A veteran of several popular groups including Endeavor, Minute 61, Nashville’s The Goodbye Letter, Past Mistakes, The Invocation, The Requiem , and a brief stint with Fairweather , the prolific Miller played variants of hardcore, emo, and metal, delivering a body of work most easily classified as modern punk rock.
With toxicology reports pending, exact details of Miller’s death are still somewhat blurred. The only certainty is that Miller preferred opiates and had been in rehabilitation programs several times over.
Miller’s struggle reached a deadly apex of hard drugs and addiction around three years ago. “He started young,” says brother Ben Miller . “He was about 14. And when a kid that age has so many drugs, that says something.”
Gabe’s terrifying roller-coaster ride through addiction created a lot of mixed opinions, beacause he was always a prime mover of Knoxville’s all-ages punk scene. Nonetheless, Miller is remembered fondly as a compassionate soul with a great talent.
“Sometimes he did bad things,” says Ben. “But deep down inside, he loved everybody. God still loved him and Gabe loved God.”
While Gabe’s foray into the dank, subterranean path of addiction estranged him from many friends, everyone sensed that someday he’d emerge, perhaps battered from the experience, but with talent and kindhearted nature intact. As sideline viewers, helplessly gawking at a young talent tragically snuffed, we of course try to assign some kind of deep meaning to these tragic events. But ultimately, the simple fact is that Miller tempted fate and was unlucky, paying the ultimate price.
Asked why she is so forthright about the circumstances of her Gabe’s death, mother Katie Helms explains that she hopes being open might help others faced with similar problems. “My motivation is that no kids are going to get help while people are still hiding it. People that don’t have a child going through it, they have no idea. They don’t even know it’s going on. And kids are dying. My message to the young people is, if you’re on drugs, realize you need help and get it.
“People think that drug addicts are the scum of the earth, so they don’t want to help. Addicts are not scum, they’re beautiful people who have had hard times or just accidentally got into it. But usually they’re passionate, artistic, and deep people.
“Gabe seemed to want to ignite passion in people,” Helms continues. “He thought deeply and tried to figure the world out, and he didn’t like what he saw. There’s a lot of beauty too, but sometimes the artist’s soul takes things differently.”
“I know he influenced and inspired so many people,” adds Ben. “Gabe was a beautiful person and he was so spiritual. All that beauty and now it’s gone, like that. He could’ve been anything he wanted to be—the sky was the limit; a great talker, the biggest heart, just the greatest guy. And now this stupid addiction has taken him away.
“It’s impossible for me to put our experiences into words,” Ben reminisces. “I think since he was a little kid he wanted to be in showbiz: He was always getting up front, getting in the camera, always wanting to be number one.”
A guitarist, drummer, and thoughtful songwriter originally from Oak Ridge, he performed with several progressive-rock and fusion bands in the ’70s, including Horizon and Clockwork . In later years, he did more jazz and blues work, playing in combos like Casual Sax , about 15 years ago. In 2001 he played guitar in a short-lived band that included Jesse Mayshark , then editor of Metro Pulse , on drums, and the late Harry Savage on bass, as Philip Knight and the Days . (Unfortunately, that combo performed only once in public, a memorable evening at McLeod’s.)
Though he was ill, he was still performing in restaurants this past summer with a jazz/blues trio, Landau, Dabbs and Knight . A songwriter, he had recently been exploring the idea of publishing a book of lyrics as poetry.
His memorial on Saturday morning at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church was attended by almost 200 and lasted more than two hours. The service, which included music by the church’s choir, a piano piece by Danette McCrary , and readings of lyrics to Knight’s “In Another Lifetime,” closed with a recording of his atmospheric, multi-instrumental piece, “Canyon and the Wind.” At memorial services, we rarely hear the voice of the deceased, and the sound of Knight’s voice loud on the church’s vivid sound system reduced several attendees to tears.
He was a talented fellow with a lively curiosity and a good heart, and one of the kindest people we’ve known.