Robert Miller, leader of his rock/jazz/latin ensemble Project Grand Slam, came up with a brilliant idea: He started a podcast that begins and ends with a track from one of PGS’s 7 albums – including tracks from their #1 Billboard jazz album Trippin’.
While the podcast concept has certainly been replicated last year numerous times, no one else could program music that they created. Starting the series (Follow Your Dream) with radio-personality Bruce Morrow as Miller’s first guest, its gained instant notoriety for Miller’s variety of guests and for his intimate knowledge of music.
Musicians follow it, consumers too. We spoke with Miller online to investigate the behind the scenes details of the broadcast; and, we also touch on his first solo album Summer of Love 2020 (released last year) and his forthcoming solo-album #2: Miller Rocks.
Q: Tell us the reason behind the start-up of Follow Your Dream
A: “There were three reasons why I started the podcast. First, I realized that I had a totally unique music story in that I finally followed my youthful dream and became a Rock Star in my 60’s – an age when most Baby Boomers are planning their retirement – and I succeeded in an industry that is focused on youth. I’m living proof that you’re never too old, and it’s never too late, to follow your dream. Second, I felt that my story could inspire and motivate others to pursue and succeed at their dream. Everyone has a dream, but most people never wind up following their dream because life tends to get in the way. Third, I wanted another platform, with greater fan engagement, to introduce my music – which is the manifestation of my dream.”
Q: Your first guest was Bruce Morrow – Cousin Brucie- and it was a great interview. Tell us how you both first met?
A: “I first met Bruce years ago when I co-owned a record label called 32 Records. We had just bought the music rights to Tom Jones’ television show and wanted to promote it. So, I came up with the idea of doing a Tom Jones Impersonation Contest, and I hired Bruce to MC it. Bruce was great, and the guy who won the contest was so good and looked and sounded so much like Tom Jones that he just might have been the real Tom Jones! “
“Bruce’s podcast interview was just wonderful. He was the Superstar of AM radio in NYC in the 1960’s. I mean, he introduced The Beatles at Shea Stadium! And he talked about this, about being at the center of Beatlemania, about his 50-year career in radio from AM to FM to Sirius/XM and now back to AM. And along the way I asked him about that famous theme song of his recorded by The Four Seasons – and just for fun I played the song underneath his explanation. Just a great, entertaining guest!”
Q: And, your follow-up guests have been?
A: “They include Mindi Abair, two time GRAMMY nominated saxophonist, who spoke about her being “discovered” by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith when she was backing a vocalist on American Idol and then going on tour with Aerosmith; Michael “Eppy” Epstein, Founder of My Father’s Place, the legendary Long Island rock club that launched the careers of Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Billy Joel, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin and Billy Crystal to name just a few; and George Schweitzer, who was CBS Head Of Marketing for 30 years and intimately involved in the transition of television from over-the-air to the Internet.”
Q: In the middle of this pandemic, you released your first solo album, Summer of Love 2020, which we loved. Tell us how you recorded it with so much being shut down?
A: “When the pandemic struck musicians were among the hardest hit. All of a sudden, we couldn’t play live anymore. Our last live gig was February 11, 2020. Luckily, we had just finished our last PGS album, East Side Sessions, which we intended to promote with live gigs. But without that ability I decided that the next best thing was to release some videos of songs from that album. So, we did four videos – the first two were Zoom type videos with everyone stuck in their little box in the frame and us all lip syncing and lip playing to the song. The next one we got more creative and made an animated video of my re-imagined version of The Beatles’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. The last one was even more daring, as we set this Country Jazz song I wrote called ‘The Pardners’ to a 1968 Spaghetti Western movie that fit. All in all, these four videos were very successful and had about 1 million views.”
“But I kept writing songs, without any way to play them with the band. Finally, I decided to begin recording them remotely, at first using my iPhone (are you listening Apple?)! Slowly we began assembling the songs instrument by instrument. When it came to singing them, though, I decided that the songs were all so personal that I just had to sing them. This was a big decision for me because up until them I had only sung harmony and background. But the two themes of the songs were the effect of the pandemic on me and the world, and also the idea that love was the emotion that would get us through the pandemic. I’m pleased to say that the critics all loved the album.”
Q: And, I’ve heard you’re working on another solo recording?
A: “Yes, I wrote 10 new songs over the last several months, and like the last album, began recording them remotely. This time I found that the songs were moving more towards my rock side. I had started out as a composer in contemporary instrumental jazz. I then began incorporating more and more vocal songs into my repertoire, for two reasons. First, because my wife convinced me that people love vocals, and second, because I had a wonderful singer in the band. And I added in the variety that I love in my music, which includes rock, jazz, Latin, ballads, wordless vocals, etc.”
“The new album is finished and ready to greet the world. I named it ‘Miller Rocks’. 10 songs that continue the variety that I love and am known for. I even threw in one song for my grand-kids, called ‘To The Zoo!’, kind of an update to Paul Simon’s great song, ‘At The Zoo”. I’m very excited about this album and I’m planning to roll it out in a totally different way via my podcast – one song each week as part of the intro to my podcast. Telling people a bit about the song, letting them hear about 30 seconds of it, and directing them to my podcast and music sites to hear the entire song.”
Q: I love how you start and end the podcast with one of your recordings. That’s a terrific idea. And, the listeners can go to your site and buy the record, right?
A: “As I said earlier, my music is the manifestation of my dream. So, I felt that it was perfectly appropriate to work my music into the podcast. And I decided to do this by choosing a different one of my songs for each episode based on the guest for that episode, playing a bit under the introduction, and then the whole song at the end. It’s like two bookends to each episode. And yes, people can go listen to the song or buy it if they like.”
Q: Your representative told me Project Grand Slam is booked for a jazz festival in June? Tell us about that.
A: “Our first post-Covid gig! We’ve been asked to perform again at MusikFest in Bethlehem, PA on June 27th. This is a really neat festival that takes place against the backdrop of an old abandoned steel mill, with stacks going 100 feet into the air. It’s quite spectacular! We played MusikFest in 2019 and were scheduled to play it in 2020. I’m also hoping that Europe clears up as there are several festivals and a tour that we were supposed to do in 2020 that could reemerge in 2021.”
Q: This pandemic has devastated the industry; what are your thoughts on going forward? Obviously, things will get back to normal … but, it will take some time.
A: “Music is one of the keys to life. It will never go away. Everyone is itching to get back in the saddle again so to speak. The virus will let us know when that’s possible.”
Q: If you could get three guests of your choosing for the podcast, who would they be?
A: “Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and my father. The first two are obvious. I grew up on the British Invasion bands so McCartney would be at the top of my list and, as you know, Clapton is God (or so they said in London!). My dad was a musician and got me into music. He passed away over 30 years ago. I think he would be quite proud of what I’ve done.”
(photos: Follow Your Dream logo and Project Grand Slam at My Father’s Place photo by John Wisdom)