In 1974 Steve Miller played The Joker and Fly Like An Eagle on US TV and transformed them into something entirely new

Steve Miller on The Midnight Special
(Image credit: The Midnight Special)

On January 25, 1974, Steve Miller made his second appearance on The Midnight Special, the long-running US music show that ran for more than 400 episodes between 1973 and 1981. 

He'd first visited the studios the previous June, performing Loving On The U.S.A. and the enticingly titled Shu ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma with the Steve Miller Band. But the second visit was a bigger deal: Miller hosted the show, and the band got to play four songs. Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma was reprised, and then there was Sugar Babe, a genuinely brilliant version of Fly Like an Eagle – embellishing the intro with a snatch of the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – and another of Miller's classics, The Joker. This performances are amongst the latest videos to be uploaded to The Midnight Special's increasingly popular YouTube channel

The single of The Joker had been released as a single the previous October (from the album of the same name), and topped topped the US chart in early 1974. With its wolf-whistle guitar and famous use of the made-up word 'pompatus' (which had previously surfaced on Miller's Space Cowboy, from the 1969 album Brave New World), it was already a classic. But that didn't mean Miller couldn't mess with it.  

Unusually, The Joker shows the right-handed Miller playing a left-handed Strat flipped upside down, while the song itself has a completely different vibe to the recorded version, with the vocal melody tweaked and the arrangement altered to provide more room for Miller's voice to roam. And the seven-minute clip of Fly Like An Eagle spirals off into the psychedelia ether.

Elsewhere on the show, there was music from Brownsville Station (Smokin' in the Boys Room, what else), Tim Buckley, the James Cotton Band, Genesis – we've already shared their Midnight Special versions Watcher of the Skies and The Musical Box –  and the James Gang. 

The Joker's story didn't end in 1974. 16 years later the song hit #1 in the UK after being featured in a commercial for Levi's, and Miller himself soon became tired of the albatross that had made him a star.

“Honestly, in the ’90s, it was a very conservative, kinda stupid audience,” he told Classic Rock's Henry Yates in 2010. “We would go out and say ‘Hey, we recorded some new material’, and five thousand people would get up and go get a hot dog…”

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.