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Home >Background > Bio
Bio
  My formal training in music amounts to maybe a year of piano lessons in grade school.

I quit high school in 1965 to join the army. While in the service I took a high school g.e.d. test then went to college where I ended up with undergraduate degrees in Speech, Theatre, and a master's in Design. Now I live in Saint Louis with my talented wife, Helen and two brilliant young children, Zak and Erica. I have accomplished nothing to speak of in real life. But for years I've been an avid contra dancer and a traditional flatfoot clog dancer. I also play rhythm bones.

I first saw rhythm bones sometime around 1990 during a party at the home of fellow contra dancer Jean Snyder. Also at her party was local banjo and harmonica wizard, Sandy Weltman. Sandy is an award winning musician who has performed on dozens of albums nationally and has released several recordings of his own. A few of the guests asked Sandy about those 'sticks' he was playing. Sandy told us they were called 'bones.' Then he demonstrated how to play them. We all tried giving them a rattle, but none of us managed to get more than a click or two out of them.

A few weeks later I came across some plastic rhythm bones on a display rack at Music Folk, an acoustic music shop in Webster Groves, Missouri. They cost $3.75 a set. "This is an instrument I can afford," I exclaimed at the time.

After clanking away a month or so, I finally started getting the hang of rattling the bones. One evening I showed up at a contra dance with my shiny plastic factory made 'Rhythm Bones' with the patented Joe Birl notch. I demonstrated my new musical talent to local fiddle champ and violin maker Geoff Seitz who was setting up to play for the dance. He suggested playing with a pair in each hand. At first I thought he was teasing me. After all, it was hard enough trying to play one set in my dominant hand—but to play a second set of bones with my left hand? You gotta be kidding! Geoff explained that playing a set in both hands adds more color to the sound. Eventually I went back to Music Folk where I bought a second set of bones made of walnut. This set cost around $7.00 (which was well beyond my budget at the time) and came with a free 24-page spiral-bound copy of
The Bones Book by Sue Hess (a.k.a. The Bones Lady) of Barnhart, Missouri. The sales clerk happened to be the shop owner who showed me her personal not-for-sale set of Wurlitzer ebony bones, and let me rattle them a bit. She has since sold the shop and retired. It didn't mean a whole lot to me back then, but (sigh) I would love to see that set of bones again now. Anyway, one section of The Bones Book told how to cure 'real' rhythm bones. So I went to the butcher shop and for ten-cents-a-pound brought home a huge bag of 'dog bones' (whole beef ribs). Soon I had more than enough bones to keep me happily clikety-clacking night and day. I had little money, but lots of time. So I practiced around four hours a day virtually all year long. That was around 20 years ago.

This was also when I began clog dancing. I learned the basic toe-shuffle style from Connie Mueller. Then one weekend Connie and a bunch of us went to Champaign, Illinois where we learned the Appalachian-style Tennessee walking step. The workshop was taught by percussive dance superstar Ira Bernstein. This is flatfoot-style clogging. It was hit and miss for quite a while, but I eventually picked it up. Over the years this led me to naturally develop other flatfoot clogging steps and life has not been the same since. A few years back I took a flatfoot clogging workshop with Kent Beyette (of the premier concert stringband, 'Clarke Buehling and The Skirtlifters') where I happily discovered my clogging style is considered traditional old-time jig dancing. Kent made my day when he declared my clogging ability 'advanced,' and also invited me to play bones with Clarke and the band.

I read somewhere about a 'Mr. Bones' who performed in one of the old minstrel troupes. This particular Mr. Bones clog danced while playing bones at the same time. I can clog dance. And I can play bones. So I said to myself, "Okay, let's give this a try." To my own surprise it worked. The only other person I've seen do this is 'Spike Bones' of Columbia, Missouri. Spike (a.k.a. Darryl Muhrer) is a delightful entertainer noted for portraying the history of bones on the Mississippi riverboats that shuttled between New Orleans and Saint Louis. Spike is also a virtuoso bones player who performs with jazz bands in Chicago and New Orleans.

During the past few years I have appeared at local Saint Louis pubs on 'ragtime,' 'blues,' and 'old-time music' night. I also play bones at Irish sessions and occasional contra dances. Like most bones players, I'm happy to play along with anyone who can stand the clatter.

Every now and again I've given a bones demo and workshop. I am a member of the Rhythm Bones Society, and enjoy passing the tradition along to others.

Over the past three years my skill level has taken a quantum leap forward. I credit this breakthrough to exposure from world-class bones players I met through the Rhythm Bones Society. I was also encouraged and propelled over the years by kind words from musicians and fans at jams, dances, gigs, and open mic events. Another big influence was the National Old-Time Country & Bluegrass Music Festival where I won the Bones Contest in 2004 and met a bevy of first-rate traditional country performers who took absolute delight in the bones. Winning the competition resulted in my peers declaring me the 2004 World Bones Champion, which made this an especially eventful year.

Major Influences include these virtuoso players—
Aaron Plunkett: Multi-percussionist who played bones with the steerage band in the film, Titanic.
Mel Mercier: Prominent Irish bones player, teacher, and researcher at University College Cork (Mel's father Peadar played bodhran and bones for ten years with the legendary Irish band, The Chieftains).
Steve Brown: Executive Director of the Rhythm Bones Society and two-time consecutive All-Ireland Bones Champion.
Artis The Spoonman: Seattle, Washington's legendary street busker who plays all kinds of cutlery (plus rhythm bones) on virtually every part of his body all at the same time.

I now welcome bookings from:
Traditional Music Bands
Pop, Rock, and Rap Groups
Recording Artists
Sound Studios
Film Makers
Club Owners
Music Show, Festival, TV, and Theatre Directors

Contact me now for a live demo.


Scott C. Miller
Rhythm Bones

 
 
 
 

© 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 Scott C. Miller