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Al Miller

Mandolinist Al Miller played and sang in a style that combined elements of country, blues and jazz in a blend that was more common back in the day than many record collectors, critics and pigeon-holing historians seem ever to have found acceptable, although he certainly did his part to pave the way for a genre-blending development known as western swing. During the years 1927-1936 Miller cut more than two dozen titles under his own name, and sat in with pianist Cripple Clarence Lofton and singers Red Nelson Wilborn, Luella Miller and Mozelle Alderson. After cutting his first sides for Black Patti records, Miller was invited by producer J. Mayo Williams to cross over to Paramount and Brunswick. He also recorded for Gennett with King Mutt and his Tennessee Thumpers. Miller's most famous composition, "Somebody's Been Using That Thing," was popularized by Hudson Whittaker, known professionally as Tampa Red. Miller belonged to a special stratum of rural blues mandolinists that included R.W. Durden (a member of the Three Stripped Gears), Vol Stevens, Coley Jones, Lonnie Coleman, Will Weldon and Charles Johnson, who recorded with Furry Lewis in that late 1920s. There is a regional feel to Miller's music that places him in league with black string bands in Louisville, Memphis and Dallas. His overall sound invites comparison with Charlie McCoy, Yank Rachell, Charlie Burse and Peg Leg Howell. To some extent his earliest recordings have a country feel that would segue fairly seamlessly with white fiddle bands like Earl Johnson's Clodhoppers or Gid Tanner's Skillet Lickers. Beginning in 1929 Miller began crossing over to hokum, that bawdy, party-oriented genre so favored by musicians in south side Chicago during the late 1920s. Miller's main collaborators were a guitarist with the surname Rodgers and Kansas City pianist Frank Melrose. Four titles cut for Decca/Champion in 1936 involved pianist Cripple Clarence Lofton and back alley clarinetist Odell Rand, best remembered for his work with the Chicago-based Harlem Hamfats. Information regarding Miller's origins and eventual fate has yet to come to light; after the 1936 Decca recordings the trail abruptly grows cold. Fortunately for posterity, 26 Al Miller sides were reissued by Document in 1995 as his complete works in chronological order. ~ arwulf arwulf
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