It is said that some genes only get expressed in the right environment and that nature only goes so far without a little nurturing. So it may come as a little surprise that Kristi Miller’s purpose to sing flourished in some supportive surroundings. She grew up in rural Kentucky near U.S. 23, dubbed the Country Music Highway because it winds through the region that produced legends like Patty Loveless, The Judds, Dwight Yoakam, Crystal Gayle, and Loretta Lynn. On top of that, Miller came of age in a home saturated by music. Her mom sang in church, while her dad was a record collector/dealer who always had thousands of albums around the house. Not only did that give her access to a huge variety of music to sample, it gave song craft an important place in Miller’s home.
“As I got older my dad told me to take my poems and encouraged me to put a tune to them and change them around so they could be songs,” Miller says. Then he’d say, “Record that tune. Don’t go to sleep, don’t lollygag, record it and then go back to see how you can make it better.”
It was clear very early on that Kristi needed to perform and express herself; she was a little girl singing for her folks on a turned over broom (her favorite song then was Bonnie Tyler’s It’s a Heartache.) And Miller was captivated by the personality and songwriting of Dolly Parton, watching her movements and actions during every opportunity available.
Kristi took on work cleaning at night at a tool and die factory when she was just 14 to help finance her music career. She then took to learning and playing mandolin, an instrument that fit not only her hands, but her notions of country music. Her folks bartered ads for studio time in their monthly Christian magazine called The Seeker. It was a family business the Millers built from scratch into a profitable Publication distributed around 26 counties in the state.
But just when Kristi seemed to be heading up the right roads for a country singer from Berea, things got complicated. Kristi’s mother suffered from a chronic illness known as Crohn’s Disease. It kept Kristi’s mother Marti confined in a hospital miles away from home in Lexington for much of the singer’s high school years. Marti passed away when Kristi was just 20 years old. But before Marti died, Kristi learned most of the lessons in character that have shaped her strong pursuit to a career in country music. “She was so strong willed, through all of her pain and suffering” Kristi remembers. Marti reminded Kristi, “If you want something go after it. If there’s any possible way to reach within yourself and find the strength to press, press because it’s worth it.”
Kristi had long helped out with The Seeker, so after her mother passed away she opted to stay in Berea and take over the publication. Kristi did everything from ad sales, to writing, and personally driving the 2-day route to get it to gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores. Simultaneously, Kristi got herself on every stage she could, including Pigeon Forge’s Tennessee Memories Theater, where former Oak Ridge Boy Gary McSpadden cast her in several variety shows. While off stage, she recorded commercial customs for Clear Channel Radio. During the few slow days each month after the magazine came out, Miller began visiting Nashville.
All along Kristi’s father continued to help her with her songwriting. “It really helped me a lot that he was honest with me and didn’t flatter me when I really needed improving.” She says her best, in her opinion, is called Country Girl. “I relate to its balance of a rootsy girl who craves a good time and is by no means perfect, but maintains Spiritual values.