Fifty Year Friday: FM Radio, Steve Miller Band, Children of the Future
In July 1964, a battle against freedom of speech to promote freedom of speech began when the FCC (US Federal Communications Commission) adopted a prohibition against FM radio stations running 24 hour simulcasts of the content on their AM stations. With an eye towards containing costs, and perhaps ensuring a continuation of the current programming status quo, many owners of AM/FM affiliate stations fought against this new regulation, causing a delay in the ultimate enactment of this restriction until January 1, 1967. It was then, in 1967, that station owners examined their options for alternative programming to what was on the AM airwaves.
And within a relatively short time, FM became a mecca of musical variety! In the greater Los Angeles area, where I lived, I started to explore FM content around 1968 to discover the wealth of international music being broadcast on Saturday and Sunday by multiple stations with the lowest numbers (the left of the dial) as well as the greater variety of classical music on 92.3 KFAC-FM compared to their AM counterpart, 1330 kHz KFAC.
In May 1968, KSAN-FM in San Francisco lured KPMX program director Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue (also author of the 1967 Rolling Stone article “AM Radio Is Dead and Its Rotting Corpse Is Stinking Up the Airwaves”) and several of the KPMX staff currently on an eight-week strike to work for what would apparently become the very first 24-hour underground rock FM radio station. At the end of KSAN-FM’s last classical music broadcast, and to start their new format, Donahue appropriately played The Steve Miller Band’s “Children of the Future” which starts off with with a forty-eight second flurry of electric cacophony worthy of the current contemporary classical composers of the time that then nicely dissolves into the very simple and relatively brief anthem of the title track, “Children of the Future”
From this time on, FM stations in the largest cities, particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles, begin playing “underground” music, experimental and psychedelic rock, select tracks of various rock albums, and even complete sides or complete albums. One could find a number of free-form programs: radio slots where the DJ played just about anything that they cared to play. Soon Donahue extended his programming reach to Los Angeles taking over KMET and KPPC, making these two of the coolest stations in the greater Los Angeles area.
In 1967, “The Steve Miller Blues Band” changed their name to “The Steve Miller Band”, not to shorten it but to update it to match their new sound. Steve Miller had been brought up by jazz-enthusiast parents, good friends of Les Paul and Mary Ford: Steve’s dad was the best man and Steve’s mother was the maid of honor at the December 1949 wedding of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Steve’s dad, a physician and amateur recording engineer, even played Les Paul a wire recording of Steve Miller “playing” guitar at age four, and upon hearing, Les encouraged Steve to continue with his interest in the instrument.
When his dad moved the family to Dallas in 1950, Steve dad’s recording skills and interest in music exposed Steve to visitors like world-class guitarists T-Bone Walker and Tal Farlow, and jazz great Charles Mingus. Soon Steve would leave for Chicago to earn his living as a blues guitarist, playing rhythm guitar with Buddy Guy as well as participating in jam sessions with other blues greats like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
So it was natural that the Steve’s first band would be a blues band. But it was also natural that Miller was a musician of his time, and by the time Miller’s band was ready to record an album, it would be a rock album, though with a significant blues footprint including four blues-based tracks on the second side.
Originally planned to be recorded at Capitol Records in the historic Studio B in the famous Hollywood Capitol Tower, Miller and crew drove down from San Francisco for a midnight recording session, and per Joel Selvin’s liner notes of a recent CD reissue of the album, the group started to record but “the Capitol engineers, who had already made their distaste known for hippie rock musicians, walked out of the sessions, leaving the band with no engineers. Miller picked up the van and the band and went back to San Francisco.” Later Miller and band would make the trip to Olympic studios in London to record their inaugural album under now-famed producer Glyn Johns.
The first side of this album is basically one interrupted track, knit together from several individual songs in the form of a rock suite, and includes the attention-grabbing opening of the first track and the exploratory soundscape of the final track on that side, “The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing”, both possibly influenced by Steve Miller’s interest in contemporary twentieth century composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Jim Peterman’s mellotron assists in the overall psychedelic nature and spaciness of this first side.
The second side includes Boz Scaggs’ two relatively unremarkable compositions (the first with Ben Sidrian on harpsichord and the second a blues-based song), one older composition by Steve Miller, and three blues covers with which the band acquit themselves quite well, distinguishing themselves from other California-based contemporary rock bands by the quality of their playing and general understanding and approach to the blues. Overall, this gives us a second side, which not as interesting as the first side, is still noteworthy.
Track listing (from Wikipedia)
All tracks composed by Steve Miller except where noted:
|1.||“Children of the Future”||2:59|
|2.||“Pushed Me to It”||0:38|
|3.||“You’ve Got the Power”||0:53|
|4.||“In My First Mind”||Miller, Jim Peterman||7:35|
|5.||“The Beauty of Time Is That It’s Snowing (Psychedelic B.B.)”||5:17|
|6.||“Baby’s Callin’ Me Home”||Boz Scaggs||3:24|
|8.||“Roll With It”||2:29|
|9.||“Junior Saw It Happen”||Jim Pulte||2:29|
|10.||“Fanny Mae“||Buster Brown||3:04|
|11.||“Key to the Highway“||Big Bill Broonzy, Charlie Segar||6:18|
The Steve Miller Band
- Steve Miller – guitar, lead vocals (1–5, 7, 8, 11) and backing vocals, harmonica
- Boz Scaggs – guitar, lead vocals (6, 7) and backing vocals
- Lonnie Turner – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Jim Peterman – Hammond organ, mellotron (1–5), backing vocals
- Tim Davis – drums, lead vocals (9, 10) and backing vocals
- Ben Sidran – harpsichord on “Baby’s Calling Me Home”
- Glyn Johns – producer/engineer