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Bill Miller
 
 
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It is the dream, it is the vision. It is the dance, it is the song I will sing for my Creator...

December 29, 1890, Wounded Knee, South Dakota.The sound of Hotchkiss gunfire echoes on the cold winter wind, punctuating the cries of 200 men, women and children of the Ghostdance religious movement. In minutes, they lie dead in the snow. On their way to a new Promised Land, they had danced for God, the Ghostdance...

When others tell me I can't walk I will run, and when they stop my running, I will fly, I will fly...

More than 100 years later, the dream lives on, embodied in the music of Bill Miller. Ghostdance is a cry from the deepest corners of his spirit, the sound of his soul. One of America's most notable Native artists, he has crafted an album that is uniquely American; equal parts modern urgency and timeless mysticism. In it he distills images gathered along his path as a singer, writer, musician, painter, husband, father and seeker.

Where are you going, to a Ghostdance in the snow? Where are your warriors, I see they're finally coming home...

Miller was raised on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in Wisconsin, influenced as much by the music of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Neil Young as by that of his Mohican heritage. Varied artistic pursuits, the rock 'n' roll he played in bands, his Indian flute music and his painting would eventually coalesce in a music and pop audiences alike through albums like The Red Road and Raven in the Snow. With Ghostdance, Miller continues his musical and spiritual evolution:

"I didn't sit down with a hard plan for making this album. After a while, you trust yourself. You learn to believe in your process and you have faith in the people you work with, for me that was (co-producer) Richard Dodd. I did have definite ideas about what I wanted to express, though. I feel good about where my life is, about my family and where my music's gone, so I could focus more on issues than on personal struggles. Ghostdance was a pivotal song because of the parallels between what was happening in the 1890s and what's going on today, not only for native people but for everyone. Where are we going? What are we looking for? I think many people today feel the same apocalyptic energy that the original Ghostdancers felt. At the same time, there is innocence and optimism, and songs like "The Sun Is Gonna Rise" are about that. I wrote "The Reason" for my oldest daughter, Shayna. She's getting ready to fly, experiencing so many things for the first time, and that helps me regain some of my innocence. It's a universal theme."

I heard a voice callin' out to me, might've been a vision, might've been a dream...

Bill's focus on substance and subject inspired him to see new musical territory on Ghostdance. "Prelude," the opening track, is a stunning scene-setter, its lush strings giving way to the driving rhythm and gut-level pledge of "Every Mountain I Climb." "As a painter," he explains, " I learned about composition where you place a certain element for a certain kind of impact. You also learn about using the palette of colors the creator blessed you with. If you're not expressing what's in your heart and soul, you're not using your colors. Now, when I make music, my guitar is like an appendage. It's part of me. My flutes, my harmonica, they're the same way. On "The Last Stand," which is an instrumental, I played guitar, bass, native flute and harmonica. But "The Sun Is Gonna Rise" is a lullaby, and the strings are an important element in getting it across. Somehow, there is hope in their sound, and that gave me a whole new range of colors to use.

" I wanna stand where God is praised, I wanna ride across the plains to the promised land...

In the Ghostdance liner notes, Bill offers this glimpse of his inspiration and the fire that drives his musical journey: "All of my life struggles and the twenty-four years in the music business have made my music a religious and deeply spiritual experience for me. I thank God for these times, and I will always look to Him. For when others tell me I can't walk, I will run, and when they stop my running, I will fly, I will fly..."

Bill Miller

Dark features flash as Bill Miller sits at lunch in a Nashville restaurant talking about his music and art. He tries to relate emotion that goes into each of his songs.

"All I'm doing now is taking a palette, and I'm using the different colors that I know," Miller says, "I have never wanted to limit myself. Maybe I'm coming of age within myself- I don't know. You come to certain point in your life and you say 'Why am I still doing this? Why am I still here?'"

Miller is here because he is a rogue rocker with a twist. One who has as much in common with Johnny Cash as he does with Neil Young. It is why disparate icons Steve Earle and Tori Amos are amount is most ardent admirers. Such contrasts are the testaments to Miller's multifaceted approach to life. Some know of his heritage, some do not. Some know he cut his teeth on rock 'n' roll, even fewer know he is an artist skilled with a brush and pen, who contributes artwork to his albums. He has all too often been categorized because of one image - his bloodline.

Miller is a walking, talking tribute to the world of contrast in which we all live. He is of Mohican-German parents, a Native American raised on the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation in Wisconsin, a far cry from the studios that have become his home in Nashville. It has been a tough life for Miller, one filled with the racism and abuse that has been so often chronicled. But ironically, his songs are about the love and hope that can be found in each of us, the inner strength that can survive. His songs are also about passage.

And it is passage that allows listeners to catch a different glimpse of Bill Miller as he reveals another side of himself. Those familiar with his work may be surprised by the 13 tracks on Raven in the Snow, a roots-driven testimony to the rock 'n' roll in Miller's soul that carries the listener across a landscape of crunching guitars, soaring lyrics and primal drums, accented at times by his haunting and powerful flute.

A previous album, The Red Road, was released on Warner Western in 1994 and proved to be a folk-laced spiritual snapshot. It was an intense piece of his life, a chapter during which he lost his father. But it was also a chapter in which he began to emerge from professional obscurity. His music was touching people. Eddie Vedder became the unlikely flagbearer after Pearl Jam performed with Miller at an Apache Indian benefit in Mesa, Arizona. Then Tori Amos called, and he found himself opening her shows on the Under the Pink tour. This unexpected alliance with Amos propelled Miller into the musical mainstream.

It is the sheer naked power of Bill Miller's poetry, the voice of each song, the emotion of each song that weaves the common thread. It compels you to listen. "We need the courage to turn out the lights, so to speak, and not see the color of each other's skin," he says. "As soon as we can just talk and respect each other for what we are, then we can move forward... let our hair down with one another. That's what my music is about."


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