The strength of the Native American people and the hardships of their lives are captured through the folk-like balladry of Nashville-based singer/songwriter Bill Miller. Miller's best-known tune, "Tumbleweed," co-written with Peter Rowan and included on Rowan's 1990 album Dust Bowl Children, reflects on a memorable Native American character; Trail of Freedom, however, focuses on alcoholism among Native Americans.
The son of Mohican-German parents, Miller was born on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in northern Wisconsin. Music played an essential role in tribal life, and Miller, whose Mohican name is Fush-Ya Heay Aka (meaning "bird song"), learned to sing traditional songs at an early age. The sounds of nature including the howling of coyotes and the hooting of owls were also influential. Contemporary popular music, however, had a powerful effect on Miller's musical evolution. An enthusiastic fan of the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, Miller often traveled into town to buy records.
At the age of 12, Miller acquired his first guitar. His first gig came when he sat in with a cousin's polka band. Although he played in a teenaged rock & roll/Top 40 band for two years, he tired of pop music. Trading his electric guitar for an acoustic, Miller began to play folk music and bluegrass. A musical turning point came when Miller attended a Pete Seeger concert shortly after leaving the reservation to study art at the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse (he later attended the Lake School of Art and Design in Milwaukee). The experience inspired Miller, who moved to Nashville in 1984, to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter.
Miller's biggest break came when Tori Amos asked him to be her opening act on her Under the Pink tour of the United States. The tour, which sold out venues across the country, was extended to over 200 shows.
Although he mostly accompanies his baritone vocals on acoustic guitar, Miller has mastered the Native American flute. His 1991 album Loon, Mountain and Moon was a showcase of traditional Native American flute songs. ~ Craig Harris
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