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

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 (15)
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  • Bob Ryan says:

    “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.

  • popejohn says:

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

  • Lerg says:

    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.

  • tjsk says:

    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.

  • Harry B says:

    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.

  • Toad says:

    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.

  • Rick says:

    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.

  • Salvador Perez says:

    I saw them both at dif­fer­ent times miles ahead wayyyyyyy ahead.

  • Ram Alamaman says:

    Miller Blues Band (w or w/o Boz Scaggs) was a potent act in the mid-to-late 60s. Guess you have nev­er lis­tened to Sailor„„,

  • Brad says:

    Sit­ting lis­ten­ing to Miles’ set right now and found this sto­ry. Great stuff, thanks.

  • Stampede says:

    The polite applause at the end of Mile’s tune (above) tells you all you need to know.

  • Nichola Soter says:

    I was at this show at the Fill­more, sec­ond night. Steve Miller came on first, and told the audi­ence that he could not fol­low the great Miles Davis. So he opened, played well, and Miles played sec­ond, Neil Young last. It was a mind-blow­ing show. I got Bitch­es Brew and all of Miles’ albums after that. Neil Young was fan­tas­tic too. I used to go to the Fill­more East reg­u­lar­ly back in those days, saw some amaz­ing shows there. But Miles was incred­i­ble.

  • Charles Winokoor says:

    Regard­less of opin­ion, why would M. Davis con­sid­er Steve Miller to be a sad so and so unless he had tak­en the time to lis­ten to one of his albums?
    Miller always had a good voice, but from what we hear from this record­ing it’s clear that he should have had a piano play­er at the Fill­more.
    “Kow Kow” is a mem­o­rable song as record­ed for the “Brave New World” album, but it sounds pret­ty dread­ful here.
    And the less said about his ver­sion of “Stormy Mon­day” the bet­ter, espe­cial­ly when you com­pare it to the All­man Broth­ers a year or so lat­er.
    So maybe Miles was right, but I’d still like to know how he formed his opin­ion.

  • Patrick Julien says:

    Neil Young is one of the Greats not just a fan­tas­tic writer of music but in my opin­ion tru­ly one hell of a gui­tar play­er. Neil and I are the same age and I have been for­tu­nate to lis­ten to all of his music to be able to lis­ten to his music for a long time

  • Patrick Julien says:

    Neil Young is one of the Greats not just a fan­tas­tic writer of music but in my opin­ion tru­ly one hell of a gui­tar play­er. Neil and I are the same age and I have been for­tu­nate to lis­ten to all of his music

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