The Final Album: Steve Miller’s “Wide River”

Editor’s Note: We recently looked at the “last” album from a number of big names in rock. The responses were pretty interesting, so we thought we’d dig deeper into another final project. Let us know what you think in the comments.


Suppose you don’t know much about blues. In that case, you probably only know Steve Miller and his eponymous band from his most commercially successful song releases from the 1970s and 1980s: “Livin’ in the USA”, “The Joker”, “Abracadabra”,  “Jungle Love”,  “Rock’n Me”, “Take the Money and Run”, “Jet Airliner”, “Swingtown”, and “Fly Like An Eagle.”  And the success of those songs alone would be noteworthy. But buried in such marketability is a consummate blues musician with an unexpected smoothness delivered in a tight package.

The reality is that Milwaukee-born Steve Miller has been dishing out Chicago, Texas, and San Francisco psychedelic blues, playing alongside Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, James Cotton, Paul Butterfield, and Muddy Waters since the mid-1960s.  Miller is a master guitarist and harmonica player with easily recognizable vocal stylings.  He has released 18 studio albums, which include a solo venture, six live albums, 11 compilation albums, and 30 singles.  In doing so he’s accumulated success both in Canada and the US, with three number-one singles in the US and two in Canada.

Twelve of his albums have reached the top 40 in the US and seven in Canada. Miller was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016 and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2022. He’s recently begun to open his vaults for the first time, releasing the acclaimed Welcome to the Vault box set in 2019 and Breaking Ground Live! August 3, 1977, in 2021. His original lineup included guitarist James “Curly” Cooke, bassist Lonnie Turner, and drummer Tim Davis.  Over the years the Steve Miller Band included 18 different performers, most notably Boz Scaggs, Nicky Hopkins, Ross Valory, Ben Sidran, Charlie McCoy, David Denny – and a host of others.

The challenge in identifying his “final” album is that he continues to release covers of songs, songs from vaults, compilations, and live albums.  And then there are gaps in the discography, like from 1993 to 2010 when he didn’t release anything.  In 2019, Miller released Welcome to the Vault, which is a collection of unreleased recordings, alternate versions of classic songs, B-sides, and live performances (as part of a 3CD+DVD collection).  While technically this contains some previously unheard tunes it’s not newly written material. So, excluding covers and “vault” releases, his last release of original music was Wide River (1993 – re-released in 2010).

In Wide River, Miller penned seven of the 12 cuts including the title cut.  The odd thing is that the musicality, his vocal tones, and the playing could have been released on any album of his dating back to The Joker.  It’s the same harmonic, ageless delivery of simple songs with good production value. If this was his swan song (he turned 80 in 2023(!!), it’s a good one – comparable to those albums released thirty years earlier.

The namesake song “Wide River” is a decent Steve Miller tune that is neither offensive nor noteworthy, but a solid blues take. “Blue Eyes” is a bit on the rock side, save for the interspersed blues licks, with a simple chorus.  “Lost in Your Eyes” is a great track, with a simple yet expressive chord progression straight from the 1980s, with glazy vocals that are pleasant enough. “Perfect World” uses an interesting percussive style that is catchy, with a hooky bridge – one of the better songs on the LP, actually penned by Ben Sidran.

“Horse and Rider” is surprisingly beautiful with tight harmonies and an emotional harmonica by the great, now departed, Norton Buffalo wailing over staccato guitar picking – my favorite track – co-written by Steve McCarty (“Fly Like an Eagle”).  “Conversation” merges vocal octaves and organ chords that call back to “the pompatus of love” with a stinging Miller guitar solo.  Other worthy tunes include “Cry, Cry, Cry” and “Stranger Blues.”  “Walks Like a Lady” is an odd reggae-rhythm synthesized affair that some might find interesting. The closing track, “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” is a memorable cover of the Otis Rush original with a sexy sax solo and luscious vocals.

In general, this is a very good sign-off release (hopefully not) from Steve Miller.  As noted, he’s recently opened his vaults to share previously unreleased music.   Instead, if you’re hankering for talented re-imagining and covers of blues classics, both Bingo! (2010) and Let Your Hair Down (2011), recorded together, are worth a listen. And on those albums, we’re talking Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home, Chicago”, Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied”, and B.B. King’s classic “Rock Me Baby,” all done in that classic Steve Miller modern, slick, yet tribute style.  Miller suggested these two albums were recorded as a collection of covers that he used to play while touring, a full-on “party album.” If you’re a fan of the blues, boy they do make you want to jump up and shake your blues thing!

Miller is currently touring on a ticket with Journey and Def Leppard, so, if you’re lucky, you might be able to catch this legendary blues guitarist live.  If not, these last albums are a great tribute.

-Will Wills

Photo: Fair use image of Wide River




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Will Wills — a native-born Italian, raised in the US — does a killer impersonation of Mario (“a-letsa-go!”). Generally, you’ll find him frenetically bouncing between software development at a large US firm, leading a local dance/pop band, playing COD and watching MST3K. Yes, he’s sleep deprived, but you can follow his resulting incoherence at @WillrWills or his band at @WillsAndTheWays or his blog, "A Day in a Monkey's Life," if you’re suffering from insomnia, too.

4 comments on “The Final Album: Steve Miller’s “Wide River”

  1. Hi Will –

    Nice review! If you check the credits closely you will see that Ben’s son (me!) actually penned those 4 tracks on the record: Lost In Her Eyes, Perfect World, Conversation & Walks Like A Lady.

    I was 15. Steve was encouraging and a pleasure to work with.

  2. Randy Drewel

    Will, Do you ever see Steve miller releasing 1 more album of original material?
    Randy Drewel-Lincoln, NE.

    • Will Wills

      Hey Randy, thanks for the question. Before I answered I went off and scoured the interwebs again and didn’t see any indication of new music. It’s possible. He continues to release updated box sets and is doing some touring. I don’t know if musicians get to a point where they aren’t interested in actually recording. Billy Joel was at that point for a while (and told Stephen Colbert that he had nothing else new to say in song”, but then as you know, he just released some new music.

      I sure hope Miller does release something, even if it’s updated versions of some of his classic. A great blues guitarist and entertainer.

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