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HSBG Preview: Ben Miller Band 

Wednesday, Sep 30 2015

The Ben Miller Band hits the stage with the force of a tidal wave. An enormous tsunami of rhythm and noise is driven by Miller's clattering banjo, Scott Leeper's powerful washtub bass — and the ripping, ringing tones of Doug Dicharry's electric spoons.

Jug bands and backporch blues combos have tapped spoons together to produce a counterpoint to a song's steady rhythm before, but none have taken the unique sound as far as Dicharry.

"I tape the spoons to wine corks that have a pickup in them," Dicharry explains. "I run that through an amp with a couple of flanges and effects pedals. It gives me a lot of different sounds to play with."

Dicharry also plays drum kit, kick drum, washboard, djembe, and assorted percussion toys that help the trio generate the band's loud, thumping beat, a sound they've dubbed "Ozark Stomp." Dicharry explains: "We live in Joplin, Missouri, right in the middle of the country. We're not east, west, north, or south, so we catch a lot of the styles from all over the U.S. as they pass through. You'll hear Dixieland jazz in my washboard, a lonesome Appalachian howl in Ben's banjo, and weird jug band thrumming in Scott's washtub bass.

"We didn't have much money when we started, so we got used to building our own instruments and inventing new ways to use them. We start with something old and keep messing with it until we have a new sound. We're willing to make sounds with anything we find." The band may look like they're sitting in the middle of a junkyard when they set up, but they produce a joyful racket with their collection of homemade instruments. "The music dances around a hard, four on the floor rock'n'roll beat. It's prime foot-stomping music. It's easy for everybody in the crowd to find the one and that creates a rompin', stompin' good time."

The band's thumping backbeat is the hallmark of the music it makes on its recent New West album, Any Way, Shape or Form. "We went into the studio and set up like a band playing a live show. It's raw, without much overdubbing, just three guys in a room. We did the songs over and over until we had 'em sounding good. Being on a real label equals time and money so you're able to relax in the studio and make music the way we like to do it."

Formed 10 years ago, the band developed its brand of uncontained high energy shows at residencies in small Missouri bars. "I've been playing trombone and drums in bands since I was in high school," Dicharry says. "I had a friend call me up and tell me I should go sit in with this guy who was hosting a local open mic. It was Ben. I sat in and we hit it off. We moved in together and landed a weekly gig on every day of the week, playing folk, blues, rock and what have you for 50 bucks a night and free drinks. One night, Scott showed up with his washtub bass and we became a trio. He still had a day job, so we only played weekends at first, but we did so well he quit his job and we started working every night."

The first Ben Miller Band album was a burned CDR the group sold off the edge of the stage. With magic marker they wrote, "To hire the Ben Miller Band call ..." with Dicharry's phone number. "It also said, 'Do not call before 3:00 p.m.,' because "we all slept in." The trio booked, managed, and publicized itself until Suretone Management, who handle ZZ Top, saw the group at SXSW two years ago.

"Two years ago, they put us in a tour opening for ZZ Top along with two other acts. The other acts had to drop out, so it was just us and ZZ Top. We got to play a 45-minute opening set every night. [ZZ Top guitarist] Billy Gibbons loved our sound and took us under his wing. We've done five American and European tours with them since then. The way it usually works is you play to 10 or 20 people in a bar you've never heard of in a new town every night. If you're lucky, they bring a few friends to the gig the next time you're in town and it slowly builds. With ZZ we were playing for 8,000 people a night and it's been monumental in getting our name out and getting us better gigs. That's the main reason we got asked to play Hardly Strictly and I'm blown away that we're actually going to be playing this festival."

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J. Poet


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