I don’t usually bother with the youngster online videos that people are always sending me. Don’t get me wrong, I love children and their talents, it’s just that my heart truly lies with career musicians. Show me someone who has dedicated their life to the art and survived the industry and I’m their fan forever. Not to mention I believe it does a disservice to the youngster. Youth fades, and with it the attention, unless one has cultivated said talent and passion for the art.
That being said, this one has won my heart; 17 year old Kevin James Miller. Fantastic rhythm player. All heart and fire when he solos, with the skill of someone who has been playing for a lifetime. We feel it when he plays, his ability to transfer emotion is palpable and everyone recognizes it. What we all call an “Old Soul”. This mild-mannered teen reminds me of such greats as Richy Kicklighter, Alex Tomaino, and Patrick Bettison. Quiet, intelligent, even reserved boys. Passionate, extraordinarily brilliant players when the music starts.
I sat down with Kevin recently after our weekly voice lesson for the following interview:
Twinkle When did you start playing guitar?
Kevin About five years ago. I actually got interested after playing “guitar hero”. There’s a lot of great music in there.
T When did you figure out that the guitar was an appendage?
K After the first year.
T When did your parents start paying attention?
K After a couple of years; ‘cause first I was in a metal phase, AC/DC and Metallica, and they didn’t really take it seriously, but then I started taking lessons with Greg Poulos and got into jazz and blues.
T So what are you into now?
K I listen to fifty percent blues, fifty jazz, but blues is pretty much my favorite right now. To me blues is the only genre I can fully let go with. I mean jazz is free, but blues – you can put more soul into it.
T So what kind of blues is your favorite to play?
K Well, there’s the T-bone Walker style which is kind of traditional. And Muddy’s style is very unique, but for me the blues I like to play is 60’s blues, like B.B. King, because they have the vibrato. To me it’s all about the vibrato. Until then other guys stopped short. But B.B. was the first to develop it. ‘Cause you didn’t have to play as many notes, which I love. B.B. King, Albert King, Ronnie Earl. I think Albert’s the most powerful, it’s more intense than most of the stuff out there. That’s where all the modern players like Stevie Ray Vaughan come from, that’s so magical. His fire, his passion in his playing, it just flows out of him and his voice too, not that he had a great voice by any means, but it was great. He was like fifty percent Jimi Hendrix and fifty Albert King. That’s exactly what he was. To me Eric Clapton is the ultimate modern blues guy, and I love Clapton’s voice. To me he’s the ultimate white blues singer; he has more passion in his voice than anyone. That’s what it’s all about for me. It’s real. For instance, Muddy Waters isn’t technically a good singer, but I like him a lot more than most singers. I’m not gonna listen to someone just ‘cause they’re good. Especially in blues. And in jazz. I think of John Coltraine as the greatest musician ever, ‘cause he has the soul of a blues player and the technical prowess of a jazz player.
T When did you really start playing out?
K Probably two years ago standing in for Greg with the Venturas at Mattisons.
T We’re talking about Greg Poulos
K Yeah, local guitar hero. To me he’s kind of the ultimate guitar player, the realist guitar player.
T Did people freak out?
T Did you get all shy?
K Yeah, but better now.
T Your first time playing for people?
K My first gig with adult people was at Mattisons, but before that with other kids at parties and stuff. We opened up for you once at “Eat Here”. I was fourteen.
T So what are your plans? You graduate in June.
K Once I started playing out, I decided this was going to be my career. Before, I was gonna go to college to have a backup plan, but if you have a backup plan you end up falling into it. So now I’m going to school in New York. The teacher from Juilliard wants to teach me, and he only takes three guitarists a year. Rodney Jones, probably the best guitar player I’ve ever heard. He used to play with Dizzy Gillespie. Now he plays with Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Smith, people like that. He’s played with everybody. The thing is I want to go to New School, I like it, you can do what you want. You don’t have to do just strict jazz, but he’ll still teach me.
T What do you want in ten years, what’s your vision?
K Ideally I’d be playing the blues and making a decent living.
T Well that’s totally doable kid.
Kevin’s parents, Joanne Ferrante Miller and James Clifford Miller, are the magical set of parents who support the artistic child. Exuberant and energetic, kind and intelligent, I had to get a statement from his father….
T When did you realize this was no longer just a teenager phase?
James When he started doing all this blues and jazz. We had been taking him to different teachers, and they kept saying that they couldn’t really teach him anything. I said, well where do I go? And Jamie G. hooked us up with Greg Poulos. That’s when it really started changing. Greg would tell him, “You’ve got to listen to this player and that player”, he’d give him cd’s and guide him. He expanded his mental mindset, what this is all about. Greg mentored him absolutely. This kid’s really opened up his mind to the musical world. I thought he had a block head , so opinionated. Now he sees the music world in a whole different way. What always amazes me is, the kid doesn’t work hard at anything in life but that room back there. Nothing but music, 24 hours a day. Always practicing. We took him to New York to look at schools and Rodney Jones did an evaluation. He listened to him play and asked Jazz vocabulary questions. He sent him home with three things to work on. Kevin brought back ten. Rodney was blown away the 2nd time, he said, ”This is what first year students do for their midterm, I can’t believe it. You’ve obviously worked very hard on this.” He said, “I don’t teach anyone from New School, but if that’s where you go, I will teach you.”
Well folks, this is how we grow them here in Central Florida. This is a Music Mecca. With the support of his parents, the live musicians, the live venues, the studios and the fans, this community has afforded a person like Kevin to thrive. In closing I’d like to say that Kevin is the perfect example of “Can sing, Have to sing.” He has obviously found his calling. This isn’t a vanity project, this is lifeblood.
You can catch Kevin Miller with the Venturas, Twinkle and Rock Soul Radio, and Kettle Of Fish. He will also be hosting a jam at the Starlite room in Sarasota throughout the summer. And look out for his first album release early next year.
Kevin would like to thank his parents Joanne Ferrante Miller and James Clifford Miller, Greg Poulos and J.P. Coley, Eddie Tobin, and Twinkle. Thank you Laura Adams for editing this story.
all photos property of The Sarasota Post