Miller follows the music and Emmylou |

Miller follows the music and Emmylou

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

Considering how low he had been in the music business, Buddy Miller figured he had nothing to lose by reaching for the stars. So even though he figured he had little chance of succeeding on either count, asking Emmylou Harris to lend her voice to an album and auditioning for Harris band seemed worth a shot.Despite what he saw as long odds, Miller convinced Harris both times. The esteemed country singer contributed vocals to All My Tears, a 1993 song by Millers wife, Julie. Three years later Miller auditioned to be the guitarist in Harris band and got the job.Miller, still a member of Harris Spyboy band, will be the lone sideman when Harris performs at the Wheeler Opera House Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 14-15. Its a long climb from where Miller has been.Growing up as an Air Force brat on the East Coast, Miller gravitated toward music. He had a taste for opposite ends of the spectrum, playing both country and San Francisco-style psychedelic rock. I went to Woodstock one week, and then to a bluegrass festival the next. And the music I played reflected all of that, said the 51-year-old.After stretches in upstate New York and Austin, Texas, where he met and played with his wife and collaborator Julie, Miller made his way to Los Angeles. There he discovered how rough life as a professional musician could be.I played, he said. But at the end of each month, Id look around the room to see which instrument I had to sell to pay rent.But it was also in California where Miller made the connections that would lead him to better things. In the early 1980s, Miller met singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, who had just signed a deal with Columbia Records. Miller began backing Lauderdale, a gig which included several dates in Europe, opening for Emmylou Harris. Some years later, after the Millers had relocated to Nashville, Buddy decided to try cashing in on his acquaintance with Harris. Through Harris manager, Miller asked if Harris would sing on All My Tears, a tune on Julies Orphans and Angels album.That was a pretty big step, said Miller. But I figured wed never know if we didnt ask. And it was a song we figured she might like singing on.Harris agreed and then some. When she made her masterful 1995 album Wrecking Ball, Harris included All My Tears and has made the song a staple of her repertoire.Following the release of Wrecking Ball, Daniel Lanois, the albums producer, toured as Harris guitarist. Miller figured that arrangement couldnt last long, not with Lanois busy producing duties. So again he called Harris manager, and told him that when auditions were held to replace Lanois, he wanted to be included.Within a week, Miller got the call to try out for the band. But despite the success with All My Tears and the fact that he was intimately familiar with Harris material, Miller didnt have much hope of passing the audition.There was a lot of competition, he noted. I just figured Id have a great time playing with her for 15 minutes and I did.He still is. Miller earned the spot at Harris side and has been a key ingredient in her recent resurgence. He co-produced and played on Harris live 1998 album Spyboy. On Harris two recent acclaimed CDs, Red Dirt Girl and Stumble Into Grace, which marked her emergence as a songwriter, Miller lent his guitar skills to both.Miller praises Harris for her voice, of course. But he also finds that she has a rare spontaneous spirit, which makes the job of sideman all the more pleasurable.She lets the music take her wherever, said Miller, who also put in a year in the late 90s as a member of Steve Earles band, the Dukes. Ive learned a lot about being open to where the music takes you, and learning from everything you hear.Its a unique situation, especially in Nashville and in pop music. When you get a job, you might get a stack of records to learn the parts off of, and thats how you have to play. With Emmylou its, We hired you to do what you do. So lets see where the music takes us, and see what happens tonight.Playing in Harris band has been the door to walk through, but Miller has made the most of the opportunity. In 2001, he and Julie released Buddy & Julie Miller, an exquisite roots-rock effort that featured Harris, as well as E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent and Bob Dylan sideman Larry Campbell. Last year, Miller followed with Midnight and Lonesome. Though the songs were written largely by Julie, she opted to let Buddy take solo credit for the album.Its my record because its country, said Miller. She doesnt want to do a country record, even though she can write a great country song. I put a fiddle on her first record, and I still havent heard the end of it.For several years, Miller had been a noted producer of music by other musicians, including Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Vigilantes of Love. But the work with Emmylou and with Julie, combined with his solo career, has put that on hold. Currently, he is working on an album of Julies and planning one of his own. The visibility never ceases to stagger him.That I even have a career is amazing, he said. Its a long way from the Grand Ole Opry to the Moscow suburb of Obninsk. But that distance seemed a lot shorter Monday night at the Wheeler Opera House.Bering Strait, a country band comprised of six Obninsk natives, showed that little was lost in translation when they relocated to Nashville in 1998. Take away the Russian accent of the between-song chatter, and Bering Strait could as easily have been from Omaha as Obninsk. In leather pants and a pixie smile, lead singer Natasha Borzilova, singing country rockers like What Is It About You and a cover of Alan Jacksons Mercury Blues, seemed born to be a country queen.If anything, Bering Strait benefits from its background. There is the novelty factor, which could have partly accounted for the sold-out performance, the bands Aspen debut. More significantly, the band members were all formally trained in one of Russias rigorous music schools, and the education showed in the instrumental prowess. While they were likely trained on violins and cellos, Bering Strait showed that a music background crosses over easily to other instruments. Sasha Ostrovsky, on dobro, steel guitar and pedal steel, and Ilya Toshinsky, on electric guitar and banjo, showed monster chops that put them on a par with the best Nashville cats. A highlight of the show was when the two launched into Hot Wired, a gazelle-fast virtuoso instrumental by Brent Mason, and handled it flawlessly.Adding another dimension to the concert was singer and keyboardist Lydia Salnikova. A counterpoint to the exuberant Borzilova, Salnikova shined on a solemn, solo voice-and-keyboard take on Sarah McLachlans Angel.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is