“My guitar playing is a very spiritual thing to me”… If you haven’t seen Mark Guitar Miller out playing, you’re missing an incredible musician that turns blues upside down and spills the beans with rockin’ or jazzy licks that has everyone shaking on the dance floor or giving thunderous applause. Hailing from Maine, this life-long guitarist and 67-year-old Northern transplant came to Sarasota/Bradenton because he heard about the plethora of musicians here. And while that could mean more competition, Mark has seen the musicians here, rather, as an incredible support system. And he’s thankful for all of the introductions and opportunities to play with great talent.
He’s been a full time musician his whole life – not you’re typical musician story of those having to work full time jobs on top of playing music at night and weekends – and he’s a freelancer.
When did you first pick up a guitar?
I was six years old. I played in a band – the Stingrays – at age 11. We played popular tunes.
Wow, that’s pretty young. Who were you’re earliest influences?
The church was my earliest influence. I’d stand by my mother in church and hear her signing. Music was our life. My father sang and played spiritual music. My older brothers sang and played. My sister sang and played.
I was always interested in boogie woogie…the raunchy style of Duane Eddie, a famous twang guitar player. The first ones that really hit me were Elvis, the Everly Brothers and Kingston Trio. I loved Roy Buchanan, one of the greatest unknown guitarists in the world. And Lenny Breau who fused flamenco and jazz. Buchanan used to play 12-bar blues like no one else and sweet things like Patsy Kline.
But church was a great start. My guitar playing is a very spiritual thing to me. It’s within you…the music pours from your heart. And it’s not just musicians. It’s people like you. The audience feels the connection. I want to do something that speaks to you, that touches you, so we can relate as people. Music is a universal language.
How would you describe your style?
I’ve been described as a smorgasbord of music but I have a blues foundation. For example my band in Maine was the opening act for B.B. King, Dickey Betts and Great Southern, Johnny Winters and Taj Mahal. Oh, and Pat Traverse, Marsha Ball and Tab Benoit…etcetera.
When you tell me ‘I rock,’ (thanks), I suppose there’s a little rock influence because I dare to open the can of beans and let it spill out. I liked Clapton and Hendrix and Zepplin and Johnny Winter, but I like Allman Brothers and Clapton best, It was cleaner.
My playing leans towards the clean side. Little bit of jazz, little bit of blues…what thrills me most is making it up as I go. There’s a flamboyant connectivity. The magical moments of playing things that you couldn’t repeat. You’ve seen me do it. It happens because of the surroundings.
How’d you get the name Mark Guitar Miller?
I started music ‘cuz I was lonesome. My mom died of cancer when I was nine. I got really absorbed in my guitar and it’s been the greatest thing in my life. It’s brought me friends and lots of love…it’s interesting McCartney, Lennon, and Clapton all lost their mothers at an early age…
This thing with the name – people kept suggesting I use it. I went along….it’s my identity and has been since I was a little boy.
So you’ve been freelancing and playing with bands like Gumbo Boogie and Billy Rice. Will you put a band together?
I’m actually rehearsing right now and have formed the Mark Guitar Miller Band. We’re a band of brothers, each with our own unique story. We’ve got Steve Weinreb on keyboard. Bart Richards on bass. And Bob Lunengan on drums. We’ll be also featuring on occasion Sarah Tietjen (Sarah T) who’s an excellent vocalist.
We’re playing classics the Baby Boomers love but are putting our own twist on the arrangements. We do them our own way. We’re original…When I was a kid I always made things my own way. My bike was different with shiny rims and beautiful reflectors. I made my guitar my own. That’s originality. Some people are just born original. You kind of know that you’re different. Not weird. But different.
As the Mark Guitar Miller Band is gearing up with a set list, videos, press kits and more and are going to hit venues near you in the not-too-distant future, you can still catch Mark solo at The Clam Jam at the Cortez Clam Factory on Tuesday nights playing with BC and Doc Mambo and the band. He’s also playing with Burt Englesman (Allman Brothers). Chaz Trippy (Greg Allman) with Gumbo Boogie Band. Steve Stetson Band. Billy Rice and Allan Marnie of the Billy Rice Band. Barry Hynes, Mumbo Jumbo. And Al Fuller, now playing as Wed. night jam at Blue Rooster.
Mark’s CD What You Gonna Do,” that also features Brad Delp, lead singer for Boston, is getting air play on Monday nights on 88.5 Tampa.
For more information, call Mark at 207-318-5024.
Photos by Patti Pearson