The Ben Miller Band
A ton of fun
The Ben Miller Band is a versatile blues-rock Americana trio that hails from Joplin, Missouri, and has built a cultlike following in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area ever since performing at the 2010 Michigan Roots Jamboree. Led by Ben Miller on vocals, slide guitar, cigar-box guitar, banjo, harmonica, and foot percussion, the band is rounded out by Scott Leeper on washtub bass and Doug Dicharry on drums, washboard, trombone, mandolin, and electrified spoons. Not only are these three versatile in sound and instruments, but they're about as inventive a band as you're likely to find.
Seated in a rickety wooden chair at the front of the stage, Miller plays a guitar that looks like it's just been salvaged from a trash bin. His face is framed by a scraggly beard and a floppy scarecrow's hat. Duct-taped to his microphone stand are a spotlight (yes, these guys bring their own lighting) and a telephone receiver. The receiver, vintage 1970s, acts as a second microphone and offers a more distorted sound. It's connected to an amplified crate, which Miller thumps throughout with a drum pedal. A tambourine is hooked to his other foot.
To his right, Leeper sits on the side of a stool and slaps his homemade washtub bass. The instrument consists of a single weed-eater string attached to a stick that sits atop an inverted metal washtub. The elder statesman of the band, Leeper describes the contraption as "an old hillbilly instrument"; he built his about ten years ago. The drums sit behind Miller, but Dicharry rarely plays the same instrument from one song to the next. He plays the washboard with special metal-tipped gloves and has a suitcase filled with various distortion pedals into which he can plug the washboard. Trombone and mandolin allow Dicharry freedom of movement, and he'll often wander to the front of the stage to join his bandmates.
These guys can play virtually any style they want, but they're at their best playing gritty,
hard-driving blues built upon Americana roots, with Leeper and Dicharry chiming in on backing vocals. Miller has written plenty of original songs-often consisting of very original subject matter, such as Amsterdam prostitutes and Jäger Bomb shots-but the band also mixes plenty of interesting covers into each set. Their version of the Monkees' "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" is slowed down with added punch and features Dicharry playing trombone with a drumstick in hand, so he can pound his snare and cymbal, while assisting vocally during the chorus. On their version of "Jack o' Diamonds," Dicharry plays electrified spoons (which also plug into his suitcase of distortion pedals), while Leeper keeps beat on an old school fire bell he's converted into a drum. These guys play great music and are a ton of fun. I can't recommend them highly enough.
The Ben Miller Band is in Riverside Park during the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival on Saturday, August 18, and at Woodruff's (see Nightspots) later that same evening.
[Originally published in August, 2012.]