Midwest ‘Ozark stomp’ band returns to Salida

When multi-instrumentalist Ben Miller first formed his band in Joplin, Mo., more than a decade ago, band members couldn’t afford new instruments. Out of necessity, they hunted down thrift store guitars and discarded banjos. At one point, they even removed the handle from an ax to craft an instrument. Years later, the Ben Miller Band is still playing on “whatever works.”

“It’s a trial and error process. Homemade is really appealing to me personally. Nearly everyone in the band still plays on instruments that have duct tape in places; it’s junky and rickety, but to me, that’s super fun. I just grew this love of idiosyncratic sound and things that weren’t even supposed to be instruments; everything can make music.”

Miller describes the band’s musical genre as “Ozark stomp” and says their sound has been inspired by a vast array of artists, ranging from Bob Dylan to hip hop. “I am kind of at a loss for words when people ask, so we made up a genre that doesn’t really mean anything  but it gets at an idea of what we might be like.”

This Midwest-based band has made music across the globe, playing three tours with ZZ Top in Europe and five in the U.S. “They’re now our friends and are really awesome people. (ZZ Top) really gave us a leg up, especially in Europe. It would’ve taken us many times playing clubs to be in front of that many people,” Miller observed. This April, his band will leave for a month-long East Coast tour with Buddy Guy.

Their high energy, soulful, sped up, Delta blues reverberations will bring dance music to the Salida SteamPlant Ballroom Friday, March 2. Miller says the band places a high value on “feeling and truth,” rather than just sound. “The music itself is more like a delivery system of feelings; this will absolutely be a booty-shaking, fun, up-tempo show. People often say our music doesn’t sound like anything they’ve heard before, but that it somehow sounds familiar.”

While his band performs mostly original songs written by Miller himself, they’ll also often mix in a handful of lesser-known cover songs during a live show. “We play old blues songs that we just really love; but we play (them) in a way that it doesn’t sound like the original.”

On Choke Cherry Tree, their recently released fourth album (if you include what Miller refers to as their initial “homemade album”), the band includes a song co-written by Miller and violinist, guitarist, vocalist  and one of the newest band members  Rachel Ammons, titled “Redwing Blackbird.”

A couple of years ago, the Ben Miller Band musicians suddenly weren’t seeing eye-to-eye; so rather than try to hold something together, two of the original members parted ways from the band. “We took on others who shared the vision,” Miller reflected. Along with Ammons, multi-instrumentalist Smilin’ Bob Lewis (on guitar, cigar box, banjo, mandolin, harmonica and lead guitar) joined Miller and founding member Scott Leeper (washtub bass and drums) to form a retooled Ben Miller Band. Miller noted that adding a female vocalist to the group added another dimension to the band.

Miller said their upcoming performance at the SteamPlant is the band’s chance to move up to a bigger venue in Salida, after their free show at Soulcraft Brewing Co. last December. “I really love (Salida). It’s a great town. Driving in, it has a really good feeling, and I’ve thought, man, I could live there. It’s really beautiful.”

Opening for the Ben Miller Band will be local artists Bruce Hayes and Brian “Catfish” Waldrip, performing live for the first time as a duo. Waldrip’s production company, Three Trees Productions, is co-producing the show with the SteamPlant. For more information or to listen online, visit BenMillerBand.com. To purchase tickets visit SalidaSteamPlant.com or stop by the SteamPlant box office.