Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Praise of Mrs Miller

Mrs Miller is a bit of an enigma. Was she a private joke inside the record industry? Or did people really like her singing?

Elva Ruby Connes Miller - known to crappy record-buying fans simply as Mrs Miller - was born on the 5th of October 1907 in Joplin, Missouri. When she was 27, she married a professional investor called John Richardson Miller who was 30 years older than she was. And, around this time - and funded by her wealthy husband - she began making vanity records for her own amusement accompanied by keyboard player Fred Bock.

It just so happened that Capitol Records was experimenting with new recording techniques at the Los Angeles studios where she was recording and they decided to use her as their guinea pig. Mrs Miller consequently provided vocals for a host of popular classics, much to the amusement of Bock and the men from Capitol. Mrs Miller's curious operatic warbling vibrato and strange whistling technique (she would fill her mouth with ice beforehand to get a better sound) made every song fresh and unique - for all the wrong reasons. According to Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky in The People's Almanac, her voice was often compared to the sound of 'roaches scurrying across a trash can lid.'

Bock pushed the recordings onto A & R man Lex de Avezedo and she was soon signed to Capitol Records. Her first LP on that label, ironically titled Mrs Miller's Greatest Hits, appeared in 1966 when she was 59 years old. It was made up entirely of pop songs, and sold more than 250,000 copies in its first three weeks. An article in Time magazine described it like this:

'While Elva may not replace Elvis, her rocking-chair rock features a kind of slippin' and slidin' rhythm that is uniquely her own. Her tempos, to put it charitably, are free form; she has an uncanny knack for landing squarely between the beat, producing a new ricochet effect that, if nothing else, defies imitation. Beyond that, her billowy soprano embraces a song with a vibrato that won't quit ... '

Will Success Spoil Mrs Miller?! followed later the same year, and The Country Soul of Mrs. Miller a year later. She was then dropped by Capitol - the vogue for out of tune elderly lady singers having passed - and in 1968 she released her final album, Mrs Miller Does Her Thing on the small Amaret label. But her career was over and by 1973, barring a few singles that she put out on her own Vibrato Records and Mrs Miller labels, she had officially retired. She died in 1997, at the age of 90.

You can see one of her extraordinary performances here - a bit part in the Roddy McDowell B-movie, The Cool Ones (1967).

And her fansite can be found here.

Yup, there really is such a thing.

Her vinyl albums are hard to find these days but you can get a compilation of her first three albums on CD. Here it is at Buy it and smile.


Spud said...


Me said...

You really should not keep giving blog space to ex girlfriends.....

Stevyn Colgan said...

That's just cruel because you know she wouldn't have me! Sob!