Rod Stewart said of Frankie Miller, “He is the only white guy that ever brought a tear to my eye!” The widow of the late great Otis Redding reckoned: “that little ole white boy Frankie has the the blackest voice since Otis”. Alec Downie tells the story of a true Glasgow legend.

Frankie is the proverbial enigma, widely regarded as one of the finest blues singers that ever lived and as a songwriter he has been covered by an impressive array of artists including, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Rod Stewart, Don Williams, Rush and the Everly Brothers. Frustratingly for everyone who has ever come across Frankie, he has never seemed to live up to his true potential.

Frankie was born in Bridgeton in the East End of Glasgow in 1949 under the shadows of Parkhead Stadium, the home of Celtic football club and even today his affinity with Celtic is still strong. Ex-Celtic European Cup Winner Jimmy Johnston, told the story of how Frankie scrounged a Celtic jersey from him after a Rangers game and then proceeded to wear it every single night during a rock stadium tour of America! Even at an early age Frankie was determined to be a blues singer, practicing Ray Charles and Sam Cooke songs from his mother’s scratchy R&B collection. The writer Jimmy Boyle who is Frankie’s 2nd cousin, relates how even at the age of 10, Frankie would push larger boys of 6’4” out the way, when given a hint of an opportunity to sing. By 15 Frankie had left school and begun his apprenticeship as an electrician but his heart was not in it and disillusioned, he soon returned to his first love music.

By 1967 after a brief stint with the Del-Jacks, Frankie, John McGinnis (the pianist formerly of the Blues Council) and guitarist Jimmy Dewar could be found in a new band Sock ‘Em JB; an exciting unit fuelled on material by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Wilson Pickett. Sock ‘Em JB was together for only a matter of months, ending when Miller formed a new group Westfarm Cottage , en route to The Stoics. This Glasgow-based band exhibited shades of progressivism and pop. It featured Jim Casey on drums; Jimmy Doris, guitar; Hugh McKenna (SAHB) keyboards; John Wayne on bass; and Frankie providing vocals and guitar. After the band split, Jimmy Doris concentrated on songwriting, particularly for fellow Scottish singer Lulu, but tragically he was later hit by a London bus and died. Hugh McKenna was later in the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Dream Police.

The Stoics
The Stoics

The Stoics were also short lived and Frankie set off to London, where he met Robin Trower of Procol Harum and so began the super group Jude. The ensemble was formed to play the London club circuit and consisted of the following members: Robin, ex-Stone the Crows bass player Jim Dewar and Clive Bunker (ex Jethro Tull). In a very short period the bands reputation grew and they built up a loyal following in the London club scene. Sadly for various reasons Jude never made it to the recording studio and therefore this potential was never captured on vinyl. Their creative differences apart, Frankie did at a later stage join Trower and Procol Harum on stage and a report from the gig stated, “Frankie Miller, fine Scottish singer, strode out to front the hapless Harum and with his high energy vocalising leading the way the group were obliged to wake up and attempt to stay with him. Miller swaggered around the stage in Farmer John hat and wasp-striped tee shirt bellowing the lyrics to Dylan’s It Takes A Lot To Laugh, Shoorah Shoorah and (surprisingly) Jim Reeves’ He’ll Have To Go, and while the combination of soul singer and apocalyptic rock- group wasn’t entirely happy, there were several invigorating moments. Frankie received a large ovation for his pains”.

Upon the demise of Jude Frankie signed a solo contract with Chrysalis in 1972 and recorded his first album Once In A Blue Moon, supported by the then media darlings Brinsley Schwarz.  Rock journalist David Hepworth fondly reflects on the early ’70s as the period of “the tartan soul wars”, with many Scottish artists such as Maggie Bell from Stone the Crows, Jack Bruce of Cream and Rod Stewart leading the export of Scottish blues back to America.

Although critically acclaimed the album only sold sporadically and Frankie took to touring Ireland and the UK with the band Bees Make Honey which included the Irish musicians Ed Deane and Jimmy Smyth. However and fortunately for Frankie “Once in a Blue Moon” caught the attention of the New Orleans based producer/songwriter Allen Toussaint and Frankie was invited to the USA to record his soulful and brilliant follow-up, High Life. Toussaint’s legendary R&B production skills showcased what is still considered some of Miller’s finest blues vocals. Again the album received large amounts of praise in the music press but commercially it did not sell well.  Further to this and to Frankie’s dismay, the songs on the album provided hit singles for Three Dog Night and Betty Wright .

By 1975 Miller had formed a full-time band called simply, “The Frankie Miller Band” featuring, Henry McCullough, Mick Weaver, Chrissie Stewart and Stu Perry. The Rock  was recorded in sight of the prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco. Frankie commented that it was only music that had saved him that kind of fate and dedicated the album to prisoner Jimmy Boyle. The album also included the song “Drunken Nights in the City” written for his late night drinking buddy Jimmy Johnston. Yet another solid effort was met with middling sales and within a year Frankie went back to the drawing board, appearing with a completely new band comprising Ray Minhinnit (guitar), Charlie Harrison (bass), James Hall (keyboards) and Graham Deacon (drums) for the recording of Frankie Miller Full House.


Once again the band lasted only a year. Frankie no longer had his ‘Full House’ and that seemed to be a good move for him as he again reverted to a becoming a solo artist for the albums Double Trouble and Falling In Love (Perfect Fit). The later album providing him a surprise Top 10 UK hit in “Darlin” which soared up the chart in October 1978 to give him a number six placing and a ten week chart residency. His follow up “When I’m Away From You” was just as good, but stopped two places short of the 40. Billy Connolly gives us a wonderful view of Frankie’s character when he tells how a typically destructive Frankie, rather than celebrate the songs success, bemoaned the fact that his biggest hit was not his song.
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Chris Mercer who played tenor & baritone sax on the album Double Trouble gives us another fascinating and amusing insight into recording industry in the 70s ” This band had some heavyweight players, Chrissie, Ray Russell-noted studio gun, Paul Carrack, the late great BJ Wilson, Martin Drover and myself on horns. The album was produced by Jack Douglas from New York, which was typical of the era when Record Companies hired ‘hot’ producers, regardless of their feel for the music being created. A tragic exception of course was the wonderful album he made with Toussaint, which never got the recognition but was the right thing to have done. On Double Trouble the horns were pitifully under-balanced in the mix and he didn’t even use the dynamite section parts we recorded on ‘Goodnight sweetheart”. The album has some very powerful playing and singing but is very rockish, whereas Frankie’s true gift was R&B”.

Next week : Frankie’s acting career, the brain haemorrhage that nearly killed him and his recovery.

www.frankiemiller.net

Adapted from the Barrowland Ballroom Greats by Alec Downie

Comments

  1. Hugh McKenna, one time vocalist before Frankie Miller in the Stoics, was not in SAHB or Dream Police. Wrong Hugh McKenna. I was in Dream Police and of course in SAHB.

    I’ve been meaning to point that out for years,

    Ted.

  2. With regards, The Stoics, the drummer was Jack Casey, not Jim Casey, and is alive and well and drumming.

  3. frankie was a typical small glasgow guy, but on stage with the stoics they used to open with an obscure ike and tina turner number called” i idolize you” and at that point frankie became six foot six!!!!!! the stoics were a great wee band!!!!!!

  4. I can second that Jack Casey was indeed the drummer of Stoics and having heard him play first hand I can say that not only was he an awesome musician but also one of the nicest guys you could meet and very much still alive and well in Glasgow.