Thursday, June 16, 2011
Growing up in Southside Chicago, bluesman Dave “Biscuit” Miller received two things from his grandmother. One was his nickname, given to him because he was always in the kitchen when she was trying to cook. The other was a love of music, developed as he absorbed the gospel and soul music she played regularly.
At age 11, a visit to his friend Datrick’s house turned him from a music lover to a music maker. There, he picked up a four string bass owned by Datrick’s brother Darnell and started playing around with it. After Darnell taught him a couple of songs, a new Chicago bluesman was born.
Miller formed his first band, Clever, with another childhood friend, Ivan Wallace, who moved with him to Indianapolis in 1982. There Miller met Sonny Rogers, who taught him a lot about playing basic blues. With Rogers, Miller and Wallace recorded “They Call Me the Cat Daddy,” which netted Rogers a Handy Award for Best New Artist. Unfortunately, he died before he could accept it.
Miller started working with other blues artists: among them former Muddy Waters sideman Mojo Buford and Lady Blue, a back-up vocalist for Ike and Tina Turner.
Then, one day he was called back to Chicago—by none other than legendary bluesman Lonnie Brooks, who needed a bass player one night.
Miller ended up playing with Brooks for ten years. When things slowed down with Brooks during the winters, Miller sat in with other musicians. In 2000, he formed his own band, Biscuit In the Mix and recorded a CD, “Come Together.”
Miller also started playing with the Anthony Gomes band, an up-and-coming group he had once sat in with. Gomes’ band recorded five CD’s during the five years Miller played with him.
Beldon’s Blues Point caught up with Miller after a concert he and his band performed in Bladensburg, Maryland for the D.C. Blues Society:
BBP: Chicago blues, what’s that all about?
Biscuit: Well, it’s about your feelings. It’s all about what’s inside. Being in Chicago, you get a mix of everything: blues, soul, rock and roll, it’s all about the new and the old. Fixing it together.
BBP: What was it like playing with the Brooks family?
Biscuit: That was the most wonderful experience I could ever have in blues, because with Lonnie, Lonnie Brooks is a very family-oriented person. So I got a chance to be around a family and learn about the business and also learn about being on the road as a family. So now that I have my own band I’m able to treat it as a family and listen to all of things that may go wrong or may go right and just be on the road as a blues guy that’s bringing it in and keeping it going. Bringing in the new and the old, that’s how I like to mix mine up. So it was a wonderful thing to be with Mr. Lonnie Brooks and his family.
BBP: What’s it like leading a band as a bass player? Many consider that a background instrument. Is it difficult? I mean are there challenges to that?
Biscuit: Yeah, that’s very challenging because it’s a guitar-dominated field. And that’s why I have two wonderful guitar players. The thing about being a bass player up front is it’s very difficult sometimes because you have to concentrate on the words and entertain and play the bass line. Very, very hard thing to do sometimes because I like to focus on entertaining and sometimes it’s very hard to entertain people. I got to think about my bass line too and the words to the song, so…it’s challenging, but life is challenging. You know what I mean? You have to keep a positive attitude, get up there and work on it day by day. And I really enjoy that. You know it’s a challenge.
BBP: Is it hard to compose a song off of the bass?
Biscuit: Sometimes. Because you got to either think of the story or you got to think of what will feel good, because I love music…my music, I like more happy kind of things. I do my blues with a smile. So I try to come up with a bass line sometimes. Or I just try to get a story, somebody might say something and I’ll try to make it a fun story. And fun for me because I like to have fun on stage so it’s not always an easy thing to do, you know. But it’s fun because it challenges you, and it challenges you being a writer and trying to find new stories, you know. So I enjoy the challenge.
BBP: What kind of stories get you going, what kind of stories turn you on?
Biscuit: Like butter my biscuits and sleeping in the doghouse, walking in the park, sitting in the park, and I just said “everyone is so happy” sitting in the grass. And I just started writing a song in the park one day. So, black-eyed peas and cornbread, let’s go fishing, I was in Minnesota fishing one day, I just added the hook line and uh, (sings) “Let’s go fishing baby!” I just try to find happiness in my songs so I hope I’m answering the question correctly…
BBP: No, you’re good. You’re good.
Biscuit: But I’m trying to do my music and (to someone passing him complimenting him on his performance) thank you very much. And I’m just trying to—so I can make people feel good.
BBP: Some people when they think of blues they think of sad and hardship and all of that…
Biscuit: Well, there’s a mixture of that too. It’s a mixture of sad, it’s about what’s going on inside you. But the younger generation, when you say blues, they right away, they think sad. And that’s it. You know. So you have to be able to catch their attention and bring them into what we’re doing, and that’s what’s keeping the blues alive. So in the newer generation it’s a different thing for them. So it’s just something that for me, I try to mix my blues and try to grab the young and the middle and the old..and hope I can touch someone’s heart to be happy and touch someone with a story. The blues is an American music and it was—we look at it as sad, but they were singing songs and they were working, so that’s what kept them up, that kept them going as they were singing songs (sings), “Ohhh, I’m going in the morning.” Kept them alive, you know. So…
BBP: It’s not all sad.
Miller: No, it’s not all sad. No way.
BBP: How did you find the bass as an instrument as opposed to the guitar? How did you first start playing the bass?
Biscuit: I started school, I was going to school in Chicago on the South Side and Willie Dixon came to my school with Lucky Peterson. And Lucky Peterson was a young prodigy at the time and he was playing piano and he came to my school and did an afternoon show. And when I seen that, I wanted to play music. But I didn’t know it was bass. I happened to be over a friend’s house and he had a bass in the corner. I just picked it up and after that, I was over at a friend’s house and his name was Datrick Dinsdale and his brother had a bass guitar sitting off in the corner and I picked the bass up and his brother showed me some licks. After that I went home and asked my mom could she buy me a bass. I would say Willie Dixon –with Lucky Peterson—inspired my career.
BBP: I heard later you played with Anthony Gomes?
Biscuit: Yes, I played for him, I recorded on his records, and I played for him on the road for five, and I recorded probably eight years.
BBP: What did you take from that experience?
Biscuit: Well, we tapped into a more younger audience with the rock. More of the upbeat rock and roll stuff. So I think that that was a different experience for me. And I was very happy to be a part of Anthony’s band because we touched a different audience. Good experience.
BBP: I also heard you spent some time down in Clarkesdale where you had some experience with Rufus Thomas?
Biscuit: One of my moments playing with a famous person, that was my first gig at school, I played a show with Rufus. I was going to school to get a trade. My grandmother taught school at Coahoma Junior College and I was going there to take up carpentry and also I was going to finish my education and it didn’t happen. I played that one show and I was talking to Rufus and he said “Man you came from Chicago.” He said “when you finish school you should go back to Chicago.” Well, I thought about that and I said “Man I’d better go now.” I was 19 or 20 years old and I was trying to find myself and that’s when I went back to Chicago. My grandmother didn’t like it, but I started a good career here after that.
BBP: Who are some of your favorite artists overall?
Biscuit: It’s hard to say. Starting out with Willie Dixon and I had a chance to play with Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor and Lonnie Brooks, all the years I got a chance to meet a lot of people and go on tour with them…The Blues Brothers..I don’t really have a favorite, I kind of like them all. I got a chance to meet Albert Collins on a tour that I was with, before he passed. Luther Allison. That list could go on and on and on. It’s hard for me to pick one person out of that whole list. But the people that are on the list have inspired me as a musician. Because I love bass players and guitar players. Bob Stroger, he’s a bass player out of Chicago, Willie Kent, you know I used to go see them all. I wasn’t prejudiced about no instrument. I just wanted to see them all. Each one has a different talent to bring that is inside me, so…
BBP: Is there an experience you had with a musician that kind of opened your eyes?
Biscuit: That’s a hard one…
BBP: Probably a lot of them, huh (both laugh)
Biscuit: It’s hard for me to pinpoint just one person to actually say that….
BBP: One experience you had playing?
Biscuit: Yeah, I got a lot of experience from playing with Lonnie, but as far as just one person I would have to really sit down and think about that one. I’m sorry about that…
BBP: Just got a lot from different people.
Biscuit: Yeah, But Lonnie was probably on top of the list of that when I started touring ten years with him. I would say Lonnie Brooks.
BBP: Where do you want to take your band now?
Biscuit: I want to just enjoy music, have fun and just try to touch as many hearts as I can and play as many gigs as I can. I used to do 250 a year, but as of now I want to get back to that. And keep putting records out!