Ben Miller Band
“If we are on the Titanic, the ship and the band are sinking, you better believe we are playing Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos.”
I am not a person who usually enjoys the opening act at concerts. Yes, I have probably missed out on some great acts, one of which being a young Jason Aldean, but ADHD clouds my brain to where I can only focus on seeing the main performer. At least that used to be the case. This mindset changed in Columbus, Ohio this past summer, when I was lucky enough to be in the audience for one of the most entertaining bands I have ever heard. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Miller, Doug Dicharry and Scott Leeper after they opened for rock bands The Temperance Movement and Blackberry Smoke. Standing backstage and sharing a case of beer, I was able to sit down and get to know a little about this talented trio.
The Ben Miller Band likes to describe their sound as “Ozark Stomp,” which is a reference to their home area of Joplin, Missouri and the reality that their style is exciting enough to make any crowd want to clap, holler and stomp. With a stage setup that includes various (including the cigar box) guitars, electric spoons, banjos, mandolins, trumpets, tubas, a washtub bass, and assorted other instruments, the crowd was buzzing before the first note. Lead singer Ben Miller says, “We use a lot of instruments that people used back in a time where they didn’t really have instruments, but used what was available. The washboard was a tool, but then they found a way to make a rhythm with it.” The combination of sounds and instruments has led to a show that is as unforgettable as it is enjoyable.
Some of the stories behind their discovery in using these instruments is just as incredible as their performance. Doug Dicharry explained how he came across his beloved washboard.
“I saw someone else using the washboard and I thought it was f***ing awesome! I asked him how he made his gloves and he used thimbles on both hands and so I started out doing that. Later I moved to using galvanized plumbers tape, which is a metal strapping on my right hand.”
Part of the beauty to using such storied instruments as these is the unexpected places in which there are suggestions for refinement. Doug was approached by a 75 year old woman (on a walker) from Pittsburgh, Kansas after a performance and after seeing that he used thimbles, she responded, “Oh, that’s cute. I use shotgun shells when I play my washboard.”
“After that I was just like, OK, I guess I need to go out and get some f***ing shotgun shells so I won’t be outdone by this senior citizen!”
Discussing his motivation, aside from the obvious passion for making music, is something that lead singer Ben Miller was able to make perfectly clear to anyone with artistic aspirations.
“I figured that I could either spend my nights making $50 working at Walmart or I could drive thirty miles, do an open mic night and make $50 that way. We aren’t rich or anything, but it beats the hell out of working a desk job.”
It was during nights like this that he was able to meet other talented musicians, like Scott and Doug, to build a band and then make enough money to start buying various instruments.
One of the most interesting questions to ask a musician is regarding the goals or dreams they have for their career and Ben gave what I would consider the perfect answer.
“It is weird to think about goals, because what has always worked in my life is to just not have an end that I am trying to reach, but more of a maxim. My goal is to play the best music that I can, for as many people as I can, as often as I can. I want to shoot for that maxim, rather than focus on some dollar amount. My loyalty is simply to play for the people in the audience.”
After ten years together, a 2015 tour in America and Europe with ZZ Top, and the release of their newest album, Any Way, Shape or Form, the band will be making some big changes in 2016. The Ben Miller Band recently announced the departure of Doug Dicharry, and the addition of “Smilin” Bob Lewis and Rachel Ammons, formerly of Tyrannosaurus Chicken. They have also announced that they will be on tour with George Thorogood in Canada this April.
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Ben Miller Band can also be seen and heard providing music for the soundtrack on WGN America’s newest show Outsiders, starring Urban Beardsman’s original Bearded Icon, Ryan Hurst.