Scott Miller has an unabashed love for old-timey tunes written in this region.
“I embrace the heritage of local songs and music. That’s where I’m from,” Miller said.
Both a performing musician and a music educator, Miller chuckles as he remembers his genuine introduction to the world of bluegrass and old-time string band music.
“It was the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies. I don’t know how old I was,” he said, explaining the song sent him in pursuit of fiddle tunes while others his age were listening to the rock band Kiss or tuned in to WKEE radio.
He got his hands on his first guitar, a Harmony, while in 7th Grade and he studied with Herb Rose, who worked at Armco.
“I remember thinking when my mom picked me up from that first lesson, ‘That guy plays guitar and people pay him to do it. I think I want to do that.”
Miller continued guitar studies with Dennis Dobbs, and also put himself to work digging trees at a nursery to earn money for a new guitar. As he entered high school, he paid $850 for a Martin D-28. Joe Dobbs soon introduced him to members of the Appalachian Old Time Fiddlers Association, “and we were always jamming at Vince Jarrell’s house. We had a book called ‘1,000 Fiddle Tunes’ and we started on Page One.”
Around 1981, Miller said he and Jarrell had their first paying gig – a political rally. “I made $50 and at that point I said, Yep. That’s it.”
Miller began teaching others how to play when he was 14, when he also began doing well in various guitar competitions. He eventually earned a scholarship to study music at Morehead State University. Somewhere along the way, he met Dan Kelly “who was pivotal for my career,” he said.
Miller and Kelly (who recently passed away), competed in fiddle contests “from Maryland to Arkansas,” with Miller on guitar and Kelly on fiddle.
“Dan usually won,” he said, noting their success in that scene resulted in them getting their own show at Silver Dollar City (now Dollywood). “Roy Acuff told Dan to move to Nashville.”
Miller wound up in Texas “playing with the best fiddlers in America – people who went on to play with some of the biggest names in country music,” although he remained a guitarist.
“I didn’t play fiddle because I was too old and could never catch up,” he said with a grin.
Miller has worked many non-music jobs (brain-tanning buckskins, tending to plants in shopping malls, , growing tobacco, industrial sales) through the years, although he continued to teach music. He also continued to study, learning old-time banjo from a man in West Virginia. He traded a mandolin for his first hammered dulcimer, an instrument which many now directly associate with him.
“I also began to realize that music from our area is famous around the world,” he said, citing Australian fiddlers who still study the ways of local fiddle legend Ed Haley, who wrote one of Miller’s personal favorite songs called “Catlettsburg”.
“I like to focus on music from the Big Sandy region – Southeast Ohio, Northeast Kentucky and Southern West Virginia,” he said, his passion for the subject readily apparent.
Working with fellow musician Jim Wood, Miller recently released “The Mountain Frontier Trilogy” – a collection which includes gospel and Christmas music.
“When the records hit the stores, the lockdown happened,” he said, adding the CDs remain available online, as well as at Grayson’s Antiques N Uniques at 602 Carol Malone Boulevard.
He also continues to teach music in Ashland, where he offers lesson for acoustic guitar (“But I don’t do electric guitar.”), old-time banjo, hammered dulcimer and fiddle.
“I have openings – especially for fiddle students,” he said, citing his own passion for helping others learn to play.
“I’m a good player, but I’m a really good teacher.”
Music lovers also have a chance to hear Miller and multi-instrumentalist Scott Rucker perform during weekly “Appalachian Music Night” performances at Blazer’s restaurant.
Scott Miller can be reached by telephone at 615.516.2922.