Keyboard player Jim Peterman continues to talk to Nick Warburton about his time with The Steve Miller Band and recording the landmark albums, Children of The Future and Sailor.
Q) I must ask you about the Children of The Future sessions. It’s a really fascinating album. The first side feels like it was put together very much in the studio while the second side sounds more reflective of your live act. Would that be a fair assessment?
Exactly right. That connecting [between the tracks on the first side]; that was Steve’s concept. We all got in on it. I thought that was a really good piece of work.
Q) You had a really big part in co-writing with Steve the track – ‘In My First Mind’. Your mellotron work on there is sublime.
Well thank you. Those [keyboard] changes were something that had come to me about a month or so before we were in London. I’ve never been much of a writer but I am good at embellishing what somebody else has got. That’s my strength, I’d say. I played these interesting changes for “In My First Mind” at one of the down times in the sessions and Steve got really excited about that. I thought the mellotron was way cool as an instrument.
Q) Were there any session leftovers that didn’t make it on to the album?
I think there was one but I can’t remember what it was. There was one, maybe even two. They would have been bluesier I think and probably didn’t get finished off. I think we had a group decision to see where we were with stuff. How did we feel about stuff? I don’t think it was anything that was finished that got left off.
Q) It sounds like as a band you had a good working relationship with Glyn Johns?
Oh yeah. One he was a rock star and very much the rock star. He was very easy going and very casual. All very British. We talked about it before we went [to England] and we didn’t want someone to make [the album] what they thought it should sound like. We wanted to make sure that we were keeping the reins but that Glyn would be welcome to be a part of it and that got established pretty easily. We had a couple of things along the way where he had to straighten us out. We were wasting some time. He was very diplomatic. Then his brother Andy got involved, just helping with technical stuff. We met him and liked him. He was way cool. It was a very productive time.
One of the coolest things about those sessions [at Olympic], aside from that, was that Joe Cocker was doing “With A Little Help From My Friends” in studio B. It was Jimmy Page [on guitar]; I didn’t know who he was. These guys are in there and I think he was doing vocals the two times I was in there. God it was just delightful. Joe Cocker had these really tall cans of beer and he was on the stool doing the vocal takes and he swayed about as much on the stool as when he stands up. We were all taking bets on whether he could make it through the session without falling on his ear. What a singer! He sounded a lot like Ray Charles.
Q) By the sounds of it there doesn’t seem to have been much tension in the band when you were doing Children of The Future but when you came to do Sailor it became clear to you and Boz especially that you wouldn’t be staying in the group much longer. Is that right?
I think so. It became business and not friends in a band anymore. People were just putting up with Steve. There wasn’t much confrontation. I’m not one for confrontation. But the fun that we had for the first album just wasn’t there for the second. I think the music was as strong. But it didn’t have that little personality to it that the first one had to it. I think that was gone by that time.
Q) Tell me about your song “Lucky Man” because you contributed that to the second album.
I wrote it when I was there [in the studio]. It was at Wally Heider’s in Los Angeles. I just woke up and decided that if I was going to have a song, and everyone else is having a song… I’d never been a writer but I got the lick, that piano rhythm riff sort of thing and then put the lyrics together. I never thought it was a strong song and it was nice that it got on [the album] because it was my song.
Stephen Stills was doing his solo album at that time. There was an organ in there and I asked whose that was and they said it was Stephen Stills’s and he was working on his album. We had seen him with Buffalo Springfield right before that.
We stayed for part of that [Sailor album session] at the Chateau Marmont. It was kind of on the skids at that point so it wasn’t a high dollar deal. We had some money at that point. We were rising pop stars after all! Then we rented somewhere up in the hills for the rest of it. We came down in two different sessions to do it [the album] more or less; maybe a week one time and a week another time.
Q) I read somewhere that Boz recorded his parts separately to Steve. Is that correct or did you all record at the same time as a band?
That makes me think of something. It’s interesting because I really just forgot about some stuff. Actually, there are maybe two or three songs I think – my song “Lucky Man”, Boz’s “Dime a Dance Romance”; at least one of his or maybe even both…there was some time when we were recording without Steve there because we felt stronger about playing it without him being there. You know, his being there would change our songs because of him wanting to be directive. We were having fun just the four of us together and we weren’t having fun with Steve. I think we did do two or three or four songs without Steve and I don’t remember how that got orchestrated to not offend someone or maybe we didn’t care at that point. Steve added his parts on later.
Q) Did Boz leave before you or was it at the same time?
No, it was about the same time. He stayed in San Francisco and I went back to the Midwest. I had a baby in August 1968 and that’s where we felt we were going to be comfortable.
Q) I do believe that you auditioned for HP Lovecraft to replace Dave Michaels?
Yes, that’s right. There were three people involved. The band had kind of broken up or was restructuring. I think they were revamping their sound. The keyboard player [Dave Michaels] had left and I think somebody else had left. We got together and we played. It went well but in my mind I was feeling I really needed to go back to the Midwest.
Q) What did you do when you returned to the Midwest?
I got a factory job, which I’d never had in my life. I had a family and no income. Bobby Womack called and offered me a job to go out with his touring band and god I was excited about it but I could just see at that point with my family… I mean this is a really young wife and a really young mother. I turned it down because I just felt it would have been too fragile a time in our marriage to do that. But I was just flattered. He fitted musically exactly what I would have loved to have been playing. A friend of mine, Gary Karp from Madison, Wisconsin, took the gig and just had the greatest time. I think he was with him for two years and went to Europe.
Q) You then got the job with Elektra Records as an A&R man?
I put some things together that I had done in local studios with some groups that I had found that I felt were doing good stuff. I went to New York and [met] Jac Holzman [who] had listened to this stuff before I had come up. I came in the office and was really nervous and he said, ‘Well I listened to your stuff and I sure wouldn’t give you a job on the strength of that’. I thought, ‘Here’s goes that, the guy’s being nice’ but then he said, ‘There’s something about you that I think would be good’, which was very flattering. That was the start of my thing with Elektra Records. It was great money and a lot of flexibility.
They sent my wife and I to the Cincinnati area. I think they had hired Lonnie Mack as an artist shortly before that. Russ Miller, the fella that produced his record, was sure that there was just a hotbed of talent there, so they had me move there to work as a talent scout, you know find groups, bring them in to the studio. They wanted me to move to Los Angeles and my wife and I decided that we didn’t really want to do that, so I was without a job. I was farming at the time. I also worked at a music store and taught piano and I don’t read. I would stay one week ahead of my student. We were there about two and a half years.
Q) It was about this time, I guess 1971-1972, that you reunited with James ‘Curly’ Cooke?
That’s when Curly came back into my life. Curly and I had a band together for about three years – The Watermelon Band. That was a really strong band. He stayed on in California for about a year and a half I think after I came back to the Midwest. [Curly] and I hooked up in a farm down in Indiana. Curly came there and we lived together for about half a year. We were writing songs together; that was a fertile time. Then we decided to move back up to Wisconsin and we started this band.
Tim Davis, after he finally left Steve, came back to Wisconsin and he joined that group. The drummer we had was really strong so Tim played congas and sang. The piano player Ben Sidran [also] played in that band on and off. That was at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Q) Jim, tell me what you have been up to since then? I understand you did sessions with Ben Sidran and currently perform with The Shane Pruitt Band?
Ben and Judy Sidran are godparents to my daughter. I played on Ben’s first album, recorded at Full Compass Sound in Madison, Wisconsin. Phil Upchurch, a session player at Chess Records, was also on that album. Ben and I enjoy getting together when I am back in Madison.
I have been living in North Carolina since 1995. I got divorced six years ago and the Shane Pruitt Band got started about that time. Shane and I, and a drummer and a bass player, had a little group together. The clubs that we played at would lock the doors if you wanted to keep playing. The bass player did not want to stay so it was just the three of us and I played bass on the organ. That was the way that The Shane Pruitt Band started. We did a couple of gigs, it was a good sound, and I was learning how to play the bass on the organ! We’ve started using a bass player in the last nine months.
The first two CDs we did – The Shane Pruitt Band and State of Grace – were just the three of us. We are getting around. We have a manager finally and we’ve started getting into the festival scene. There’s one called the “Gathering of the Vibe” up in New York, which is the first festival gig we’ll play in 2012. We’ll have a live CD out in the spring.
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I’ve also got a band that’s just a project of mine. They are called The JPQ. It’s got Hammond organ, guitar, drums and sax. It’s more rhythm and blues stuff than The Shane Pruitt Band. It’s also funky jazz and is quite popular in the area right where I am living. It’s got the old Hammond sound. It’s a real nice change for me. It’s a different feel [to The Shane Pruitt Band]. It’s nice to exercise the different parts of your musical taste. I also get to sing more!
Thanks Jim for giving up your time to answer my questions.
Nick Warburton is a UK-based freelance writer, who has written for Shindig, Record Collector, the Garage Hangover website, Vernon Joynson’s book series and Richard Morton Jack’s new book, Endless Trip.
Copyright © Jim Peterman and Nick Warburton, 2012. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without permission from the authors.