BOWLER, Wis. - "I think that I try to bring a different approach, composition-wise, to the acoustic guitar for the audience. I am very much an electric lead guitarist who thinks of the acoustic not as a folk scene thing, but as this wild animal that you try to tame."
Clinton J. Miller not only has his guitar tamed, but also merges the animal inside with his angelic voice to create one of the most unique and promising musical acts to grace the Native American music scene in a long time.
Miller, 29, from the Stockbridge-Munsee (Mohican) reservation in Wisconsin, opened for Indigenous in March of this year when they played at the North Star Casino, stirring Indigenous fans and critics alike with that performance. Alone onstage with his Yamaha APX guitar, Miller had the audience spellbound and mesmerized.
"Who is this guy?" was the question heard on the floor, as Miller led the audience through songs ranging from gems of his own to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelelujah," and then throwing down a stellar rendition of Robert Johnson's delta-blues anthem "Crossroads," which was comparable in raw power to the songs played by Indigenous later that night.
Indian Country Today is shedding light on just who this remarkably talented artist really is.
Miller has been playing guitar for 17 years and has been composing his own music for the last 14. He is currently working on his fifth CD. His past CDs range in intensity; delicate and fragile slices of experience that are meant to bewitch the listener like shadows dancing on a silver moon in the northern sky. Miller can create a spectacularly heavy rock sound that segues right back into a hushed acoustic balladry. He mixes folk-influenced tunes with cutting edge alternative rock, and there is a sophistication and maturity about his songs in their delivery and lyrics. A remarkably original singer, Miller can pick just about any musical style and perform it with ease.
Artistry and talent runs in the Miller family. He is the younger brother of accomplished, award-winning musician Bill Miller - a prominent fixture on the American Indian music scene for over 10 years. He cites Bill as an influence. "I have always been a fan of his, ever since I was little, I would tag along with my parents and watch him perform at colleges. I think that he has influenced me with songwriting discipline: to always come back full-circle, and not to venture too far out into space because you've got to know how to get back home."
His abilities on the guitar are enough to captivate, yet he possesses an otherworldly voice that casts an eerie spell on first-time listeners. An instructor who taught him the Italian vocal style trained Miller in classic voice, "She made me learn one short Aria from Verdi which I still like to perform sometimes. I think she got a kick out of watching some skinny kid trying to play an opera song on the acoustic guitar and trying to sing it at the same time." His voice can be described as a fusion of Geddy Lee of Rush, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and a young Paul Simon. On his third CD "Rez Boy," Miller demonstrates vocals that float and dance like the old traditional pow wow songs. If performing on the circuit should appeal to him, he could easily become a world-class drum circle presence.
"Some of my own music is very complicated and abstract," Miller said. "I have been performing at coffee houses and places with open-mic nights. I also play in a band called Joe Box." Miller's vocals and guitar riffs fronting Joe Box could hold their own against well-known alternative mainstays like Creed's Scott Stapp or Nirvana/Foo Fighter's Dave Grohl. All the while, reverberating primordial echoes of Jim Morrison.
"While I like performing solo right now, I never know what direction I'm going to take - that's what keeps me writing," he said. "I'm very comfortable with combining abstract with melody thinking, and learning how to write with an 'It's all about the moment' feeling. I think a good song should feel like a picture you took without even thinking, and then examining it afterward and asking yourself 'Why did I take that? Is that really what it seems to be?' When a song has your attention, it becomes a part of where you want to go in your journey. "
In his own eccentric way, Miller has redeemed and revitalized the acoustic guitar, rescuing it from the hands of righteous types with causes to push, and from power-pop ballads in need of authenticity. He has put it center stage. And for that, guitar-strumming musicians may someday be forever grateful to him.
For booking information, CD inquiries, or general comments, Miller can be reached at email@example.com. MP3s of Joe Box songs can be found by visiting the Web site www.soundclick.com/bands/5/joeboxmusic.htm.