Steve Miller wasn't all that crazy about Seal's cover of "Fly Like an Eagle." "I was real disappointed because I thought it was kind of just like my version," he says. "But I wasn't that disappointed because I think he sold a million and a half copies." Not that Miller needs the help. Since penning a string of hits, including "Space Cowboy," "Rock 'n' Me" and "The Joker" in the '70s, the Steve Miller Band's songs have been blasting nonstop out of car stereos, jukeboxes and karaoke bars. Forty years after recording his first album in San Francisco, Miller returns to the Fillmore for shows Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then he moves up to Marin to record his next release.
Q: You could easily live off the royalties of "The Joker" alone. What keeps you on the road?
A: I just love to play. I've been playing for, I don't know, 52 years or something like that. It's not that I'm compelled to stay out there. Playing music, to me, is the most fun thing there is to do. The gigs just happen to be out there so I have to go.
Q: What's your secret for surviving the music business for so long?
A: I rarely get involved in the music business. As a kid, I met Les Paul and Charles Mingus and a bunch of people like that, and they were musicians and that's really what I wanted to be, so that's where I set my goals. Les Paul is 92 and he's still working. That's kind of what's interesting to me. I have a lawyer named Lip Pliers and I let him handle the rest.
Q: What's your most decadent memory of the '70s?
A: I'd say probably playing at the Fillmore and seeing what was going on in the audience - all the drugs, drinking and just the general mess of those early gigs before it went to the football fields and basketball arenas. The Fillmore is kind of a home away from home for me. I think I played there 104 times in the '60s. The last time I was there they presented me with a list of all the times I played there and I was there a lot.
Q: You kind of stopped making albums in the '80s. Did you think you weren't good-looking enough to get on MTV?
A: Television does make me sweat. You know, during the '80s there was a very hard campaign against groups from the '70s, so I took a break after "Abracadabra." I was off the road for about five or six years, and that's when I found out I wasn't really happy unless I was writing music, playing music, having a band, performing and doing those things. It took a while to figure it all out.
Q: Do you remember any point in the past 40 years when your songs weren't on the radio?
A: No, I don't. I've always lived in little towns where there's really not much radio, but I'm always surprised when at the end of the year I get my ASCAP rewards and the airplay has gone up, like, 20 percent more. It just doesn't make any sense, but some psychologists did the research for the radio station owners, and I must have been lucky because they keep playing me.
Q: The best part is that you're totally unrecognizable to the general public.
A: I can generally go to my own concert, stand in line and buy a ticket, and nobody would know who I am. It really is like that, and that's a good thing.
Q: When was the last time you sang one of your songs in a karaoke bar?
A: I went to a karaoke club in Vancouver, Wash., and sang my song, and no one had any idea who I was. Another time, we were playing a gig in Detroit and we were back at the hotel and my band foisted me onstage with the club band to sing "Abracadabra." They were just real pissed off. They had no idea who I was. They thought I was some drunk. I kind of like it that way.Image: Courtesy Capitol