Boogie woogie cheating songs, love-lamenting ballads, rockabilly country bops, lonesome melodic soliloquies—the tones of Geoffrey Miller’s debut solo album “All Night Honky Tonk Man”—tell a story reaching back to Miller’s childhood.
Miller grew up breathing the air of country and oldies AM radio and listening to Waylon, Willie, and Hank Jr. cassettes in the dash of his adoptive father Vern Miller’s work truck. Echos of Bakersfield, California’s “Nashville West”, reverberate across the Central Valley to Sacramento, CA where Miller grew up through family record collections, boom box radios at summer trips to the river, and Hee Haw on afternoon TV. Picking up the frequency from a young age, Miller strummed on toy guitars and sang Merle Haggard verses as a child.
Fast forward to 2019, Miller bends crying notes from his fender telecaster over a room full of two-steppers and swing dancers on a hardwood dance floor. The worlds of country and rockabilly meld in a crowd topped with cowboy hats, pompadours, and pin-up style hairdos. Between the occasional classic by his favorites, Merle, Johnny Horton, and Faron Young, MIller’s original songs fill the room and make a direct connection to the moment. The clacking of a stand-up bass, the break-up of a 50s tweed guitar amplifier, and the slight rasp in Miller’s voice burrow into the audience with something real.
“All Night Honky Tonk Man” is the incarnation of personal truth rooted in the living lore of Americana country music. Years of playing guitar and singing in honky tonk bars, the discovery of lost musical heritage, and a true-life world of heartaches, wine and neon funnel into the album’s 12 original songs.
Miller emerged on the Sacramento music scene amid the grunge and alternative music movement of the 1990s when kids packed into dingy all-ages night clubs and dilapidated movie theaters to see touring bands. For Miller, musicians traveling from city to city to play at rundown venues before crashing on fans’ couches and living room floors were the cultural descendants of train hobo and beatnik drifters described by Jimmie Rogers and Roger Miller. Americana and folk roots bands like Reverend Horton Heat, Blues Traveler, and Cake seemed to personify the continuity of this American folklore. In this world of decaying dive bars and exposed American roots, the flame of country honky tonk found oxygen and continue to grow in young Miller.
Miller worked as a guitar player in a slue of bands during this time, spanning styles of Americana, alternative rock, blues rock and country that swirled around the Sacramento music scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Musical currents of the time brought experience and growth as Miller continued searching for something calling in the distance.
In 2005, Miller found it when he met his birth father, Hank Falconer. Falconer, was a long-time honky tonk night club entertainer with his own following. The father and son began performing old cowboy songs, crooner jazz numbers, western swing tunes, and comedic songs in the bars of Placerville, CA. Miller learned the art of entertainment from the charismatic Falconer, while familial context and cultural meaning began to inform and direct Miller’s seemly innate interest in honky tonk music.
Miller soon began making a name for himself as a country guitar player around Sacramento. In 2008, he toured with the vintage honky tonk band, Rowdy Kate, in Europe and began playing with numerous roots country bands back home as his reputation grew. Miller also began earning songwriter credits, contributing two original songs to Rowdy Kate’s 2007 EP.
In 2010, Miller formed the rockabilly trio Twilight Drifters as the guitarist and lead singer. References of Johnny Horton and Webb Pierce combined with that of Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent opened up new stylistic avenues to explore. Honky tonk beer joints gave way to car shows and swing dances as the Twilight Drifters gained momentum.
The Twilight Drifters would earn bill credits that include the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Festival, The Rockabilly Extravaganza, and the Redwood Coast Music Festival, and share marquis with such names as The Cherry Popping Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, and Deke Dickerson. The Twilight Drifters recorded three albums including numerous original songs by Miller, and were nominated for Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan Award in 2018.
Miller straddled two worlds as he continued to work as a country guitar player while making headway into the rockabilly scene. In 2013, Miller joined Buck Ford’s Pure Country Band to play at country bars, rodeos, county fairs and Indian casinos between rockabilly gigs. The balancing act between country and rockabilly reinforced their common lineage that would mark the eventual release of “All Night Honky Tonk Man”. Miller would increasingly blend country honky tonk and western swing genres with rockabilly when performing to the following drawn to his work in the Twilight Drifters.
In 2015, Miller’s love for western swing music led to him co-found the trio Sactown Playboys with Olen Dillingham (student of Tiny Moore himself) and Zack Sapunor (the future bass player of Hot Club of Cowtown) paying homage to legends such as Bob Wills, Billy Jack Wills, Les Paul, and Jimmie Rivers. The Sactown Playboys were two time performers at the Western Swingout in Tehachepi, California in 2018 and 2019, and were scheduled to perform at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California in 2020, which was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. In 2018, Miller was inducted in the Sacramento Western Swing Society Hall of Fame, for his work with the trio, including a self-titled album that made number 2 on western swing aficionado Mike Gross’s top ten albums of 2019.
Through the years, Miller has shared stages with country, western swing, blues, and rockabilly legends Biff Adam, Jimmy Latrell, Bud Duncan, Bobby Black, “Little” Charlie Baty, “Big Sandy” Robert Williams, Al Hendrix, Sleepy LaBeef, and Deke Dickerson. He is also a two-time featured artist at Deke Dickerson’s Guitar Geek Festival at the 2016 and 2018 Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Festival.
The release of “All Night Honky Tonk Man”, a title with more personal significance than it would seem, embodies a momentum and life-calling that could not be denied. Recording of the album began in 2019, but was halted with the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020. By a personal imperative and the spirit embodied by the words “the music must live on”, Miller was able to finish the album in socially distanced recording sessions with masked musicians, and remote recording approaches. The album includes a gamut of performances by roots country and rockabilly heavies including Carl Sonny Leyland on piano, Scott Joss (Dwight Yoakum, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristofferson) on fiddle, Lee Jeffriess (Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys) on steel guitar, and steel guitar Nashville cat Travis Toy (Patty Loveless, Rascal Flats). Also on the album are Bill Bergren on steel guitar, Larry Carr on drums, Jim Frink on drums, and Zack Sapunor on bass. The album was recorded by Jim Baughman (guitarist for Merle Haggard), and mixed by Deke Dickerson at Ecco-Fonic Studios.
Country Music People Magazine gave the album 5 stars and Miller the title “Honky Tonker of the Month” in December 2020, as well as ranking the album #6 on the top ten albums of 2020! The album hit #1 on the Alt. Country Chart the week of March 10, 2021, and has remains in the top 30, as of May 26, 2021.