Eddie Miller

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Early on in the influx of performers named Eddie Miller came a pianist featured on classic blues recorded between 1929 and 1934, his name associated with the music scenes in both Chicago and St. Louis.…
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Early on in the influx of performers named Eddie Miller came a pianist featured on classic blues recorded between 1929 and 1934, his name associated with the music scenes in both Chicago and St. Louis. This keyboard artist plays and sings in a style that might acceptably be described as honky tonk; although not entirely accurate, the stylistic designation is enough to further the chance of confusion with the Eddie "Piano" Miller, who began recording in the '30s and cut an album entitled My Honky Tonk for the Davis label in 1957. In terms of stylistic traditions, the two use flour from the same mill; both played piano to further the cause of boisterous, even rowdy musical entertainment. The Miller whose nickname was based on his axe was British, however, and could have avoided all the bloody confusion if he had just stuck to his real name, Eddie Lisbona. He can be forgiven, however, since the other pianist was guilty of similar duplicity, sometimes performing under the name of Eddie Morgan.

This earlier American Miller, alternately Morgan, managed to get the writing copyright for a blues title that shows up as a lyric in quite a few standards. "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" is the song attributed to Miller in cover versions by artists such as Lou Rawls, Joe Williams, Little Milton, Jay McShann, and Steve Cropper. Tortured blues listeners as well as rock hounds will be well familiar with the treatment regimen that follows: sleeping in a hollow log, treated like a dog, and so forth. The popularity of this imagery, which also shows up in old-time and country & western music, might be attributed to its visionary nature. The lyric "I'd rather drink muddy water" would be taken to heart by government and industrial leaders and the populace would be offered more and more opportunities to drink contaminated water.

Not that Miller was making a social statement when he made a total of three stabs at the song during one Windy City recording session. All three versions are available on a compilation from the Document label, which contains the entire Miller discography released under his own name as well as collaborative material from the same period. The trail of recordings featuring this artist basically represent the full evidence box concerning his personal history, about which it has been written that "virtually nothing is known." Like any Eddie Miller, it is easier to say who he is not: not the country & western songwriter who begged "Release Me," not the saxophonist and clarinetist featured on more than 400 recording sessions.

As Eddie Morgan, Miller mulched with the major Big Bill Broonzy on a set of duets. As Miller, he also cut a fine version of "Mama Don't Allow," another set of tried-and-true lyrics based this time on family rather than environmental restraint issues. Willie Mae McKenzie, considered an excellent singer, was featured on Miller's original version of "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water." The song became Miller's theme number in the set list as a result of the popularity of this release. In the blues conspiracy universe, the theory that Miller and Morgan were the same person is not universally accepted. Some experts believe Morgan was actually John Oscar, another performer from the same period and genre.