Miles Davis Opens for Neil Young and “That Sorry-Ass Cat” Steve Miller at The Fillmore East (1970)

in Music | May 1st, 2015

miles fillmore east

The story, the many stories, of Miles Davis as an opening act for several rock bands in the 1970s make for fascinating reading. Before he blew the Grateful Dead’s minds as their opening act at the Fillmore West in April 1970 (hear both bands’ sets here), Davis and his all-star Quintet—billed as an “Extra Added Attraction”—did a couple nights at the Fillmore East, opening for Neil Young and Crazy Horse and The Steve Miller Band in March of 1970. The combination of Young and Davis actually seems to have been rather unremarkable, but there is a lot to say about where the two artists were individually.

Nate Chinen in at Length describes their meeting as a “minimum orbit intersection distance”—the “closest point of contact between the paths of two orbiting systems.” Both artists were “in the thrall of reinvention,” Young moving away from the smoothness of CSNY and into free-form anti-virtuosity with Crazy Horse; Davis toward virtuosity turned back into the blues. Miles, suggested jazz writer Greg Tate, was “bored fiddling with quantum mechanics and just wanted to play the blues again.” The story of Davis and Young at the Fillmore East is best told by listening to the music both were making at the time. Hear “Cinnamon Girl” below and the rest of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s incredible set here. The band had just released their beautifully ragged Everybody Knows this is Nowhere.

When it comes to the meeting of Davis and Steve Miller, the story gets juicier, and much more Miles: the difficult performer, not the impossibly cool musician. (It sometimes seems like the word “difficult” was invented to describe Miles Davis.) The trumpeter’s well-earned egotism lends his legacy a kind of rakish charm, but I don’t relish the positions of those record company executives and promoters who had to wrangle him, though many of them were less than charming individuals themselves. Columbia Records’ Clive Davis, who does not have a reputation as a pushover, sounds alarmed in his recollection of Miles’ reaction after he forced the trumpeter to play the Fillmore dates to market psychedelic jazz-funk masterpiece Bitches Brew to white audiences.

According to John Glatt, Davis remembers that Miles “went nuts. He told me he had no interest in playing for ‘those fu*king long-haired kids.’” Particularly offended by The Steve Miller Band, Davis refused to arrive on time to open for an artist he deemed “a sorry-ass cat,” forcing Miller to go on before him. “Steve Miller didn’t have his shit going for him,” remembers Davis in his expletive-filled autobiography, “so I’m pissed because I got to open for this non-playing motherfu*ker just because he had one or two sorry-ass records out. So I would come late and he would have to go on first and then when we got there, we smoked the motherfu*king place, and everybody dug it.” There is no doubt Davis and Quintet smoked. Hear them do “Directions” above from an Early Show on March 6, 1970.

“Directions,” from unreleased tapes, is as raw as they come, “the intensity,” writes music blog Willard’s Wormholes, “of a band that sounds like they were playing at the The Fillmore to prove something to somebody… and did.” The next night’s performances were released in 2001 as It’s About That Time. Hear the title track above from March 7th. As for The Steve Miller Blues Band? We have audio of their performance from that night as well. Hear it below. It’s inherently an unfair comparison between the two bands, not least because of the vast difference in audio quality. But as for whether or not they sound like “sorry-ass cats”… well, you decide.

Related Content:

The Night When Miles Davis Opened for the Grateful Dead in 1970: Hear the Complete Recordings

Miles Davis’ Entire Discography Presented in a Stylish Interactive Visualization

Bill Graham’s Concert Vault: From Miles Davis to Bob Marley

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)

  1. Bob Ryan says . . .
    May 2, 2015 / 11:42 pm

    “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” actually PRECEEDED Young’s work with CSNY. So it wasn’t him veering away from the “Smoothness” of that band (which, from the get-go with Young was much less than smooth.) The reality is that “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” WAS a veering away from the meticulous overdubs and studio arrangements of Neil’s eponymously-titled first solo album and into something much more minimalist, live-sounding and spontaneous.

    Good premise, but your timeline is wrong.

  2. popejohn says . . .
    May 7, 2015 / 3:22 pm

    you Are correct Bob thogh in
    all fairness (to Neil) the rest was spot on and positive

  3. Lerg says . . .
    June 30, 2015 / 11:19 am

    In this day and age of awful music I’d easily go see any of the groups, including Steve Miller, who’s music is pretty compelling for rock. The Neil Young show from this night is classic, featuring Whitten on guitar. But when I played the Miles show from these nights recently I just about fell out of my chair. This show with Wayne Shorter on sax, just before he would quit, sounds like him getting any and all else he had left in him out before he would retire for a couple years until VSOP.

    Not to mention how explosive the psychedelic Bitches Brew/In a Silent Way stuff is with these short, rocky 10 minute interpretations. It’s basically the Lost Quintet with Airto on percussion full into the Bitches stuff.

    One wonders if Neil wasn’t trying to at least follow up the craziness when he went on, or if Miles was pushing him to new heights on stage on those nights. I’m not sure Steve Miller would have fit that bill.

    Also Miles talking about this in his autobiography is one of the most hilarious things in the book. And there’s a reason people shell out the bucks for everything Miles Davis recorded and no one’s paying attention to Steve Miller bootlegs/lost recordings. As chill as he was.

    In a better world both Neil Young and Steve Miller should have been opening for Miles Davis who had by that point changed mostly everything and had been playing since with Charlie Parker in the 40s.

  4. tjsk says . . .
    February 18, 2016 / 2:21 am

    Never liked Neil Young, the godfather of grunge. Just not my flavor. Steve Miller in the late 70’s was one of the greatest concerts I ever saw. 5 encores, 2 after the lights had been turned on (“Rock’n Me” was his current hit, and he had already played it on a previous encore.) They came back onstage twice, turned the lights off, and played again. Nobody was leaving.
    Not into Miles Davis, but starting to listen to his music, per my guitar teacher’s guidance, to expand my musical palette. Reminds me of early experimental progressive rock of Pink Floyd and Yes. I think I need to listen to Miles a bit more.

  5. Harry B says . . .
    April 13, 2016 / 2:51 pm

    Comparing Miles to Miller is unfair. Miller’s and his band were simply awful and embarrassing. Miles and his players, on the other hand, were mind-blowing. Absolutely unforgettable.

  6. Toad says . . .
    April 23, 2016 / 8:24 pm

    This is a fun post. I’ve often quoted that line from Miles’s autobiography about Steve Miller as a “non-playing motherf**ker” (wouldn’t usually do the asterisks, but the post used them and I’m a guest here), but I never thought to seek out the audio from the gig.

    Miles’s autobiography is hilarious–such a wrong guy in so many ways, but so disciplined, tasteful and thoughtful in his music.

  7. Rick says . . .
    August 5, 2016 / 2:46 pm

    I can totally see where Miles is coming from concerning Steve Miller. Every time one of his songs plays on the radio I have the urge to vomit. His music is so lame and overplayed. It’s essentially everything I hate about dad/classic rock radio.

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