in Cliff Richard's life? No, it's not, it's God.' I knew that music wasn't the be-all and end-all, so I knew I needed an anchor. It spoke about having a power for living. I didn't want to become a religious nutcase or anything like that - this was my thinking then - but I knew I needed something. This booklet had five or six different testimonies of guys who had reached rock-bottom and they called out, 'If you're there God, answer me'. This book really made sense. So I said this prayer at the back of this book. I meant it. From there on, things started changing from within. In the scenario of playing in this quite heavy band with these guys, they see me and they think it isn't rock and roll. It became really hard work; it all made sense, though. Here we are, I'm basically a nicer guy, but these guys don't want to know - it's exactly what the Bible's telling me. One of guys said to me, 'If your God exists, he can break my right foot tomorrow'. We were up in Scotland; he's giving me a really hard time, saying, 'You're just not the same anymore, you're a dope' - all this sort of stuff. I'd had enough, and I walked away from them before the gig. I remember finding this park, looking up to the clouds like, 'God help me'. I went back to the gig: I'm not one of these people to throw wobblies. The very next day we're on the beach at Ayr, and he just kicked some sand and broke two toes. I didn't say anything. On the way back down he said, 'It's down to you and your God, isn't it?' Another time, these guys who are totally anti-, we saw this car crash in Wales, this guy had gone through the windscreen and his brother or friend was talking to him, trying to keep him conscious, and we were getting blankets. Obviously I was praying; both of them, when we got back to the hotel, said, 'Could we pray about it?'"
It was around this time that Larry felt God was leading him out of music for a while. In 1986 Larry found himself praying to God, 'Do you still want me to do music?' Larry recounted what happened next. "The very next day this guy comes around and says they're doing a charity single up in London; will I sing and play guitar on it? I thought, 'That's a good, quick answer to prayer'." Two of the musicians Larry worked with on the single, Scott Hunter and Nigel Tomsett, became Christians. Larry continued to play with them for a couple of years but then felt a strong desire to return to blues rock. He explained, "Back in the middle '80s blues rock was dead in the water. Everything had gone really heavy. This is what I had to do for a living, so I went down that particular avenue. I went to places like Donnington, and one lead guitarist could've fitted any of those bands. It wasn't what I was about. Because I like lots of different types of music, I did electronic stuff, keyboards and drums - clicktracks and all the rest of it. That was good for a season, but my first love is the blues rock. So I went back to doing that. I did it initially about '92, I think; it was quite Stevie Ray Vaughan-ish. All the doors were still closed. I had a Hell's Angel manager, and he got us some gigs at festivals, but when I saw him with a great big knife down his back, I said to him, 'I'm a Christian, and where you're coming from is the total opposite'. That guy's actually come out of the Hell's Angels completely, which is unusual, because once you're a brother, so to speak, you're in for life. I did another solo album; that was all quite deep. Right at the end of that, I saw this picture of Gary Moore just laying into his guitar, grimacing, and I thought, 'That's what I really want to do'. Round about that time Rory Gallagher died - so it was like there's nobody else doing this music now. Why don't I? I'm not going to be on Top Of The Pops, I'm not going to be famous, but I'll do the music that I love doing. That was in 1995, 1996 I started with this present band."
Larry continued, "The doors opened and I felt like this was the right time. I had this job where I had this free van. I was being made redundant doing this other job, and I thought, 'This is God saying I can just do my music now'. Then I had this phone call from a friend saying her boss was looking for a driver; you get a free van. I thought, 'Oh no! God wants me to get back on the road.' It's such hard work - especially when you haven't got the right guys. But this time it wasn't hard work at all; the guys I had in the band were really nice guys, we got on great, and it was really fun and exciting."
Larry recorded his first straight blues rock album 'Larrycaster'. It did well. He said, "I still sell that. After that we had 'Man On A Mission'. Then after that we had 'Live 'N' Loud' - 2001. Then we had 'Fearless', 2005. And then for me going full time - I was going to be starting a German tour, so I wanted to have a new album - 'Outlaw Blues' was my first one; that was 2007. Then we had 'Fearless' in 2008; then 'Unfinished Business', which was 2010; then 'On The Edge'."
Larry has nothing but praise for the whole Larry Miller band unit. He said, "When you've got guys who are just doing it for the money, you lack that empathy. Now I've got a whole band, and a whole crew, who love me and allow me to do this dream of mine. They're all coming from the same place; they're all splendid guys and it's such a joy being on the road with them. Everybody involved in this band, they're all real nice people. But also, they're all great musicians. I don't tell anybody my age, because people just want to put you in a box, but after all these years it's starting to come together; and it has been these last two, three, four years, slowly but surely - because I haven't had the record company, I haven't had big offices full of people - but I have had the Lord with me."
One of Larry's outstanding songs is "Took The Bullet" from the 'Fearless' album which powerfully depicts Christ's work on the cross. Larry happily recounted the lyrics, "'I've been playing this Fender for a while/Trying to make a break from the Voodoo Chile/And if I had my time again/I would find my Maker, make him my friend/'Cause he took the bullet/Took the bullet/Took the bullet for me/Papa told me, Sunday morn/Here's a King with a crown of thorns/But like the boys on WWF/I made a lot of noise, but not a lot else/But still he took the bullet/Took the bullet/Took the bullet for me/I do what a don't want to do, I'm a slave/But he can rescue you/From the power of the grave/My sin weighs heavy on me/I'm coming home to Calvary/Where he paid my debt, paid it all/He saw Satan tumble and fall/Took the bullet/Took the bullet/Took the bullet for me.'"The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.