By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Buddy Miller, an Air Force brat, was born outside of Dayton, Ohio, and eventually landed in Princeton, New Jersey, where a burgeoning Northeastern bluegrass scene allowed him to indulge his taste for Ralph Stanley, playing rhythm guitar and upright bass as a teen with musicians far older than he. His migratory life continued in the early 1970s, passing through upstate New York, Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Berkshire Mountains in a hippie country band traveling in an old school bus. Miller followed the left-wing country trail to Austin in 1975, where he met Julie when he "auditioned for this band, and Julie was the chick singer. The group did a lot of Gram Parsons and John Prine songs. It's funny," Buddy muses, "because it's a lot of the same songs I'm playing today [with Harris]. Julie told them not to hire me, because she was 16 or so, and she wanted to appear discriminating. But they hired me anyway, and we became pals."
They later became an item and moved to New York City in the wake of the Urban Cowboy scare, where The Buddy Miller Band was a regular weekend attraction at Manhattan's thriving Greenwich Village Texas outpost, The Lone Star Cafe. During that time, Buddy also played with Friedman (who, it should be noted, still needs to name check his friend Miller in one of his detective books). When Julie left New York in a bout of spiritual fervor, Buddy recruited Colvin, whom he knew from Austin, to take Julie's place. Yet the couple's bond was strong enough to induce Buddy to follow Julie to a California Christian commune, both giving up music in an effort to find their spiritual comfort zone. When they ultimately turned back from that dead end for another stab at music in Los Angeles, the Millers landed among a community of artistically like-minded folks like Williams, Lauderdale, guitarist and producer Gurf Morlix, and the late Donald Lindley, longtime drummer for Williams.
It was Julie who first began recording her own albums, making a number of records for the Christian market. She's also the main songwriter of the two, a gift that followed her final conversion, which came thanks to "an Emmylou song, a Bob Dylan record, [and] a book about this Jewish guy behind the Iron Curtain who became a believer. It was basically those three things, plus a Bible," she explains. "Suddenly, I just started writing songs. It came about because I had all these feelings just coming out. I didn't care if it was a good song or a bad song, because it wasn't for that reason. It was for my own expression, just sitting by myself. It was like God had set me free from being 'good enough' and anything like that. I suddenly felt like, if it's good enough for him, who cares?"
Her writing is certainly good enough for her husband, who confesses that he had only snippets of songs before HighTone offered him the chance to make a record in the early 1990s. "The deal came along, and they asked me if I had any songs, and I just said, sure, and then we sat down and finished them," he recalls. "Julie is actually much more of a writer than me. I bring in a small piece of a song, and then I beg her to finish it. And then, when she doesn't have any time left, I just beg Lauderdale." HighTone also signed Julie after hearing her previous releases, affording the singer a forum outside the contemporary Christian music industry, which Buddy says can be "sometimes even worse than the rock-and-roll business. The gospel people didn't really get her. She was a little outside for them."
The Millers might also seem far outside the current commercial lockstep in Nashville. But as their albums started catching the ears of loyalists to the true country cross, Buddy also picked up gigs playing with Earle and Harris, whose recent live album Spyboy he produced. "The first thing we did at the very first rehearsal was, she came in and said, 'I think I want to do "Love Hurts." I haven't done that song in a while.' That was the first thing we sang together after I got the gig. From that point on, I'd be happy to be paying her to play. It's a dream gig." And by now, all of the couple's activities seem to be blessed. Buddy gets to moan over heartbreak and howl about love on his latest CD, Cruel Moon. Julie's second HighTone release, Broken Things, is equal parts spiritual uplift and comforting balm for those troubled or damaged by the sometimes cruel existence of this temporal realm.
Even though both consider themselves committed Christians, they exist apart from organized religion, which has often driven people away from God as much as drawn them closer. "Isn't that the truth!" exclaims Julie, who grew up a Texas Baptist. "In my family, even though we went to church, we never talked about it. It was crazy-making, really, to hear the things that were taught at church, or reading from the Bible, or singing these very serious songs, and no one paid the slightest bit of attention to it. It was so bizarre." Instead, she professes a sort of agnostic one-on-one relationship with the almighty. And both of the Millers shy away from anything even vaguely resembling evangelism.