When the River Ran Backward - Adventures In Folksong
Adam Miller – Lead Vocal, Autoharps, and Guitars
Richard Burkett - Mandolin
Joe Eding – Viola and Musical Saw
Lisa Burns, Given Harrison, and Hugo Wainzinger - Bass
Sharon Allen, Ray Bierl, Lee Bouterse Davis, and Given Harrison – Harmony Vocals
1. The New Madrid Earthquake 3:48
Lyrics & Music: Bob Dyer / Pekitanoui Publications
Adam Miller – Vocal and Circa 1900 Harwood Parlor Guitar, Lee Bouterse Davis – Harmony Vocal, Richard Burkett – Mandolin
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.” So said Mark Twain. Some tales are so tall that if they weren’t true, nobody would believe them. The New Madrid, Missouri, earthquakes of 1811-1812 were some of the most powerful to ever shake the North American continent - ten times larger than the San Francisco quake of 1906. The quakes awakened people sleeping in far away Washington, D.C. and New York City, and made the Mississippi River flow backwards.
2. Polka Dots and Moonbeams 2:29
Lyrics: Johnny Burke, Music: Jimmy Van Heusen / Spirit Two Music
Adam Miller - 2011 Walnut Orthey Model A Chromatic Autoharp
In 1939, the songwriting team of lyricist Johnny Burke (1904-1964) and composer Jimmy Van Heusen (1913-1990) wrote “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” for bandleader Tommy Dorsey. The following year, after Frank Sinatra joined Dorsey’s band, it became their first hit record together. Today, this “standard” is among the 100 most-frequently recorded jazz ballads. I learned it as a child, listening to Frankie and Tommy, an RCA Victor Lp in my father’s record collection.
3. Buffalo Boy 1:44
Adam Miller - Vocal and Circa 1900 Harwood Parlor Guitar
By the time a folksong has been passed down for several generations, the name of the person who wrote it is usually forgotten. And so, the song is said to be “traditional.” A traditional folksong not only outlives its composer, it often outlives generations of “folks” who have kept the song alive by singing it and passing it on. The English marriage ballad “Nicol O’Cod” has perpetuated in the oral tradition for four centuries. Martin Parker listed "Nichole-a-Cod" among the ballads of which he knew not the author in _The Legend of Leonard Lackwit_ (1633). American versions of the song include “The Mountaineer’s Courtship,” “When You Comin’ to Court Me?” and “Buffalo Boy.” I learned this East Texas version from my favorite folksinger, Sam Hinton (1917-2009). In the 1930’s, The Texas Trio (Sam and his younger sisters Nell and Ann) sang it on radio’s Original Major Bowes Amateur Hour, and in nightclubs around Washington D.C. Sam said that his father, Allan F. Hinton (1888–1957), wrote the lyric, “Maybe six if the weather is good.”
4. Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight 3:30
Lyrics & Music: David D. McEnery / Bug Music
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1985 Oscar Schmidt Wildwood Flower Model B Autoharp, Lee Bouterse Davis – Harmony Vocal, Lisa Burns - Bass
Born in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia Earhardt (1897-1937) was the first aviatrix to fly solo across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. She and her navigator, Captain Frederick J. Noonan (1893-1937), disappeared into history in July of 1937 while attempting a 29,000-mile circumnavigation of the globe in a 37-and-a-half-foot long twin-engine aircraft. Though it wasn’t published until 1939, Texas singer and songwriter “Red River” Dave McEnery (1914-2002) claimed that he wrote this song, hours after learning of Earhart’s disappearance. McEnery sang this song during a pioneer television broadcast from RCA’s tent at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He appeared as a singing cowboy in several films, including Swing in the Saddle (1944), Echo Ranch (1948), and Hidden Valley Days (1948).
5. California Is Her Name 3:08
Lyrics & Music: Lisa Atkinson / Scooptunes
Adam Miller – Vocal and Circa 1900 Harwood Parlor Guitar, Lee Bouterse Davis – Harmony Vocal, Joe Eding - Viola
California singer and songwriter Lisa Atkinson (1957-2009) composed this song in 1990 while working on a show about California State history at her local community center theater. I learned it from California singer and songwriter, Freesia Raine, when the song was new. I never suspected how this innocent song of hope would grow on me.
6. Shuha D-Maryam :38
Adam Miller – 1964 Basswood Oscar Schmidt Model A Diatonic Autoharp
This hymn for the Virgin Mary came to the United States from the Chaldean Catholic Church of Iraq. Chaldean, a modern dialect of Jesus Christ’s native language Aramaic, is spoken in the northern hills of Iraq and in Chaldean communities throughout the world.
7. Man Walks Among Us 3:17
Lyrics & Music: Marty Robbins / Mariposa Music
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1986 Oscar Schmidt Wildwood Flower Model B Diatonic, Given Harrison - Bass
Arizona singer and songwriter Marty Robbins (1925-1982) wrote “Man Walks Among Us” as an appreciation for the great desert of the southwestern United States. He recorded it in a 4/4 time signature on his Columbia Records Lp, Return of the Gunfighter (1963). But I learned it as a waltz from Faith Petric, a 96-year old Idaho-born folksinger and long time resident of San Francisco, California.
8. One Meatball 2:09
Lyrics: Hy Zaret, Music: Lou Singer / Oliver Music Publishing Company
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1995 Mulberry Orthey Model A Chromatic Autoharp, Hugo Wainzinger – Electric Bass
Having left his wallet at home before dining in a Boston restaurant, with only pennies in his pocket, George Martin Lane (1823-1897), Professor of Latin at Harvard University, tried to purchase half an order of macaroni from a disbelieving waiter. This incident inspired him to write “The Lay of One Fishball” (1850) – a side order of fishballs being among the least expensive items on the menu at that time. A decade later, Francis James Child (1825-1896), Professor of English at Harvard (and the man who collected the “Child Ballads” and numbered them, sequentially), parodied Lane’s song in an Italian-language burlesque opera entitled Il Pesceballo. An English translation of the mock opera was performed for the entertainment of Union soldiers during the Civil War. In 1944, Hy Zaret (1907-2007) and Lou Singer (1912-1966) updated the now-obscure fishball and made a new song called “One Meatball.” Josh White’s (1914-1969) recording of this song became the first record by a male African-American artist to sell over one million copies. I learned it from White’s recording on a Stinson 78-rpm record that I collected as a teenager.
9. Texas 1947 2:39
Lyrics & Music: Guy Clark / Sunbury Music, Inc.
Adam Miller – Vocal and Circa 1900 Harwood Parlor Guitar, Lee Bouterse Davis – Harmony Vocal, Richard Burkett - Mandolin
By the middle of the 20th century, the diesel-powered, high-speed, lightweight Streamliner had replaced the steam locomotive on many American railroads. Guy Clark, a singer and songwriter who spent his early childhood in Monahans, Texas, remembers the afternoon in 1947 when he first beheld a Streamline train.
10. The Black Fly Song 3:47
Lyrics & Music: Wade Hemsworth / Southern Music Publishing Company
Adam Miller – Vocal and 2011 Walnut Orthey Model A Chromatic Autoharp
“The Black Fly Song” was written in Labrador in 1949 by Canadian singer and songwriter Wade Hemsworth (1916-2002) of Brantford, Ontario. It commemorates his epic journey into northeastern Ontario as a member of an Ontario Hydro Electric Commission survey party studying the feasibility of constructing a dam on the Little Abitibi River. The song was first recorded on Hemsworth’s debut Lp, “Folksongs of the Canadian North Woods” (1955) on Folkways Records, and has swiftly entered the oral tradition. Hemsworth remembered, “The flies affected some of the boys so badly that they had to stop work until the swelling of the faces subsided so that they could see.” Hemsworth and Tobias Colpitts (who is the “Black Toby” of the song) served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in WWII. I always wondered how “Black Toby” got his nickname. Then I found a passage in the memoirs of Gordie Bannerman, one of Colpitts’ WWII Air Force buddies, that might explain: describing an encounter with Colpitts in Italy during the war in 1944, Bannerman wrote: “All we saw was the whites of his eyes as his skin had turned black from the Italian sun.”
11. Huckleberry Finn 2:46
Lyrics & Music: Bob Dyer / Pekitanoui Publications
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1985 Oscar Schmidt Wildwood Flower Model B Autoharp, Lee Bouterse Davis – Harmony Vocal, Lisa Burns – Bass
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is considered by many to be the single greatest achievement in American literature, yet it remains controversial 125 years after its publication. Bob Dyer (1939-2007) of Boonville, Missouri, is probably best known for his song, “The River of the Big Canoe.” He wrote “The New Madrid Earthquake,” the first song on this CD, and “The River of the Big Canoe.” He drew inspiration for his “Huckleberry Finn” song from his favorite part of Twain’s novel, chapter nineteen, and the remarkable mural of Huck and Jim by Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) in the Missouri State Capitol.
12. Riding Round the Cattle 2:12
Adam Miller – Unaccompanied Vocal
The musicologist Charles L. Seeger (1886-1979) keenly observed, “A notation of folksong in a book is like a picture of a bird in a bird book. It was changing before the picture was taken, and changed afterward.” “The Old Chisholm Trail” first appeared in print in John A. Lomax’s _Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads_ (1910). The 1939 edition listed over 100 verses. By 1932 no less than eight commercial recordings of the song had been issued. John Lomax (1867-1948) and his teenage son, Alan (1915-2002), made an incomplete field recording of this variant at a prison called “Central State Farm” in Sugarland, Texas, in 1933 – their recorder malfunctioned after the third verse. John Lomax described the singer of the song, a black man named Mose “Clear Rock” Platt, as “…a 71 year old water boy, a satisfied prisoner for life. Unable to read or write…” who knew enough songs “…to fill a volume of 500 pages.” Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953) published Platt’s version of the song in _Animal Folk Songs for Children_ (1950) and called it “Riding Round the Cattle.” I learned it from Mike Seeger (1933-2009), son of Charles L. Seeger and his second wife, Ruth Crawford. The rhythmic speech patterns and bragging style popular in contemporary rap music are not unlike those heard in this 19th century African-American cowboy ballad.
13. Waltz for Debby 2:37
Lyrics: Gee Lees, Music: Bill Evans / Folkways Music Publishers, Inc.
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1986 Oscar Schmidt Wildwood Flower Model B Diatonic Autoharp
Jazz pianist Bill Evans (1929-1980) named this melody for his niece, Debby. It appeared on his debut album New Jazz Conceptions (1956) on Riverside Records. Canadian journalist and lyricist Gene Lees (1928-2010) later added this charming lyric. It has been recorded dozens of times, both as an instrumental and as a ballad. I learned it as a teenager, from a 1964 Impulse Records Lp of one of my favorite American jazz vocalists, Johnny Hartman (1923-1983).
14. The Golden Vanity 4:32
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1935 Washburn Collegiate Guitar (model #5250), Sharon Allen – Harmony Vocal
Some old folksongs have survived in the oral tradition for centuries. “The Golden Vanity” (Child #286) is so widespread throughout the English-speaking world that, in Volume Four of his _Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads_ (1972), Professor Bertrand H. Bronson (1902-1986) collected over 100 different melodies for this ancient maritime ballad. A 1685 broadside of this song, published under the title, “The Sweet Trinity,” depicts Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) as the ungrateful captain. Though Raleigh did have a ship called The Sweet Trinity, the ballad is probably fiction. I learned this version from singer and songwriter Gordon Bok of Camden, Maine. In the spring of 2011, while I was recording this CD, Sam Hinton’s daughter, Leanne, surprised me with the gift of her late father’s old 1935 Washburn #5250 Collegiate arch-top guitar. Sam acquired it when he was a young man and the guitar was almost new, and he played it unceasingly for more than 60 years. Sam loved the ocean and marine biology, as well as folk music, so it seemed appropriate to play his old Washburn on “The Golden Vanity” and “Ocean Station Bravo.”
15. The Hills of Manchuria 1:36
Music: Ilya Alekseevich Shatrov
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1995 Mulberry Orthey Model A Diatonic Autoharp, Given Harrison – Bass
Ilya Shatrov (1879-1952) served as a regimental bandleader in the Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Shatrow wrote this waltz after the 1905 Battle of Mukden, where tens (and some say hundreds) of thousands of soldiers died fighting in the hills of Manchuria. By 1911, the song had been reprinted more than 80 times. This well-loved Russian folksong is sometimes called "The Russian National Waltz” or “Waltzing to Mongolia.”
16. Ocean Station Bravo 2:46
Lyrics and Music: Bob Zentz / Waterbound Music
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1935 Washburn Collegiate Guitar (model #5250), Richard Burkett - Mandolin
Virginia singer and songwriter Bob Zentz was serving as a United States Coast Guard sonarman in the North Atlantic when this true story took place in the late 1960’s. It was once believed that whales couldn’t sing because they don’t have functional vocal chords. In truth, the song of the humpback whale can be heard across over 100 miles of ocean. (“CIC” is an abbreviation for the Combat Information Center, a dark room illuminated by dim red battle lanterns and the green glow of radarscopes.)
17. Blue Mountain 3:56
Lyrics: Fred W. Keller / Music: Traditional Hymn “Bound Down in the Walls of a Prison”
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1986 Oscar Schmidt Wildwood Flower Model B Diatonic Autoharp, Given Harrison – Harmony Vocal
Upon his return from service in the First World War, First Lieutenant Fred W. Keller (1892-1976), a law student from Manti, Utah, wanted to live as far from a railroad track or telegraph pole as possible. And in 1919, that was the little cow-town of Monticello, in Utah’s Southeast corner. There, in the shadow of the Blue (Abajo) Mountains, the spruce trees form the outline of a horse’s head on the mountainside. Keller became the judge of San Juan County, so he is being ironic when he writes: “I seek a refuge from the law.” He wrote this song for a 1929 banquet held to honor local senior citizens and it has since entered the oral tradition. The “L.C.” and the “Hip, Side & Shoulder” were two competing cattle outfits in Monticello. A “sleeper calf” is an unbranded calf that the cattle thief earmarks so he can return later and brand it as his own. In _Cowboy and Western Songs_ (1960), pioneering Utah folklorist Austin Fife (1909-1986) wrote of this song, “Many cowboys drifted from ranch to ranch through a dozen western states. Owning nothing except a cow pony, saddle, and ‘hot roll’ [bedroll], they rode the ‘Chuck line’ - begged, that is - from ranch to ranch, staying out their welcome at each before moving on.”
18. The Farmer’s Curst Wife 2:41
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1989 Sigma D-18 Guitar
Never underestimate the vitality of the oral tradition. Printed versions of this ballad (Child #278) date back to 1828, though it may be much older. Also known as “The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife,” there are so many versions of this tall tale that, in Volume Four of his _Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads_ (1972), Professor Bronson collected over 70 different melodies for this old feministic fable. I have never forgotten the night I first heard this version sung by Sam Hinton at a concert at the Big Sur Grange Hall in California when I was eleven years old.
19. The Galaxy Song 2:11
Lyrics: Eric Idle, Music: Eric Idle, Trevor Jones, and John Du Prez / Kay-Gee-Bee Music, Ltd.
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1995 Mulberry Orthey Model A Chromatic Autoharp
Whether you’re trying to remember the state capitals, the alphabet, or the periodic table, a song might be the best mnemonic device for memorization. Written in England in 1981, “The Galaxy Song” was introduced in the Monty Python movie "The Meaning of Life," recipient of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival. In 2006, sixty-eight national and international scientific academies signed a declaration agreeing that it is evidence-based fact derived from observations and experiments in a myriad of scientific disciplines that: the universe has existed for approximately thirteen billion years, planet Earth is about four and a half billion years old, and that life first appeared on our planet about 2.5 billions years ago.
20. The Kansas Cyclone 1:00
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1964 Basswood Oscar Schmidt Model A Diatonic Autoharp
I have always had an interest in how folksongs travel through history and history travels through folksongs. The Great Depression hit Kansas during a decade of dust storms and drought. The Federal Writer’s Project (WPA) collected this lyric in Kansas in the 1930’s. It’s sung to the traditional American fiddle tune “Shady Grove.” I learned it from the singing of Illinois folksinger Art Thieme. And it is probably a true story.
21. I Want To Be a Real Cowboy Girl 2:50
Lyrics & Music: Carla Prentice Forester / Songs of Universal, Inc.
Adam Miller – Vocal and Circa 1900 Harwood Parlor Guitar, Lee Bouterse Davis – Harmony Vocal
This ditty was originally recorded on a 78-rpm record back in the 1930’s by “The Girls of the Golden West,” two of the first female country music stars, Mildred “Millie” Fern Good (1913-1993) and her sister, Dorothy “Dolly” Laverne Good (1915-1967). When the song was published half a century later in Hilda E. Wenner and Elizabeth Freilicher’s _Here’s to the Women_ (1987), the authors wrote, “We have always assumed that ‘I Want To Be a Real Cowboy Girl’ was written by the Girls of the Golden West, Mildred and Dorothy Good… Mille tells us, however, that the composer is unknown.” Richard Carlson, in his _Country Music – A Biographical Dictionary_ (2003), misattributes authorship of the song to Lucille Overstake a.k.a. Jenny Lou Carson (1915-1978). “I Want To Be a Real Cowboy Girl” was, in fact, written in 1935, by Clara Prentice Forrester of Ventura, California. This now forgotten songwriter penned such forgotten 1930’s pop songs as, “I’ll Kiss You Good Morning,” “Winged Hoss in De Sky,” and “Tribute to the Mother of Abraham Lincoln.”
22. When the End Came 2:42
Lyrics & Music: Bob Blue / Black Socks Press
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1995 Mulberry Orthey Model A Diatonic Autoharp
Singer, songwriter, and Massachusetts state second-grade public school teacher Bob Blue (1948-2006) may be best remembered for having written “The Ballad of Erica Levine,” “I’m Not Scared,” and “Courage.” Bob used to introduce “When the End Came” by saying: “I believe that the only way to make nuclear war impossible is to eliminate nuclear weapons. And I think it is naïve to say that this cannot be done.” “Atari” was a primitive home video game popular in the 1970’s. “M.A.S.H.” (1972-1983) was a maudlin CBS television series, now in perpetual syndication.
23. Under the Double Eagle 2:06
Music: Josef Franz Wagner
Adam Miller – Vocal and Orthey Model A Diatonic Autoharp, Given Harrison – Bass
European immigrants brought their traditional marches, polkas, and waltzes to North America. On both sides of the Rio Grande, folks still dance to these well-loved melodies. “The Austrian March King” Josef Franz Wagner (1856-1908) was a military bandleader and composer best remembered for “Unter dem Doppeladler” or “Under the Double Eagle” (1902). (The title refers to the two eagles depicted in the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s coat-of-arms.) This melody was such a favorite of John Phillip Souza (1854-1932), “The American March King,” that he issued three commercial recordings of the tune between 1903 and 1908. I learned the song from a 1935 Bluebird 78-rpm record by guitarist and Western Swing pioneer William Lemuel “Bill” Boyd (1910-1977) and his Cowboy Ramblers. Our version of this old-world Germanic march attempts to capture some of that new-world Tex-Mex flavor.
24. Run, Kate Shelley, Run 4:31
Lyrics and Music: Larry Penn / Cookie Man Music Company
Adam Miller – Vocal and Circa 1900 Harwood Parlor Guitar
Larry Penn, a singer and songwriter who makes his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is probably the greatest living American composer of songs about railroads. This is the true story of Catherine “Kate” Shelley (1865-1912), the courageous fifteen-year old Irish-American farm girl for whom Iowa’s Kate Shelley Memorial Bridge is named. It was the first and, until the Betsy Ross Bridge in Philadelphia opened in 1976, the only bridge in the United States named for a woman. Today, a museum stands near the site of the old railroad depot in Moingona, Iowa. There, one can walk in the footsteps of Kate Shelley, down the forested path that she traveled that stormy summer night in 1881, when a flash flood collapsed the timber trestle and she crawled across that long railroad bridge to stop the oncoming train.
25. The Colorado Trail 3:42
Adam Miller – Vocal and 1986 Oscar Schmidt Wildwood Flower Model B Diatonic Autoharp, Sharon Allen and Ray Bierl - Harmony Vocals, Richard Burkett – Mandolin
Only the first verse and chorus of “The Colorado Trail” first appeared in print in Carl Sandburg’s _American Songbag_ (1927). According to Sandburg, a surgeon named Dr. T. L. Chapman collected the song fragment in Duluth, Minnesota, from a cowboy who had been hospitalized with “ruptures on both sides” after being trampled by a horse. Sandburg (1878-1967) recognized the similarities between this classic cowboy love song and the 16th century English poem: “Oh, Western wind, when wilt thou blow / That the small rain down can rain? / Christ, that my love were in my arms / And I in my bed again.” The second, third, and fourth verses that I sing were written by folksingers Fred Hellerman and Lee Hays (1914-1981) in the 1950’s during their years with The Weavers. Faith Petric, who wrote the fifth verse, once told me this was her favorite folksong.
26. All Through the Night 2:21
Adam Miller – 1964 Basswood Oscar Schmidt Model A Diatonic Autoharp, Joe Eding – Musical Saw
“Ar Hyd Y Nos” or “All Through the Night” is among the most familiar and best-loved Welsh folksongs. Its earliest known publication is in _Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards_ (1784) by Edward Jones (1752-1854). Jones was a Welsh harpist and song collector, who was known as “Bardd y Brenin” (The King’s Poet) after his patron George IV came to the throne in 1820. Over the centuries, a number of lyrics have been associated with this melody. Today, it is often sung both as a lullaby and as a Christmas Carol.
As the singers who influenced my musicality retired, some of the folksongs that they were keeping alive in their repertoires “retired” with them. I do my best to keep some of those less well-known folksongs from becoming extinct in my lifetime. But quite a few of the folksongs heard on this album have evolved a life of their own and, like grown-up children, have traveled to places and times their composers could never have imagined. It is my hope (as Sam Hinton used to say) that “you will make some of them your own songs, and that you may pass them along to future boys and girls who will call you their ancestor.”
Produced and arranged by Adam Miller
Recorded March 2011 - March 2012:
DLI Productions, San Diego, California
Heartstrings Music, Mountain View, California
Mixed and mastered: May - July, 2012:
Dan de la Isla, DLI Productions, San Diego, California
Ivan Stiles Graphic Design / Illustration, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
J.J. Littlebird, Eugene, Oregon
Patrick Riley, Canyon, California
A to Z Media, Portland Oregon
FS 1006 © 2012 Adam Miller
P.O. Box 951, Drain, OR 97435 (650) 804-2049
All Rights Reserved Made in USA
Unauthorized duplication is mighty un-neighborly and probably more work than it’s worth.
Total Time: 72:41
One of the premier autoharpists in the world, Adam Miller is a renowned American folksinger and natural-born storyteller. An accomplished folklorist, historian, musicologist, and song-collector, he has amassed a remarkable repertoire of over 5,000 songs. Miller accompanies his rich, resonant baritone voice with lively finger-picking acoustic guitar and stunningly beautiful autoharp melodies. A masterful entertainer who never fails to get his audience singing along, he has distinguished himself as one of the great interpreters of American folktales and folksongs, and as a performer who appeals to audiences of all ages.
In a contemporary musical landscape peopled with singer-songwriters and their often short-lived offerings, Miller’s time-honored traditional folksongs and ballads are a breath of fresh air. His songs evoke a by-gone time when entertainment was homemade. Spellbinding his audience with his mastery of the art of storytelling, he skillfully interweaves folksongs and the stories behind them with the elegance of a documentary filmmaker.
Traveling 70,000 miles each year, this 21st-century troubadour has performed in concert halls from the Everglades to the Arctic Circle. Over 1,000,000 students have attended his “Singing Through History” school assembly programs. Pete Daigle, editor of Autoharp Quarterly magazine, called him “the busiest autoharp player in the world.”
George Winston says, “Adam Miller is one of the great autoharpists and folksingers of our times.” One reviewer wrote of his performance, “It will charm even the most die-hard iPod-loving kids or reluctant significant-others.” Frank Hamilton, a former member of The Weavers says, “He’s doing a real service for folk music: defending the Treasury of American Tradition.”
“There’s nobody else out there doing what he’s doing,” says Bob Redford of the Walnut Valley Festival. The San Francisco ‘folknik’ describes his autoharp playing as, "superb and imaginative.”Maine Public Radio calls him, “a master of the autoharp.” Fellow folksingers and traditional musicians call him “a National Treasure.”
Miller’s folksongs and ballads are the songs of America’s heritage; a window into the soul of our nation in its youth. “I have always had a great interest in how folksongs travel through history, and how history travels through folksongs,” he explains.
A performer who enlightens as well as entertains, Miller points out fascinating connections between events in history and the songs that survived them. And like radio’s Paul Harvey, he manages to give you “the rest of the story” -- providing the often surprising provenance of seemingly innocuous folksongs.His numerous appearances at the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival, the Tumbleweed Music Festival, the California Traditional Music Society’s Summer Solstice Festival, and the Kentucky Music Weekend have made him a national favorite.
Immersed in the Oral Tradition, Miller is mostly self-taught, and learns just about everything by ear. He began his lifelong pursuit of collecting old songs while still in grade school. Armed with an audio-graphic memory and an uncommonly good ear for melody, his childhood ambition was to learn every song he heard. Now, he is a walking encyclopedia of American history and American folksongs. Throughout his long career, Miller has documented and kept alive the thousands of songs and stories he has collected in his travels. Some of these folksongs (like “The Frog Song”) are so obscure that no one else sings them anymore.
Miller’s six CDs receive airplay across North America and Europe: “Bare Fingers - The Solo Autoharp Artistry of Adam Miller,” “The Orphan Train and other Reminiscences,” “Wild Birds,” “Along Came a Giant - Traditional American Folk Songs for Young People,” “Buttercup Joe – Timeless Ballads and Folksongs,” and “When the River Ran Backward – Adventures in Folksong.”