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Steve Miller says T-Bone Walker taught him how to play guitar behind his head when he was nine years old

Steve Miller
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty)

Rock journeyman Steve Miller has been discussing his early years as a player, revealing an enviable musical education from guitar A-listers, including Les Paul and T-Bone Walker

Speaking to our friends over at Louder (opens in new tab), Miller explains how Walker taught him how to play behind his head, when the budding guitarist was only nine years old.

“I was really fortunate because my parents loved music,” Miller says. “My dad loved jazz and blues, and he had a tape recorder right after World War II – one of the first really good professional ones. He offered to record Les Paul. Les and Mary Ford were working at a club in Milwaukee and they became very good friends with my family…

“I watched Les perform quite a bit and he was so good and funny and made it look so easy. He made anybody think they could play the guitar. Next thing I knew, we moved to Texas and I was nine years old and T-Bone Walker came over to the house to play a party… [He] played from 6pm to 5am and he and my dad became good friends. He came over again and again. So I have all these memories. And he taught me how to play guitar behind my head and how to play single-note leads.” 

However, the Fly Like An Eagle songwriter says not every encounter with a guitar icon turned out quite so well. In the same piece, Miller recalls a period in which he backed the notoriously prickly Chuck Berry, which resulted in a pretty spectacular fallout.

“When the Miller Band backed him at Bill Graham’s request, first thing he said at rehearsal was: ‘Okay, no one take a shave or shower until we’ve played,’” recalls Miller. “[Then] just before the gig, he disappeared, and returned loaded as a zombie on downers. 

“We backed him all over California for two years and he got more and more annoying. At the Carousel Ballroom he got shitty with us on stage. Afterwards he came to my dressing room and I told him: ‘Hey, fuck you, Chuck. Get your own fucking band, get your own fucking amp and get the fuck out of my dressing room.’ He was fine from then on.” 

That’s probably what we would have done in that situation, too… Head over to Louder to check out their full Steve Miller interview (opens in new tab), which sees the guitarist and songwriter discussing his (successfully unsuccessful) Vietnam draft interview, writing Fly Like An Eagle and California’s psychedelic gold rush.

When you’re done with that, you can find out about the secrets behind Miller’s incredible guitar tone on his standout track Jet Airliner.

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Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk (opens in new tab), which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.