By Frank Larue
“It feels great to represent the indigenous people of this country and to honour the people who made this award possible…..indigenous music has informed the mainstream since pop music was invented.. indigenous culture has informed everything… it represents victory for surviving a holocaust…and it represents the continuous journey forward to help preserve language and culture. We are currently in the process of building a studio facility on six nations that will be world class. It will have audio and video capabilities that we hope will facilitate some great music along with the language and culture preservation dvd series.’’ Derek Miller on winning the 2008 Juno Award for his CD, Dirty Looks.
The most exciting aboriginal singer songwriter working today, Derek Miller who’s career was kick started in 2002 with the release of ‘Music Is The Medicine.’ took his career to another level in 2008 with the release of ’Dirty Looks.’ Which garnished him his second Juno Award in March and will be followed by a live DVD, his next recording will feature a duet with Willie Nelson along with stellar musicians Double Trouble who were the rhythm section for the late great Stevie Ray Vaughn.
The new CD. ‘Dirty Looks’ is a collection of songs that reflect the changes he went through purging the bad habits he had cultivated on the road. Derek spent some time in the one place you won’t find Amy Winehouse, a rehab centre. The mood of his new materiel may be somber but his guitar playing is all fire and brimstone. From the scorching blues licks in The Devil Came Down on Sunday to the subtle melodic touches he adds on Stormy Eyes. Derek Miller consolidates his standing has one of the finest musicians of his generation.
‘’By 2005, I felt like I had lost my soul completely, touring, drinking and pumping my body full of drugs. It had me reeling pretty bad and I knew I had to stop or I would die but I needed help. That’s what I was battling as I went to record Dirty Looks. It was the hardest thing I’d done at that point, then I went through rehab and wrung out the laundry. Though native culture, ceremony and trauma recovery I felt I’d won my soul back and you can hear that torture on that record, I’m just grateful I lived through it. I am very grateful.’’
It’s been a long road for Derek Miller who grew up on the Six Nations reserve in Ontario and started playing guitar when he was given a warped neck Fender guitar that was found in his grandfather’s closet at age 13.’’ Looking back at it now, it was as though his spirit was saying, take this, talk to your mystery through this guitar and everything will be fine’’
Derek went through his mother’s record collection and found he had an insatiable appetite for the blues. He found his mentors in Muddy Waters and Stevie Ray Vaughn along with rock guitarists Peter Townsend and Eddie Van Halen. He developed as a singer listening to Jimmy Reed and Otis Redding. Derek played in pick up bands and local outfits honing his skills and writing until he released an EP entitled Sketches. The first recording showed a guitar player with a lot of talent and a blossoming songwriter but it due to independent distribution it didn’t generate large numbers in the sales department.
He moved to Arizona to join Keith Secola and The Wild Band of Indians, Secola had reached cult status with his song ‘Indian Car’, also toured with the Grateful Dead and was on first name basis with the members of U2. Derek worked on Keith’s award winning ‘FingerMonkey’ CD and spent a lot of time on the road. He gained some very valuable experience from the old road warrior Secola, who toured across America and Europe, this would help him later down the road when he would be in charge of his own band.
He returned to Canada to start his solo career and released ‘Music Is The Medicine,’ the CD won a Juno award for him and more important introduced him to a much larger audience and international touring. He had yet to become a household name but his talents have impressed many of his peers such as Buffy Ste Marie who described him as ”Derek is like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristopherson but better. He’s got a Mohawk heart.’’ Robbie Robertson a legendary guitarist himself whose career produced such timeless hits as ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ was taken by Derek’s fretwork.
“Derek’s guitar playing and vocals really get under your skin.’’
The ‘Dirty Looks’ CD is Derek’s best musical statement so far, the songs part of his spiritual journey serve as a catalyst for the curing of a troubled soul. The opening cut ‘The Devil Came On Down Sunday’ sets the tone with in your face guitar and lyrics that pay homage to blues seminal godfather Robert Johnson who in blues mythology sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads and later wrote a song . Derek is dealing with his own devil, the conflict is a personal one.
The devil came down on Sunday, offered me a ride.
I’m going down to the Crossroads, Mohawk road.
Picking up his second Juno put Derek in the same company as Canadian stalwarts Blue Rodeo, country star Paul Brandt, pop sensation and Grammy nominated chanteuse Feist, along with Finger Eleven and Arcade Fire. ‘’ It was really exciting to be there and be acknowledged for your work as an artist.’’ Derek said after picking up his Juno and heading home before the celebrations started, this is not the first award for his most recent recording. ‘Dirty Looks’ also won an Aboriginal People’s Choice Award and a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award. Derek was last seen in JFK airport in New York, when asked where he was going? ‘’I’m on my way to play golf with Willie Nelson.’’