Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Macca & Miller

 

One of my favorite duos only recorded two songs … and they did so 40 years apart. Call them Macca & Miller, or perhaps Sir Paul and the Joker.

As the story goes, Steve Miller was in London, working with the legendary producer Glyn Johns (part of his landmark signing deal with Capitol Records) laying down tracks for the album that would become Brave New World (the one with “Space Cowboy.”) Miller arrived that night at the studio — and ran into, of all people, Paul McCartney.

Paul was in the thick of the Abbey Road and Let it Be sessions. Relations amongst the Fab Four were famously acrimonious at this point, and this was the day that Paul had faced off against John, George and Ringo over their desire to hire Allen Klein as their new manager (McCartney was against it). As Paul later recounted:

Steve Miller happened to be there recording, late at night, and he just breezed in. ‘Hey, what’s happening, man? Can I use the studio?’ ‘Yeah!’ I said. ‘Can I drum for you? I just had a f—-g unholy argument with the guys there.’ I explained it to him, took ten minutes to get it off my chest. So I did a track, he and I stayed that night and did a track of his called My Dark Hour. I thrashed everything out on the drums. There’s a surfeit of aggressive drum fills, that’s all I can say about that. We stayed up until late. I played bass, guitar and drums and sang backing vocals. It’s actually a pretty good track.

It was a very strange time in my life and I swear I got my first grey hairs that month. I saw them appearing. I looked in the mirror, I thought, I can see you. You’re all coming now. Welcome.

Here it is:

It is astonishing (and a measure of their talent) that these two musicians could come up with a song this good after having known each other for a matter of minutes.

(Rock and) Roll forward 40 years. McCartney, creating the best album of his later solo career, Flaming Pie, decided to look up his old friend and as him to join on yet another track. The result, if not as great as “My Dark Hour,” is still splendid — and much more accomplished. The singing of these two now-sexegenarians is better than ever. Here it is:

Macca is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times; and after decades of criminal indifference, the Hall this year admitted Miller. And though it has been suggested that Miller learned a lot that night about creating and recording a song, it’s hard not to hear in “My Dark Hour” some of the future sound of Wings. Miller, of course, would recycle the opening riff from that song for “Fly Like an Eagle” from the album of the same name that would make him a superstar. And if Sir Paul makes “My Dark Hour” work with his unexpectedly powerful drumming, you can say the same thing about Miller’s guitar fills in “Used to be Bad.” It seems an unlikely — yet somehow inevitable, pairing.

An even more unlikely post-script: Because McCartney was still a Beatle, he was listed on “My Dark Hour” as “Paul Ramon.” That became his pseudonym. A few years later another Fab Four adopted the name for their own: The Ramones.

There are 7 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Fascinating sidelight of musical history.

    • #1
    • November 4, 2016, at 11:02 PM PDT
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  2. valis Inactive

    Saw Mr McCartney at Bonnaroo, was remarkably good. Interacting with 50,000 people on stage, he made me think he was talking to me. I was played and didn’t mind. He is gifted in many ways and Steve Miller got touched by an angel, of sorts.

    • #2
    • November 5, 2016, at 12:31 AM PDT
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  3. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    “Used To Be Bad” is only one of several Flaming Pie songs that Miller participated in. He also played on the single “Young Boy” and the album track “If You Wanna,” as well as the B-side track “Broomstick.”

    “Paul Ramon” was a pseudonym McCartney used during the Beatles’ early career. In 1960, the band was booked as the backing band for Johnny Gentle on a tour of Scotland; it was their first semi-professional engagement, and they decided that they needed stage names (Long John, Paul Ramon, Carl Harrison, and Stuart Da Stael). They abandoned these pseudonyms before long, so I think it’s pretty funny that Paul revived it years later. I didn’t know about that.

    • #3
    • November 5, 2016, at 8:37 AM PDT
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  4. tigerlily Member

    Nice article. Thanks.

    • #4
    • November 5, 2016, at 9:13 AM PDT
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  5. Michael S. Malone Contributor
    Michael S. Malone

    As it happens, I had dealings with both gentlemen. I’ve never met McCartney, but he did write for me (the foreword to the Rick Smolan coffee table photo book “UK at Home”, for which I was the editor). As you might imagine, he is a good writer. If he was willing to be edited he’d be even better — though I doubt that the quality of his prose style is of much interest to one of the great songwriters of the 20th century.

    As for Miller, I did a TV show with him back when I had my PBS interview series. I found him to be very intelligent, a serious businessman . . .and very, very funny. He’s always treated his career as his profession (I suspect that is the influence of his godfather, Les Paul) and that’s why he’s had such a long and successful one. He’s great fun to talk to.

    • #5
    • November 5, 2016, at 12:59 PM PDT
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  6. Arahant Member

    Michael S. Malone: If he was willing to be edited he’d be even better

    I laughed.

    • #6
    • November 5, 2016, at 1:12 PM PDT
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  7. Crazy Horse Inactive

    There is some dispute on how many recorded tracks Ringo, and not Paul, played skins on throughout Beatles history. But if you’ve seen Ringo play live, using his left hand to lead on a right-handed set, there is hardly room for doubt that the answer is few if any.

    • #7
    • November 6, 2016, at 7:32 AM PST
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