The Class of 1971: Steve Miller — ‘Rock Love’

The Steve Miller Band found great success on the charts with Sailor (1968), Brave New World (1969), Your Saving Grace (1969), and Number 5 (1970) before tumbling down with the band’s sixth studio album, Rock Love. The tumble continued with the following Recall the Beginning… A Journey from Eden (1972) before Miller changed course with The Joker (1973), and the rest, as they say, is history.

Rock Love was panned by the critics. It was released in September 1971 by Capitol Records during the period when Miller was recovering from a broken neck received in a car accident. 

So, naturally, this is my all-time favorite Steve Miller Band album.

Wikipedia notes the following:

All of Miller’s previous backing band had left following the recording of the previous album (Number 5), save bassist Bobby Winkelman. They were replaced by members of Winkelman’s previous group, the psychedelic rock band Furious Bandersnatch for this record, including Ross Valory (a future member of Journey) on bass, and Jack King on drums. Bobby Winkelman was in the band (having moved back to rhythm guitar) during the live recordings on the album’s first side but is not credited on the album cover. David Denny, who later joined the band in 1976, is a guest guitarist (again, not credited) on “Blues Without Blame”. [Ed. Note: Valory’s name is spelled Vallory on the album cover.]

Side one of the album consists of three live tracks, the first two recorded live at Pirate’s World in Hollywood, Florida. The massive “Love Shock” was recorded live at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in California. Miller wrote all songs, and the music was published by Haworth Enterprises ASCAP.

The album was issued as Capitol SW-748. If you’re searching for this on CD, as I have, you may be tempted by the one listed for $219. Or not.

Let’s look at why I love this album.

 

Rock Love

SIDE ONE (LIVE)

On Sailor, Miller covered Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s “Gangster of Love.” “The Gangster Is Back” (2:28) reprises that theme in the short opening track. And, of course, that gangster theme would reappear in “The Joker.”

Critics called “Blues Without Blame” (5:41) “generic white-boy blueisms” (Wikipedia). You decide. His voice and guitar both sound fine here. YMMV

Jack King’s drums kick “Love Shock” (11:43) into gear immediately. He and Valory keep the groove deep as Miller displays his guitar pyrotechnics. King gets a two-and-a-half-minute feature, followed by Valory’s three-minute bass exploration before Miller goes heavily psychedelic to finish the tune.

I like side one. I LOVE side two.

 

SIDE TWO

“Let Me Serve You” (2:26) is a mid-tempo rocker with great overdubbed harmony vocals. The guitar work is simple but elegant.

The title track “Rock Love” (2:28) is a pop gem that would have fit well on those albums from 1973 on. It is short and to the point with great acoustic guitar. somebody is shaking that tambourine. More great harmony vocals and a nice bass line fill this one out.

Miller’s acoustic guitar and more harmony vocals introduce “Harbor Lights” (4:06), which quickly changes tone when he sings, “In my cell, behind this wall, I share my time, With many a soul who is lost.” It harkens back to numerous blues songs and more recently to Fleetwood Mac’s “Blood on the Floor,” taking a comic turn as he sings, “I’m glad that I killed your mother. She was a low-down dirty old hag.” The laugh at the end is delicious.

“Deliverance” (9:19) is an acoustic masterpiece. Malory’s rumbling bass is in the background but perfect here, and King’s propulsive drumming pushes the pace. Pure jazz is pouring out everywhere, and then Miller starts scatting on top on his guitar-playing. The vocals that emerge briefly are in spoken-word blues style before he returns to scat. Malory and King are magnificent. Gorgeous acoustic guitar work throughout.

Back cover. On the original album, this image is upside down.

 

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

 

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