Kenny Chesney’s friendship with Steve Miller began in 2008 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park when the rock veteran made a guest appearance during Chesney’s first stadium concert in the Bay Area.
“That was a lot of fun,” Chesney recalled during an interview with CMT Insider producer Terry Bumgarner. “It was just one of those things where we didn’t really know each other, and once we strapped the guitars on and started singing, we realized we had a lot in common.”
Their friendship continued to grow and led to their collaboration on CMT Crossroads: The Steve Miller Band and Kenny Chesney, the concert series that pairs country musicians with their brothers and sisters from the rock world.
Miller, of course, is best known for leading the Steve Miller Band through a lengthy series of hits in the ’70s and ’80s, including “The Joker,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Jet Airliner,” “Abracadabra” and many others. Those songs remain a staple of classic rock radio, but Miller is continuing his rich musical legacy with the recently-released album, Bingo!
Prior to the CMT Crossroads taping at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Chesney and Miller talked about their musical influences and how all the elements seem to mesh when they perform together. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
CMT Insider: Kenny, at this point, you’ve had the chance to play with several different people you grew up listening to. Is it still a thrill for you?
Chesney: Yeah, and the great thing about Steve is that it’s everything you thought it would be growing up — meeting guy like him. … I was telling him a story earlier on the bus that, as a kid, I remember being in the car with my mom and hearing “Abracadabra” for the first time. I said, “I don’t know what that is, but I love it.” And little did I know that I’d ever meet the guy that sang that song and become friends with him. That’s the great thing about what’s happening in my career. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of guys that really influenced the way we play music onstage and the way I approach making music. He plays guitar a lot better than me, but he plays guitar better than about anybody.
Miller: What I think is funny about all of this is, like, in another 20 years, Kenny’s going to be me. And there is going to be this kid talking to him about how he was driving in the car with his mother and hearing “I Go Back.” … But the really great thing about Kenny is he was so gracious and so hospitable when I came to visit. And that really means a lot. … I’ve been playing since 1956, and I’ve met a lot of people. Meeting somebody who’s hospitable and as gracious as he is as a host, I was just blown over in a heartbeat. And I hope that you get that same kind of treatment later.
Chesney: I hope I do, too!
Miller: When I was watching him over at the stadium, it took me right back to 1976 when we used to play football stadiums. We used to go out and play all these football stadiums. It was the first time people had played them. When I was looking at Kenny’s band, I was going, “Damn, that sounds just like my band in 1976.” He’s got three Les Paul guitars, and he was out there just knocking them out. It really felt good, Kenny.
When the two of you have so many hits and a limited amount of time, how do you decide what you’re going to play?
Miller: Well, he let me pick what I wanted to do, and I let him pick what he wanted to do. And it came together pretty easy. I mean, it just took a second.
Chesney: We wanted to keep the show pace pretty rocking.
Miller: We didn’t want to show our sensitive side.
Chesney: No, we did not. If people are going to come see us, they’d expect a rocking show — and especially if they come to see Steve. We didn’t want to sit. Whatever we picked, we wanted to be in their face.
Miller: I tried to get him to let me do “Down the Road,” but he wouldn’t do that.
Chesney: He loves that song.
Miller: Yeah, everybody loves that song. … And your version is just great. But, still, this is a chance for us to get our two bands together and really have some fun. … I grew up outside of Dallas — if you’ve ever been to Mesquite, Texas — and my upbringing was kind of like blues and country. I used to go to the Big D Jamboree [a country music revue that ran on radio station KRLD in Dallas]. I know who Riley Crabtree is. Those are the people I was watching when I was a little kid — Okie Jones and Riley Crabtree and all of those guys. The Big D Jamboree was on, so country music for me was very familiar. And so for us to be able to get us together like this, man, that’s really cool.
Chesney: The biggest thing for Steve was … he wanted to make sure we had steel guitar all over “The Joker.”
Miller: Oh, yeah. See, I love steel guitar — and I never get to have it.
Chesney: We’re down there doing “The Joker,” and he’s got the steel guitar. I’m like, “Are you crazy? What!?”
Miller: Play some more. … Let’s drag that out and do another solo.
Obviously, you want fans to enjoy the music, but is there anything else you hope they get from this Crossroads episode?
Miller: From my point of view, it’s just to open their minds to all kinds of music because we all tend to get put in little boxes, and we just listen to this or we just listen to that. Really, the truth is it’s much better to be really open and let everybody in. And that’s what this is — a great show. Crossroads is a really good idea, and it’s been beautifully executed. I say no to most television shows just because I really don’t like being on television much. I usually don’t take the time to do it. But here we are at the Ryman, and Kenny’s got his band and is like, “What do you want to do? Are you happy with the sound? Is everything just the way you want it?” And it’s great. It’s a great place to be. And I want everybody to see that and to realize that the key to getting everybody together is music. It really is.
Chesney: Oh, yeah. I just want to reiterate what he said. When people see this, I think that it’s almost genre-less — what he and I are doing up there onstage — because music is music.
Miller: And Kenny’s done a lot of that. He’s worked with a lot of different people and has been really open and has opened up a lot of doors.
Chesney: Well, I just think that people listen to music differently now than they maybe did years ago. I don’t know, I just think there’s so many outlets now for music. … I channel surf in the car. I mean, I listened to everybody growing up. I listened to him, Bruce Springsteen, Conway Twitty. I listened to George Strait. I listened to so many different people … these great singer-songwriters, Willie Nelson and Steve Goodman.
Miller: That’s a good list of them.
Chesney: So I think Steve and I share a similar audience that just loves feel-good music, and I think that’s what they’re going to get.