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Home > News > Rhythm and bones: South City musician raps out bone-cutting harmonies
Rhythm and bones: South City musician raps out bone-cutting harmonies
Saint Louis Post-Dispatch—South City Journal
March 16, 2005

By Julie Randle

Make no bones about it, Scott Miller is a bone-ified musician. You might even say he's bad to the bone when it comes to rapping out rhythms.

The South City resident is the only two-handed, rhythm bones player in the area.

"Bones aren't a solo instrument. They accompany other music," said Miller, 57, who has been playing them for 10 years. "You hold them in your hand and rattle them together. What makes it fun is playing with other music, that's what it's all about."

Miller's bare-bone harmonies won him the 2004 world bones championship from the National Traditional Country Music Association.

He arrives for gigs with a black case that contains a variety of skeletal remains and a set of spoons, which he also plays.

On Mondays, Miller likes to shake it up with other musicians for Old Time Night at Griffins of Soulard, 728 Lafayette Ave. On Wednesdays, the bone man plays Irish Night at Music Folk, Inc., 8015 Big Bend Blvd. And, on the third Saturday night of each month, he rattles around the Hartford Coffee Co., 3974 Hartford St.

When Miller tunes up his ribs, the audience instantly perks up, he said.

"Most people that hear it, like it," Miller said.

Miller shakes to traditional, classical, rock, pop and rap tunes. He has set the tempo for instruments that vary from violins to Irish pennywhistles.

"With the right tempo, tune and music, the sound can be really awesome," Miller said.

Miller's bone collection includes both real and manmade pieces. He his armed with rosewood cut to the shape of a bone, aluminum bar stock and real bones from cows and goats. Most of his bones are about eight inches in length. He doesn't scavenge for his instruments; he buys them in music stores or over the Internet. A set of two will range in price from $20 to $40.

He claims that bones from free-range cows that have died from natural causes are louder than those from butchered cows.

He chooses his instruments according to the tune, the tempo and the musicians. He usually shakes four bones at a time, but will rattle eight for slower tempo tunes, such as waltz, blues, jazz and ragtime tunes.

"Bones are a novelty instrument; bands don't really need them," said Miller, who willingly plays with any musicians who invites him.

It's a novelty instrument with a long history. Some researchers consider bones to be one of the oldest instruments. Bones were used in ancient China, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Europe. About 500 years ago, they surfaced in the British Isles and immigrants – English and Irish -- who came to the United States brought them here.

Another bone master introduced him to the instrument.

Miller, who is a dancer, was attending a party hosted by a fellow dancer when he heard a musician rapping out rhythm with bones. The rib work caught his eye.

He bought his first set of bones for $3.75 from Music Folk, Inc. and proceeded to bone up on the art. It took him a year to master the skeletal intricacies.

"I had no money, but a lot of time," said Miller, who is a member of The Rhythm Bones Society, a non-profit organization that preserves, educates and fosters development of bone-rattling rythmn.

Today, Miller likes to shake a rib or two while listening to the radio.

Miller has a future ambition. He would like start a "Bones of Ages" presentation for schools and museums. He promises it will be a bone-shaking hit.

For more information, visit www.rhythm-bones.com.


© 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Scott C. Miller