Dallas-bred musician Steve Miller has spent half a century being “The Joker.”
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Steve Miller Band’s eighth studio album The Joker, and its title track, which helped catapult the Milwaukee-born and Dallas-raised Miller into the top tier of rock stardom in the mid-1970s, and kicked off a chart-topping run that stretched for the better part of a decade.
To mark the occasion, Miller has overseen a lavish box set titled J50: The Evolution of The Joker, which brings fans inside his creative process, and documents how the hit single changed shape from early four-track, hotel room recordings through to the finished product.
The two-disc, three-LP or digital download set features 27 previously unreleased recordings from Miller’s own archives, as well as audio commentary from Miller and liner notes from Miller and music journalist Anthony DeCurtis.
“After each concert, I would haul the recorder back to my hotel room and work on new songs using those bits and pieces of ideas I came up with on the road,” the now 80-year-old Miller wrote in a lengthy essay accompanying the J50 box set. “Some of the ideas made it into the show and some made it all the way to the album. … The last album on my contract with Capitol was due for release in October 1973. All my ideas for an album were coming into focus; it just wasn’t being called The Joker yet.”
The box set features what Miller describes as “The Joker Suite,” a collection of pieces that illustrate how the song first came to him, and how, through a steady process of refinement, became the number one hit single beloved by millions.
“The most important rule that every kid out there who wants to make a record should remember is: When you go into the studio, be ready to do the whole performance the first time you do it, because that’s going to be the best time you do it,” Miller said in a statement. “The whole thing is to capture the first performance. That’s a lot of what The Joker’s about. It was all first takes, and first takes are always better than perfect takes.”
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: The Joker was Miller’s inaugural platinum album, ultimately being certified platinum a total of five times. To date, Miller’s catalog has racked up more than 75 million units sold, and his songs have been amassed, collectively, a staggering five billion streams.
Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on X (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.