In-demand session guitarist and producer Buddy Miller on his long road to success

(Image: © CJ Hicks)

The month after moving to Nashville, Buddy unexpectedly received a phone call from the California-based HighTone Records. As things turned out, it was a watershed moment.

“They asked if I wanted to do a record with them and did I have songs? Of course, I said yes, although I didn’t have any! We sat down and wrote some and it turned out pretty well – just about every song ended up being covered by Nashville country singers. 

"Then right around that time I heard that Emmylou Harris was having auditions for a guitar player and that was a gig that really resonated with me. She did so much to turn the tide when she came out, always championing songwriters and quality musicians, and there’s something so simple and soulful about her voice, not trying to prove anything.

“I thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’ She might want a country guitar player, but she’d just made the Wrecking Ball album with [producer] Daniel Lanois, and growing up around all those psychedelic albums and the Grateful Dead, I thought I could draw from that, be myself, but do the country bit as well and mush it all together.

I basically took Daniel Lanois’ place in the band.

“There were about 15 guitar players auditioning and somehow I got it; I was really fortunate. I basically took Daniel Lanois’ place in the band. He’d been out for half a year to a year touring with Emmylou and his rhythm section. 

"I didn’t ever get to see that band, but all those psychedelic references got stirred up through the filter of my hands and evolved into country a little bit. It was a great band and a lot of fun.”

Musical Partnerships

In the years that have followed, Buddy freely admits that he’s rarely had time to draw breath, an endless list of artists beating a path to his home studio in search of his production skills. 

And when Richard Thompson camped out at his studio for two weeks for 2013’s Electric, Buddy apparently ended up enjoying a fortnight of guitar lessons. Is it fair to suggest that Richard Thompson is something of an influence on Buddy’s own soloing, we wonder?

“Well, he made his Electric album over here and it was just a joy to sit and watch him play. I was joking about the lessons! I just hope he doesn’t ever listen to my records, though. I know he doesn’t listen to a lot, so I guess he’s never heard me ripping him off,” Buddy laughs. 

“I have admitted it to him and we’ve often played together, but the first time we traded solos, I thought, ‘Gosh, I don’t have that much to play, because a third of what I play is a nod to Richard Thompson. Here I am playing with him: what am I going to do, play his licks for him?’ 

Richard [Thompson] is a real sweet guy and a very keen birdwatcher.

“Richard’s a real sweet guy and a very keen birdwatcher. In my studio room, the windows look out to the trees and Richard would be playing a real wild solo and looking out at some bird on a tree. 

"He has that disconnect, where your hands are just working on their own. I like to think that maybe the birds helped him…”

Such rich collaborations continued in his most recent release, Cayamo Sessions At Sea, which was recorded while at sea during the 2014 and 2015 Cayamo cruise festivals and features artists as diverse as Kacey Musgraves, Kris Kristofferson and, again, Richard Thompson. 

It’s a roots-filled celebration of Americana and one that Miller has been a part of for many years – itself demonstrating further just how Miller’s collaborative spirit has helped earn him the title of one of Nashville’s finest. 

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