Who was the guy that played the “cow bell” at the beginning of The Rolling Stones’ classic, “Honky Tonk Women”…. Who was the guy that played the finger chimes to the Spencer Davis Group’s second hit in America, “I’m A Man”…Who was the dude that created a pure “booglarize” haze for their first album from Traffic, “Mr. Fantasty”…. If you guessed Jimmy Miller you are correct. Miller was the son of a Jewish “go between” who was responsible for booking all of the Rat Pack gigs in the early days of Las Vegas which included Elvis Presley’s “come back” tour…Urban legend claims that dad, Bill had ties with the mob… Miller was one of the handful of individuals, including George Martin and Phil Spector.. all of which defined the sound of 60’s and 70’s rock and roll. The Stones worked trying to find the groove for their song “Honky Tonk Women”. As they struggled, Miller went to the studio and “started playing two little cowbells, one atop of another on a steel prong, and set the tempo for the whole song”. The sound is so singularly “Miller-ian” that the Stones have had a hard time replicating it on the road. . It’s one of those things that musicologists could sit around analyzing for years. In the fall of 1967, when the first Traffic album, “Mr. Fantasy” was recorded.The record’s ambiance is one of mystical sweetness and druggy references that reflect the halcyon days of Britain’s interpretations of the “Summer of Love”, which was coming to a close state side. Songs like “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Heaven Is in Your Mind;, “Paper Sun” and “Coloured Rain”. Miller performed as a percussionist on many of the tracks instilling the roots of Caribbean jazz to reggae beats. He had the most amazing ability to take a group of musicians, rehearse them, get them into the studio and get them so excited about what they were doing and make it all seem so effortless. He really dug the music. At times, he would be like the master of ceremonies.
After the debacle of Stones’ album, “Their Satanic Majesties Request”.. Brian Jones was slipping between the cracks. The single, “Jumpin Jack Flash” was originally released as a single in 1968, and never appeared on “Beggars Banquet”. Trademark elements of Miller’s input are all there in the track.. a thumping groovy backbeat; plenty of energy and layers of percussion while Keith Richards performed the song playing it on an acoustic guitar. As their attempt at psychedelia The Stones pivoted into a remarkable blend of blues, old-style hillbilly music and rock and roll, “Beggars Banquet” was arguably the best album in 1968. Miller’s expertise gave added depth to this landmark album. He chose to record “Street Fighting Man” on a cheap cassette player because the song needed a raw feel to capture its violent political agenda…”Sympathy for the Devil” starts with a samba-like grove that is reinforced with layers of percussion… a perfect blend of dark lyrics and sensuous rhythms. The Stones hired Jimmy, album by album.. and he never knew if he’d be asked back to produce again. He began to dread Jagger’s presence in the control room. He recalled: “Keith would put a guitar solo down and I’d say ‘nice take’ while Mick was saying ‘fucking horrible’.” The job became even more difficult when the group gathered at Keith Richard’s house in France, where the tax-exiles recorded Exile on Main St. in a miserable basement studio. Keith’s descent into heroin addiction and Mick’s frequent absences to join wife, Bianca, in Paris, didn’t make things any easier. It was becoming more and more difficult for Jimmy to control the band and the process. His enthusiasm began to wane, and around this time he, too, began using heroin. Jimmy managed to cobble the album together using some tracks recorded previously and doing the final mix in LA. Despite fans’ love of Exile, it wasn’t a favorite of Jimmy or Jagger. By 1973, Jimmy and the Stones were headed for a fall. ‘Goats Head Soup” was recorded in Jamaica, where several of the group had party homes. Between their disinterest and Jimmy’s own drug use the recording sessions were lackadaisical, if not disastrous. It was Jimmy’s last work for the band. His constant caustic wit had runneth empty.Jimmy Miller soldiered on,continuing to produce fine work across many genres. He produced Overkill and Bomber for Motorhead, Beck Bogert & Appice, and artists Bobby Whitlock, the Plasmatics, Primal Scream and others. Primal Screams’ intent was to have Miller make a song with the same groove vibe as was successfully achieved by the opening song of “Sympathy For The Devil”. But, Jimmy’s heyday was over. He died at the age of 52 from liver failure. Miller has not been inducted into the rock Hall of Fame; though there is an iPetition underway to address this sad omission.