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Frankie Miller

Endowed with a rasp that embraced the style of legendary vocalists OTIS REDDING, SAM COOKE, JOE COCKER and PAUL RODGERS, Scottish blue-eyed soul singer FRANKIE MILLER deserved better fruits from his hard graft, although the late 70s nourished the dude with a couple of Brit hits by way of `Be Good To Yourself’ and `Darlin’’. As if to compensate Frankie for the ills that was to befall him, when he suffered a coma-inducing brain haemorrhage on 25th August 1994, a swansong signature tune, `Caledonia’ (penned by trad-folky DOUGIE MACLEAN), gate-crashed the Top 50 in March 1992. The strength of MILLER’s character saw him rehabilitate himself (with the help of partner, Annette), enabling him slowly but surely to get back to his first passion of writing songs – a true gem.
Born Francis John Miller, 2nd November 1949, Bridgeton in Glasgow, Frankie served his musical apprenticeship in a series of local pub outfits during the late 60s; Westfarm Cottage, and, in turn, The Stoics. The latter act had released one single for R.C.A. before teenager MILLER filled the berth of Hugh “Shug” McKenna (later of The SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND), but there was little or nothing in the can for the group; drummer Jack “Ginger” Casey, bassist John Wynne and guitarist/singer Jimmy Doris were his team mates during a time when he was first linked with Chrysalis Records.
MILLER relocated to London in the summer of ’71 and, newly installed as a budding belter to rival that of stars ROD STEWART and JOE COCKER, he formed Jude, alongside guitar maestro friend ROBIN TROWER (fresh out of PROCOL HARUM) and a rhythm section of Jimmy Dewar and Clive Bunker. The project proved short-lived, however, as TROWER chose a solo career early the following year, taking his bassist/singer Dewar with him.
Teaming up with the alumni of the then underrated BRINSLEY SCHWARZ (namely NICK LOWE, Bob Andrews, Billy Rankin and Brinsley himself), FRANKIE MILLER proceeded to cut a debut solo album, ONCE IN A BLUE MOON (1973) {*6} for the aforementioned Chrysalis. Although it featured a couple of soulful renditions of DYLAN’s `Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ and WILLIE DIXON’s `I’m Ready’, its impact was such that none of his own compositions (including best cuts, `I Can’t Change It’, `In No Resistance’ and `You Need To Laugh (To Be Happy)’) were not afforded single releases.
The album failed to chart, and the footloose singer-songwriter upped sticks for New Orleans, where he hooked up with semi-legendary Crescent City soul guru/songwriter/producer ALLEN TOUSSAINT for FRANKIE MILLER’S HIGH LIFE (1974) {*6}. Despite furnishing classic hits for BETTY WRIGHT (`Shoo-Rah’) and THREE DOG NIGHT (`Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)’), the set provided scant commercial pickings for MILLER himself; examples the FREE-like `I’m Falling In Love Again’ and `Trouble’.
Returning to the UK, the singer assembled The FRANKIE MILLER BAND (consisting of guitarist Henry McCullough, keyboardist Mick Weaver, bassist Chrissy Stewart and drummer Stu Perry), to cut a third album, THE ROCK (1975) {*7}. Recorded at His Master’s Wheels in San Francisco, overlooking the infamous Alcatraz prison, the mood was set to raise awareness of convicts nearer to home, especially his Barlinnie-bound second cousin, Jimmy Boyle (soon-to-be author of Sense Of Freedom). Featuring the Memphis Horns and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, the rock element was slightly overwhelmed by a blues-like gospel; opening salvo `A Fool In Love’ and `Ain’t Got No Money’, reserved for the likes of ETTA JAMES and big fan BOB SEGER, respectively. It was said also that `Drunken Nights In The City’ was written, in barfly paean, in homage to legendary Celtic F.C. dribbler, Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone.
Again sales were disappointing, and it was 1977 before MILLER scored a rare Top 30 hit with `Be Good To Yourself’ (penned by FREE man ANDY FRASER), the lead track on that year’s FULL HOUSE {*6} album. Released with his “Full House” band (that retained only Chrissy), the set was again recorded with guests The Memphis Horns, plus CHRIS SPEDDING (guitar), Rabbit Bundrick and GARY BROOKER (keyboards). One could certainly do no wrong in listening to Frankie’s versions of the nostalgic `Love Letters’ and JOHN LENNON’s `Jealous Guy’.
The new band (lead guitarist Ray Minhinnet, keyboard player Jim Hall, drummer Graham Deacon and Chrissy) lasted barely a year before MILLER again went solo. Augmented by such talents as PAUL CARRACK, 1978’s DOUBLE TROUBLE {*5} was another underrated set of gravel-throated blues-rock that failed to notch up respectable sales; even though AEROSMITH’s Steven Tyler rocked as backing vocalist/harmonica man on a handful of numbers. Produced by Jack Douglas, there was room for another ANDY FRASER cut, `Double Heart Trouble’, and a version of MARVIN GAYE’s `Stubborn Kind Of Fellow’.
Retaining ACE man CARRACK and utilising a cast of session men, MILLER was finally rewarded for his efforts when the foot-tapping, parched-blues balladry of `Darlin’’ cracked the Top 10. Incredibly, the accompanying album FALLING IN LOVE (1979) {*5} – US title “A Perfect Fit” – still failed to break the Top 50, as did 1980’s EASY MONEY {*5} set, the latter representing his last release for Chrysalis.
Eventually picked up by Capitol Records, MILLER recorded STANDING ON THE EDGE (1982) {*5} before cutting DANCING IN THE RAIN (1986) {*4} for Vertigo; the latter with a band that included such distinguished veterans as guitarist Brian Robertson (THIN LIZZY), drummer Simon Kirke (BAD COMPANY) and steadfast Chrissy Stewart.
Having already begun an acting career in ‘79 in the lead role as Jake McQuillen in Peter McDougall’s hard-hitting TV play, Just A Boy’s Game (for which he also penned/sung the theme tune, `Playin’ The Game’), MILLER increasingly concentrated his energies on thespian matters as the 80s wore on. Despite a brief moment of fame in the early 90s when Tennent’s Lager used his version of `Caledonia’ in a TV commercial, MILLER’s career was severely curtailed by serious illness after he suffered a brain haemorrhage in August 1994; it robbed him of his speech for some time.
One of Scottish music’s great underrated performers, Frankie remains almost universally respected among rock’s elder statesmen; ROD STEWART once described him as “the best white soul singer in the world”. On the 7th September 2002, a plethora of stars including JOE WALSH, LULU, ROD STEWART and NAZARETH paid tribute to MILLER at Glasgow’s Barrowlands Ballroom; all proceeds went to the Drake Project, a music therapy charity.
In the old adage of you can’t keep a good man down, fans were delighted when Frankie finally saw the release of unreleased material. Financed by Jerkin’ Crocus Records, LONG WAY HOME (2006) {*7}, was just what the doctor ordered, an album – recorded in the 90s – that saw him work with seasoned writers Will Jennings, GRAHAM LYLE, Billy Livsey, Scott English, Bob Young and Jerry Lynn Williams, while WALSH (plus Ian Wallace, Nicky Hopkins and stalwart Chrissy Stewart), ticked all the right boxes. Faves of Frankie’s for some time, the man was in his element on versions of staples, `He’ll Have To Go’ and `The Rose’, made famous respectively by Jim Reeves and BETTE MIDLER. `You’re The Star’, `Over The Line’ and `Baton Rouge’, were also covered in his own inimitable raspy fashion.
Still unable to sing but there in heart and soul by way of his wife Annette (who found “two sacks full of demos”), Frankie’s work was meticulously cut ‘n’ paste by worthy producer David Mackay. His idea was to invite MILLER’s musical coadjutors to perform along with the tapes. Everybody who was asked thought it a worthy cause and in late September 2016, the results came about in the shape of FRANKIE MILLER’S DOUBLE TAKE {*7}. From the stellar cast of ROD STEWART, ELTON JOHN, FRANCIS ROSSI, PAUL CARRACK, KIKI DEE and BONNIE TYLER, to American contingent JOE WALSH, STEVE CROPPER, HUEY LEWIS, WILLIE NELSON, KID ROCK, KIM CARNES, DELBERT McCLINTON and so many many more, the tribute album of sorts was essential in keeping the voice of Frankie alive and kicking.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD / rev-up Jun2013-Oct2016

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