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In 1974 Steve Miller played The Joker on US TV and transformed it into something entirely new

Another gem from The Midnight Special, as Steve Miller plays his classic The Joker as you’ve never heard it played before



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, and another of Miller’s classics, The Joker. 

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.  

This performance of The Joker is one of the latest videos to be uploaded to The Midnight Special’s increasingly popular YouTube channel. Unusually, it shows the right-handed Miller playing a left-handed Strat flipped upside down, but the song itself has a completely different vibe to the record version, with the vocal melody tweaked and the arrangement altered to provide more room for Miller’s voice to roam. 

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…”