The Best Knoxville Band Ever #5: Scott Miller

(78 points; see the complete list)

Scott Miller is not a simple study. Raised on a cattle farm in the Shenandoah Valley, he expects to return there someday, maybe before long. His songs are full of rural imagery; his trademark is the mule. And he has a degree in Russian lit from William & Mary. He is not much like anybody else we know of.

Miller had a reputation as a solo performer long before and long after The V-Roys. He began appearing almost 20 years ago now, a skinny, eccentric guitarist at the old restaurant/bar Hawkeye's on White Avenue. He could elicit both chills and guffaws from unsuspecting audiences, a folk singer who might have a murder or two in his resume, Tony Perkins with a guitar, having discovered that wit was sometimes more effective than a shiv.

Unlike most folks who saw him there, he had no connection with the university on the next hill over. For a half-decade of his time in town, he wore a tie as the most durable front man for The Viceroys, aka The V-Roys, which he co-founded. When their time was over, Miller maintained momentum with a solo career. With about a few dozen sharp new songs and another rock 'n' roll quartet, a band of tight Nashville session musicians called the Commonwealth, Miller earned national regard for the albums Thus Always to Tyrants, Upside/Downside, and Citation, plus the live recordings Are You With Me? and Reconstruction. Slipping between country, alternative pop, and hardcore hillbilly rock, as if they're all moods, he examined the four major themes: heartache, religion, booze, and war. Plus some more. He's the only guy we can think of who's recorded a pop song outlining the life of Sam Houston.

His earlier song "Amtrak Crescent" suggested a train trip from New Orleans to New York with his band and, graciously, one Metro Pulse reporter. The three-week trip proved Miller has a real fan base across the entire South—and a cult following in the urban northeast. Everywhere, people sing along and move as if it were the greatest party band in the world. But in every audience you can always find at least one earnest guy squinting, listening closely to the lyrics, trying to figure this guy out.