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Sacramentans pay tribute to musician Scott Miller



Scott Miller was a Sacramento area singer, songwriter and musician who impressed many local music fans and beyond. He passed away on April 15 at the age of 53 and on Saturday night, July 20, his admirers paid tribute to him at Shine Cafe in Midtown. It was one of the three year old venue’s best nights ever, according to Manager Russell Vreeland, who said, "Everyone was in a great celebratory mood." About a hundred people showed up throughout the night to honor the artist who was the founder of the bands Game Theory in the 1980s and The Loud Family in the 1990s. Miller also played in other bands Alternate Learning and Lobster Quadrille, as well as an engineer for Mark Logic in San Carlos. 

The tribute consisted of several local artists who were in some way connected with Miller either as fellow musicians, friends or fans. The night was filled with cover songs written by Scott Miller, pulling from his extensive catalogue. He had been acclaimed on the national indie scene, as well as performing at several local venues, including True Love Coffehouse, which Kevin and Allyson Seconds ran from 2001 to 2004.

Allyson, who performed at the tribute show with David Houston, remembers, "I did not initially know Scott Miller through the Loud Family or Game Theory. My first introduction to him was seeing him play at the True Love Coffeehouse. It was just him and his guitar and then also accompanied by Anton Barbeau, who introduced us. His intelligence and vulnerability shone through his songwriting and I was an instant fan. The tribute event at Shine Cafe was basically one big room full of love for Scott Miller and his music. I was honored to sing a couple of his songs." Other performers included The Wheels with Nan Becker, Blossom Rock, Jackson Griffith, Bradley Skaught, Gil Ray and Game Theory 1.0.

Anton Barbeau, a former Sacramento artist who now resides and performs in Berlin, Germany, was seen delivering a message via big screen video at the tribute. "I first saw Scott playing with Game Theory in October ’86 and it was a life-changing gig," Anton recalls. "I saw him onstage and thought ‘I want to be THAT!’ Scott’s humor and intelligence and undeniable and unusual way with a pop song were just what I needed to hear. I saw Game Theory again a few times over the next years, including once when they supported Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians in San Francisco. Years later, Andy and Morris (aka the Egyptians) joined my band and Scott on various things in the meantime and we ended up doing an album together in 2006 called What If It Works? … I have many fond memories of Scott. He was/is truly one of my heroes."

Scott recorded several albums with both Game Theory and the Loud Family. He founded Game Theory in 1981, originally with Fred Juhos, Nancy Becker and Michael Erwin. In 1985 a new lineup teamed with R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter for the album Real Nighttime. Easter also produced the followup album Big Shot Chronicles in 1986. Game Theory released a double album in 1987 called Lolita Nation, followed by their final album Two Steps from the Middle Ages in 1988. The band broke up the following year.

In 1991 Scott started a new band called The Loud Family, named after characters of a 1970s reality TV show called An American Family. The band released six albums throughout the 1990s before taking a break. They released three more albums in the new century. Scott also wrote a book for indie music lovers in 2010 called Music: What Happened? He was planning on putting Game Theory back together and wanted to record a new album this year called Supercalifragile. Rock critics have praised his work as articulate, very melodic and amazingly creative. New York Magazine recently reported that filmmaker Andrew Bujalski considered Scott’s music to be an influence.

"I thought that working so closely with Scott," writes Anton, "I’d finally get the secret to his brilliant mind, like he’d maybe leave an open notebook laying around the studio. Quite the opposite. While working with him was an utter delight – we had much fun making music together – I came away all the more puzzled by how he did what he did. I mean, clearly the man was a genius, but not in any way my tiny mind could figure out! He was never anything other than gracious and kind in the years I knew him, and even as I write this, I feel his warm presence. He feels too much right here to be gone." 

Johnny Pride, the lead singer of the 1980s Sacramento band The Features, was one of Scott’s many musician friends. Pride currently lives in Georgia but will be returning to town for a Features reunion on August 9 at Old Ironsides with Numonix, featuring radio host Kitty O’Neal and led by Harrison Price, who also knew Scott. Reflecting on the local legend, Pride says, "Scott and I were friends and we both loved the band Big Star, which I had discovered through a review in Creem Magazine. I loved jangly power pop and was a fan of his, so I used to ask them to open for The Features. He gave me a copy of his pressed disc of Alternate Learning. I then became infatuated with Game Theory and their songs "Metal and Glass" and "Penny, Things Won’t." 

Scott and Johnny communicated over the past decade, as both of them ventured into other careers, although Scott lamented not being able to make music his primary vocation. They were both fans of each other’s music. "I loved his book," says Johnny, "and recommended it to anyone who spent their teen years bonding with their stereo speakers, like I had. I miss him and, as a champion of indie pop music, consider his passing a blow to the genre."

Paul Stanley Niklewicz is a musician from Donnette Thayer’s band The Veil, who sometimes shared the bill with Game Theory. "Scott’s knowledge, drive, passion and ability were always awe-inspiring, as was Donnette’s," he reflects. "Upon learning of Scott’s passing, I sobbed uncontrollably, for maybe an hour. I didn’t even really understand why. Saturday night’s memorial made it crystal clear to me why I reacted the way I did. This was not just another ‘dude’ giving up the ghost. Not by a long stretch. Scott’s passing left a void that will never truly be filled again."

Scott is survived by his wife and two daughters. Over the past three months family and friends have raised over $48,000 at crowdfunding site GoFundMe.com in honor of Scott and to help pay for his daughters’ education. More information about Scott Miller can be found at SacTV.com. A special thanks goes to Sue Trowbridge of LoudFamily.com and Robert Toren for providing photographs, which were also the basis of SacTV’s video tribute to Scott Miller. 

Editor’s note: The “News Digest” goes out every Tuesday morning and highlights our best stories, photos and videos from the week prior. Sign me up.

 
  • Scott’s early band was actually called “Alternate Learning”, as I said originally. It’s a typo in the article.

  • Alex Cosper

    Thanks, Johnny for the correction.

  • Thank you so much Alex for your informative and positive article.

  • Alex Cosper

    You’re welcome, Davonne. Russell told me that you have been dedicated to the local scene for many years, which is very nice.

  • I was very sad to have had to miss this tribute. SM was a great musician.

  • This is a well written article, Alex. Thanks for posting. And, hats off to SHINE for being one of the better venues downtown.

  • Alex Cosper

    Thank you, Flygirl .. I learned a lot about Scott’s life and music by gathering information from his friends. He was a very remarkable artist.

  • Thank you, Alex for such a great piece on Scott.

    Very sad – Scott’s music and lyrics were so rare juxtaposed against the contrived themes of 80’s rock. Even among indie bands. Big Shot Chronicles will always remain the soundtrack to my first year at school. Rest in Peace, Scott. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world.

    Clay Asbury
    Richmond, VA