Obituary: Jimmy Miller

Chris Welch
Tuesday 25 October 1994 01:02

Jimmy Miller, independent record producer: born 1942; died Denver, Colorado 22 October 1994.

The American-born Jimmy Miller was one of the few record producers who understood the spirit of the Rolling Stones. During a six-year association from 1968 to 1973 he helped create some of their most satisfactory albums and vibrant hit singles, including Beggars Banquet and 'Jumping Jack Flash'.

He brought the right mixture of diplomacy, laissez-faire attitude and studio organisation to the sometimes confused Stones and gave them a sense of direction during the crisis-ridden Sixties. After their dabble in psychedelia on the 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request he helped refocus the band. The Stones had tried to rival the Beatles' Sgt Pepper and lost their R&B feeling in the process. After a poor reception to the album, Jagger hired Miller, a New Yorker then living in London. Bill Wyman remembered: 'During the time under Miller's supervision, the juices began to flow. We were productive and disciplined.'

Jimmy Miller had just the right personality and background to cope with the Stones without appearing too bossy. An R&B fan, composer and drummer, he started producing records in 1963. He was invited to London by Chris Blackwell of Island to work with the indie label's burgeoning acts and his first hit production was 'Gimme Some Loving' (1966) by the Spencer Davis Group. Miller later co-wrote 'I'm A Man' with Steve Winwood, the group's last big hit in 1967.

When Winwood left Spencer Davis to form Traffic, Miller worked on Traffic's debut album, Mr Fantasy. He went way over budget and the record cost Blackwell pounds 5,000 at a time when pounds 1,000 was considered ample.

In 1968 Miller worked with the Traffic guitarist Dave Mason on the group Family's debut album Music in a Doll's House and it was an immediate success, establishing the band as one of the most original in the progressive rock movement. He was also involved with the keyboard player Gary Wright and helped put together a new Island act called Spooky Tooth.

Then came the call from Mick Jagger.

Miller had long been a Stones fan and he couldn't conceal his excitement.

'The night Jagger phoned I just knew he was gonna ask me to produce them. I glided over to his house on a cloud.'

Miller's first production for the Stones was 'Jumping Jack Flash', released in May 1963. It was a vintage performance which gave the band their first US and UK number one smash hit in two years.

Characteristically Miller refused to accept he had put the Stones back on track. 'They'd already written 'Jumping Jack Flash'. They were already quite willing to go back to R&B. But the chemistry worked. Being a drummer I was very rhythm minded.'

Keith Richards said: 'It was really a gas to work with him. Jimmy Miller could turn the whole band on and make a nondescript number into something.'

Miller remained at the Stones' control board for the next six years. He soon learned the hard way about their methods. He was hired album by album and he never knew if he'd be asked back to produce again. He dreaded Jagger's being in the control room. He recalled: 'Keith would put a guitar solo down and I'd say 'nice take' while Mick was saying 'fucking horrible'.'

Jagger and Richards would play Miller demo cassettes of their new songs and they'd develop them together. 'I'd contribute unobtrusively. Everything was always 'Great, how could we make it better?' '

Beggars Banquet contained some of the Stones' most powerful performances, including 'Sympathy for the Devil' and 'Street Fighting Man', but during recording Brian Jones was frequently absent and he left the band not long afterwards.

Miller was working with the Stones the night they heard Brian Jones had died, on 3 July 1969. Miller said: 'When Brian Jones died, Keith took over the musical leadership of the Stones and did it brilliantly. Keith would suddenly just play something that knocked me out. That was the magic of the Stones.'

Miller contributed his own bit of magic to the Stones' next hit single 'Honky Tonk Women'. He picked up a cowbell during recording and his exuberant beating helped give the song its cutting hit sound.

Jimmy Miller had an easygoing, cheerful personality, but, like anyone around the Stones, he became involved in their problems. He worked on the classic 1971 album Sticky Fingers, which yielded 'Brown Sugar' and then produced the double LP Exile on Main Street (1972).

The relationship with the Stones began to break down during the making of Goat's Head Soup (1973), a disappointing album, largely recorded in Jamaica.

It was Miller's last work for the band. 'I was turned off by them and myself. In a way they made me what I am and then didn't like what they'd created,' he said.

Not long after he parted company with the Stones, the 'new' guitarist Mick Taylor quit and the American horn section used during the Miller years was dropped. The Stones entered a new era, but weak self-produced Eighties albums like Black and Blue and Emotional Rescue showed how much they missed a strong hand at the helm.

After the Stones Miller carried on production work, notably with Primal Scream, a cult group of the Eighties whose highly acclaimed double album Screamadelica was heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones.

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