Bill Miller Still Practicing Art Of Survival

Part-Mohican singer/songwriter's 1990 album is one of several recently reissued.

After nearly a quarter-century, Bill Miller's musical career may finally be gathering some momentum, if Vanguard Records' decision to re-release the bulk of his recorded catalog is any indication.

Then again, maybe it's just another turn in a career that's seen the dynamic storyteller and multi-instrumentalist open 200 dates for Tori Amos in 1994–95, contribute to the soundtrack of Disney's "Pocahontas" and win five times at last year's Native American Music Awards.

"I've been in the music business for 24 years," Miller said recently, speaking from his Nashville home. "I've always made my living playing music. Sure it's been a struggle sometimes, but I know my music has reached and moved some people."

On Tuesday, Vanguard reissued Miller's Reservation Road Live, Loon, Mountain and Moon and The Art of Survival. In May, the company reissued his 1999 self-produced Ghostdance, which swept the honors at last year's Native American Music Awards.

That record found him layering his powerful, supple voice over a genre-crossing blend of country, folk and American Indian elements, topped with a touch of blues — all in the service of some pointed songs.

"I wanted to focus more on issues than on personal struggles," Miller said. " 'Ghostdance' (RealAudio excerpt) is a pivotal song because of the parallels in what was happening in the 1890s [200 American Indian men and women of the Ghostdance religious movement were shot at Wounded Knee, S.D.] and what's happening today, not only for native people but for everyone. ... Questions about where we are going and what we are looking for.

"At the same time, there's energy and optimism too, which I wrote about in 'The Sun Is Gonna Rise' (RealAudio excerpt). I don't claim to have all the answers, but I've got my share of questions.

"I want to add to my heritage, not be limited by it," he said.

Miller was influenced at an early age by the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and the traditional music of his Mohican tribe on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in northern Wisconsin where he grew up.

He played in a series of rock 'n' roll bands, an influence most clearly seen in his 1995 album Raven in the Snow (Reprise).

"In some ways I think I'm still working out the Hendrix in me," he said. "The thing that impressed me about him was here was a black man who was playing psychedelic rock. He wasn't playing blues, he wasn't playing only to blacks, he was playing the music he wanted to do."

"I got a guitar when I was about 12, and joined one of those record clubs so I'd get Hendrix, [Bob] Dylan, Neil Young and listen to them too."

Shortly after Miller left the reservation to enroll in art school, he saw Pete Seeger in concert and set out in a new direction. He traded his electric guitar for an acoustic and began making his living on the folk circuit.

"The sounds of nature, of the wind, the bird calls, I think that surfaces all the time in my music," said Miller, whose flute playing has graced recordings by country star Michael Martin Murphey, and who also has done studio work with Alison Brown and Kate Campbell, among others.

Miller is touring the country, appearing at the venerable Cambridge, Mass., folk institution Club Passim on Wednesday, and, among other dates, at the Native Roots and Rhythms 2000 festival on Aug. 19 in Santa Fe, N.M., and the Indian Summer Festival on Sept. 10 in Milwaukee.