NTCMA Bones Contest
Rhythm Bones History
Rhythm Bones Society
Saint Louis Dad Named
'World Bones' Champion
SAINT LOUIS, MO - Sep 5, 2004 - The National Traditional Country
Music Association (NTCMA) has declared Scott Miller winner of
the 2004 bones contest. Miller took first place among six contestants
in the competition which was decided by a panel of three judges.
Yes, we're talking beef ribs. Or goat ribs. Or ox shins. Miller
also plays 'vegetarian' bones made of plastic, aluminum, and exotic
hardwoods such as ebony, ironwood, and virgin maple. Perhaps the
strangest 'bone' he plays is a pumpkin stem.
But what exactly are these bones? "Rhythm bones are basically
a pair of 'sticks' you hold in each hand," explains Miller.
"They make a 'clickety-clack' sound when you rattle them
together. Your grandparents may have seen them played when they
Rhythm bones are ancient musical instruments that go back to prehistoric
times. The instrument is still popular among traditional musicians
in North America and the United Kingdom, yet few people today
have ever heard of them.
"They look easy to play," says Miller. "But like
any other musical instrument it takes years of practice to play
them well. Most of the serious bone players I know have a lifetime
of experience behind them. The only young expert I've ever seen
is 17-year-old Sky Bartlett. He started at age 14 when he learned
from Ernie Duffy, who learned from Elwin 'Shorty' Boulet, who
learned at age ten from an 'elderly fellow.' Shorty still has
the same set of bones he's been playing for more than 70 years,"
says Miller. This trio from New Hampshire represents three generations
of bone players.
The 'Woodstock' Of Bluegrass
The results of the bones competition were announced this September
in ceremonies held at the NTCMA's 29th National Old-time Country
& Bluegrass Music Festival.
Located 20 miles northeast of Omaha, Nebraska, the annual festival
presents over 250 scheduled shows featuring more than 600 performers
on 12 sound stages on the spacious Harrison County Fairgrounds
in Missouri Valley, Iowa.
The seven day festival is a celebration of America's musical heritage,
and is the largest musical event of its kind, if not in America,
then certainly in the heartlands. Dubbed the 'Woodstock of Bluegrass,'
the celebrity packed extravaganza is host to more than 50,000
spectators who visit from across the nation and around the world
in what has been labeled 'America's premier traditional acoustic
The main purpose of the event is to raise money for the operation
and upkeep of the Pioneer Music Museum, America's Old-time Fiddlers
Hall of Fame, America's Old-time Country Music Hall of Fame, and
the Oak Tree Opry.
The Festival is recognized by the United States Conference of
Mayors, National Geographic Magazine, Smithsonian Institution,
and National Council for Traditional Arts. It has been televised
on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and the British Broadcasting Corporation
"One of the most fun events," says Miller, "was
the 'Band Scramble.' This is where you write your name and instrument
on a slip of paper, drop it in a box, then the names are formed
into groups. I was lucky enough to be grouped with a wonderful
guitar player named Lyle Johnsen and a dynamite banjo player,
Lee Muller." Muller was recently inducted into the Old-time
Country Music Hall of Fame. "We put together around half
a dozen numbers and performed a set that really smoked."
"The high point for me was being greeted after the set by
two former 'world bones' champions, Steve Wixson and Dr. Jerry
Barnett. It's a great feeling to put on a good performance that
was seen by two fellow bones players who are held in high esteem
by the rhythm bones community."
"Another highlight was appearing as a guest performer with
Elaine Peacock and her musical cadre of friends. We played what
I guess you could call, 'bone-a-fide' country Gospel music. It
must have sounded okay because Elaine invited me to appear again
before hundreds of people on three different sound stages. The
group included the Reverend John Cox of Papillion, Nebraska on
guitar; Rick McCarty of Sioux Falls, South Dakota on harmonica;
Harriette Anderson of Underwood, Iowa on bass; Wanda Jilderda
of Elk Point, South Dakota on piano; Larry Doran of McCool, Nebraska
on guitar; Dorothy Cooley of Grand Rapids, Michigan on guitar;
Lyle Johnson of Missouri on guitar; Gordon Hildreth of Ontario,
Canada on guitar; and Elaine's aunt, Mary Shipferling of York,
Nebraska singing harmony."
"I am not exactly the most spiritual person in the world,"
says Miller. "And as far as that goes, the performance we
did at the Patio Church Stage is the first time I performed before
an audience of 'church' folks. This was a real special time for
me because I have wanted to play bones with a live Gospel group
for years and never had the opportunity until now. I love the
music and it was an inspiring experience to say the least - and
a fabulous treat!"
So how did Miller, originally 'a Jewish kid from Chicago,' end
up playing bones with a country Gospel band? "One morning
at the fair I set my satchel of bones on a picnic table to rearrange
a few things, I overheard some folks at the table mention clogging
and square dance calling. Since I clog dance and used to call
contra dances I soon joined the conversation. One thing led to
the next and Gospel singer Elaine Peacock and I were off to the
Bluegrass Cafe which is just down the road from the fair grounds."
Who Says There's No Free
"The Bluegrass Cafe is a somewhat legendary place where musicians
who play a set of tunes get a complimentary meal. Not only did
Elaine and some friends make it possible for me to play - and
get lunch on-the-house, but they set me up with top-notch country
musicians including Canadian singer-guitarist Gordon 'Gord' Hildreth,
and the celebrated Johnny J. Johnston of Michigan. Both took absolute
delight in the bones, and Johnny's marvelously jaunty playing
style caused my bones to take a life of their own."
"I soon heard comments like: "I wish I knew about you."
"Make sure you get a hold of me next year and I'll see that
you're scheduled-in all over."
"Gord invited me to play with him and some friends on the
American Heritage Stage that evening. Elaine invited me to appear
that night with her country Gospel group on the Main Stage where
we played Gospel music plus a few cowboy tunes. We played gospel
music the next afternoon at the Patio Church Stage followed again
at the Bluegrass Stage where hundreds of folks on bleachers and
folding lawn chairs enjoyed the festival's various music acts."
"Incidentally," says Miller, "Elaine is a consummate
entertainer who would be delighted to come down from South Dakota
and sing country Gospel here in Saint Louis. She is also a licensed
Modern Western Square Dance (MWSD) caller who would be happy to
call a square dance for your group or special event. I've seen
her in action and her calling style is as smooth as silk."
Interested folks can contact Peacock at www.countryrose.us.
Winning The Bones Contest
Was Nice Too
"I was thoroughly delighted
to discover that no matter where I played bones at the festival,
whether it was the Bluegrass Cafe, Callison's Circle Jam, the
Band Scramble, Jem's Open Jam Tent, American Heritage Stage, Main
Stage, Patio Church Stage, Irish session, Bluegrass Stage, the
Bones Contest, or the square dance in town, my band mates and
the crowd absolutely loved the sound. That alone made the trip
well worth the effort. Of course, winning the bones contest was
Miller laments that he wasn't able to stay the last day for the
awards ceremony. He had to return early as it was five days since
his two young children last saw their dad, "And they were
real homesick for me to get back." Lucky for Miller a fellow
bones player was there who phoned to say he won the contest. "Knowing
the contest results sure made it easier to get to sleep that night."
Miller later received an award certificate and $50.00 prize money
in the mail.
How important is winning the contest? "That and a quarter
will get me a gumball," responds Miller. Likewise, when asked
how it feels to win the All-Ireland Bones Competition, friend
and fellow bones player Steve Brown says, "It's a little
like winning the National Tiddlywinks Championship. Nobody has
any idea who you are. For bones players, though, it's a big deal."
World's Oldest Musical
"Some researchers call rhythm bones the world's oldest musical
instrument," says Miller. According to information on the
Rhythm Bones Society (RBS) Web site, rhythm bones have been excavated
from prehistoric Mesopotamian graves dating back to 3000 BC.
"This venerable little instrument has charmed and fascinated
us since before the dawn of civilization and throughout all of
recorded history," notes Miller. "That's a long time.
More than 5,000 years."
Rhythm bones are old indeed. So says RBS Executive director Steve
Brown of Winchendon, Massachusetts. He cites this entry in The
New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians which states, 'The
bones were played in China before 3000 BC, in Egypt around that
date, and in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and medieval Europe.'
Brown is the current (and two-time consecutive) winner of the
coveted All-Ireland Bones Championship.
And Checkered Reputation
Miller is quick to point out that "rhythm bones players have
endured a long and checkered reputation."
"For example," says Miller, "As early as the second
Millennium BC in Moldavia, folks rattled bones to drive away evil
spirits and help cure sick people. They also discovered that bones
were great for entertaining the kids."
On a more somber note, Ethnomusicologist Sue Ellen Barber of the
University of Michigan reports that lepers in the Middle Ages
had to sound bones 'as a warning of their approach.' Her research
also discloses the 'rambling, desolate life style' of bones playing
minstrels wandering through Europe which led to public censure
by the church in the year 554 AD.
"Then suddenly, around 500 years ago," observes Miller,
"bones crossed the English Channel into the United Kingdom
where the lively sound has remained an indelible facet of pub
culture ever since."
"There is a rich connection between the bones and traditional
Irish music and they may have first been taken to America by Irish
Emigrants," adds Steve Brown.
Here Comes 'Mister Bones'
Barber notes that it was during the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries that bones became part of the musical tradition embraced
by American plantation slaves.
She even discovered a story about one particular group of slave
musicians who played so well they formed a traveling band that
"toured its way from Louisville to Cincinnati then on to
Canada and freedom." Barber goes on to explain that African-American
street bands of that era were part of the cultural environment
which led in the 1840's to the blackface minstrel show.
"Rhythm bones reached their peak of popularity during the
minstrel era," adds Miller. "This is the period where
'Mr. Bones' rattled his bones and told jokes."
"Minstrel shows flourished from 1843 until the rise of vaudeville
in the 1880's," continues Miller. "The professionally
produced ensembles performed musical variety acts and short melodramas
that appealed to American working-class sensibilities of the day."
"But the shows were not for everyone," Miller cautions.
"For the most part, you had to be an adult white male to
attend. The shows portrayed a romanticized version of southern
plantation slave life that was immensely popular on both sides
of the Civil War. In a nutshell," explains Miller, "minstrel
shows featured actors wearing blackface makeup who made fun of
African-Americans. Even so," Miller points out, "the
productions served as the 'top 40' pop music medium of the day.
They evolved into the modern entertainment industry we know now.
You can see the impact on popular old TV programs such as the
Ed Sullivan Show, Carole Burnett, and especially Hee Haw. Look
around you now," observes Miller, "Saturday Night Live
and MTV are latter-day minstrel shows. And whether we like it
or not," states Miller flatly, "the original Mickey
Mouse is a caricature of a blackface minstrel player."
"Professional quality ebony bones were manufactured a hundred
years ago in Chicago by the Wurlitzer Company and sold through
the Sears Catalog," he says. If you run across a set of vintage
Wurlitzer bones, Miller would love to see them.
And The Beat Goes On
By the end of the century bones went underground. "They were
played on street corners and in school yards, homes and dance
halls," recounts Barber. She tells how in 1909, a young Percy
Danforth learned the art from African-American boys who played
bones under the gas street lamps in front of Isaac Clayman's Grocery
Store in Washington, D.C. Barber cites facts which demonstrate
how the current resurgence of bones playing owes much of its success
to the late Percy Danforth, "a revered figure among bones
players today," says Miller, "and whom the Smithsonian
Institution has deemed a national treasure."
Another bones legend is Freeman 'Brother Bones' Davis. "If
you've been to a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game," says
Miller, "then you've probably heard him. He's the guy who
whistles - while playing eight ebony bones - on the 1948 recording
of 'Sweet Georgia Brown.'" The tune was adopted in 1952 as
the official theme song of the Harlem Globe Trotters. Brother
Bones died in 1974. The Rhythm Bones Society offered a tribute
to Freeman Davis at Bones Fest VI in 2002, in honor of the 100th
anniversary of his birth.
Well With Others
Miller is an accomplished player who mixes well with other instruments.
He can also play without stepping on vocalists - a rare ability
among bones players. Now and then he adds cutlery, shaker eggs,
even clog dancing to the mix. It can be a sight.
Beyond a year of piano lessons in grade school, he has no formal
training in music.
But Miller is no stranger to traditional music and keeping a beat.
That's because he is an avid contra dancer who's been 'hoof'n
it' to live old-time music for over 15 years. "The music
is also great for clog dancing," says Miller who learned
the Appalachian-style Tennessee walking step years ago at a weekend
workshop in Champaign, Illinois.
Today he is one of only a few people who can clog dance and play
bones at the same time. "I've found there's not an especially
great demand for that sort of thing these days," chuckles
Miller. "The only other person I've seen do this," he
notes, "is 'Spike Bones' of Columbia Missouri. Equally rare
is Miller's virtuoso ability to keep the beat with as many as
eight bones at the same time. "People tell me it looks flashy,"
says Miller with a shrug. "But the fact is," he explains,
"I'm lazy. It's just that eight bones make it easier to play
along with slower tempo tunes."
You might catch the world bones champ playing at Irish music sessions
and occasional contra dances. He has also been seen at local Saint
Louis pubs on 'ragtime,' 'blues,' and 'old-time music' night.
Lately, folks have enjoyed the haunting sound of rhythm bones
at the Hartford Coffee Company's monthly open mic 'Hootenanny'
located near Tower Grove Park in south city. "I'm happy to
play along with anyone who can stand the clatter," Miller
Miller enjoys giving demos and workshops. He is a member of the
Rhythm Bones Society and enjoys passing the tradition along to
One other place you can catch Miller playing bones is on the street
corner while he watches for his kids' school bus. "The neighbors
seem to think it's pretty cool, if not a little eccentric,"
What kind of music works best with bones? "Bones go great
with all kinds of toe-tapping music," says Miller. He plays
to traditional old-time string band tunes, Irish jigs, reels,
marches, polkas, waltzes, minstrel tunes, vaudeville, Tin Pan
Alley, Broadway, ragtime, cakewalks, early blues, classic jazz,
klezmer, Cajun, African, Gospel, Dixieland, bluegrass, Quebecois,
jug band, all kinds of ancient and contemporary world music, or
just about anything with a spirited beat.
"Bones also work well with lively classical pieces by Bach,
Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Vivaldi and others," says Miller
who would love to do a fun outreach event with the Saint Louis
Symphony. "How about treating happy fans to 'Eine Kleine
Klickety-klackmusik?'" asks the aspiring symphonic 'bonesist.'
On the other side of the coin, "Pop music from the 20's,
30's, 40's, and 50's works too," says Miller. He plays to
Roaring Twenties, Charleston era, Beatles, Johnny Cash, Aretha
Franklin, even rock and rap. Miller wouldn't mind collaborating
with pop, rock, reggae, and rap groups looking to create enchanting
new ground-breaking tracks that 'really'
shake, rattle & roll.
Everybody Loves That
"Most people savor the clickety-clack of bones," says
Miller, adding, "they really love the sound.
"As a solo instrument bones are boring," he says. "But
when you match rhythm bones with the right tune, tempo, and musicians,
the results are absolutely awesome. Musicians and listeners both
like how bones 'lift' a tune. I suppose you can say bones add
spice to the music." The way Carl Anderton, a national award-winning
banjo champion with 'The
Gum Springs Serenaders'
puts it, "When bonesy's on, the whole band tightens up."
"Of course, not everyone has the same tastes, you know,"
says Miller. "But there's hardly a time someone doesn't come
up to me after a set and say nice things about the sound."
And Miller truly appreciates the compliments. "It's what
keeps me going," he confides. "Actually," reveals
Miller, "it's the lead melody player who does the important
work. Nevertheless," he says, "folks are clearly intrigued
and curious about 'those sticks.' As soon as the bones start rattling,
the audience perks up. And bones players do draw attention. For
one thing, bones can be loud. And for another, we can look funny
when we play. That's because some of us flail our arms around
quite a bit to make all that racket. I suppose that's why people
perceive bones players as wild and crazy. But when all is said
and done, bones are just rhythm instruments. And being the last
musician on the totem pole, I do get a kick out of the attention
that bones bring my way."
"As I understand it, the Irish tradition is playing with
one hand standing up. The English tradition is playing one-handed
also, but seated. The nature of both styles is somewhat subdued
and low-key. On the other hand, the American tradition, having
developed from 'Mister Bones' during the minstrel era, is playing
flamboyantly with two hands standing up." Miller plays all
three styles. "Ultimately, it's the music that dictates how
I play," he reveals.
I Can Afford!
Originally from Chicago, Miller now lives in south city, just
down the street from the house where his wife Helen Pancella grew
up. "Everyone in Helen's family is a terrific singer. On
the other hand," admits the stay-at-home dad, "I can't
sing a note." But he plainly does 'got rhythm.' The couple
have two young children, Zak and Erica, who are doing fabulous
work at Saint Louis Charter School.
Miller quit high school in 1965 to join the army. While in the
service he took a high school equivalency test which opened the
door to college where he earned undergraduate degrees in Speech
and Theatre and "ended up" with a master's degree in
Design. "I have accomplished nothing to speak of in real
life," he insists, "But fortunately I stumbled into
contra dancing and traditional clog dancing which helps maintain
my sanity. My other saving grace is playing rhythm bones."
Miller first saw rhythm bones during a party at the home of fellow
contra dancer Jean Snyder. Also at the party was local banjo and
harmonica wizard, Sandy Weltman. Weltman 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 at the party
asked Weltman about those 'sticks' he was playing. "Sandy
told us they were called 'bones,'" recalls Miller. "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
A few weeks later Miller came across some plastic rhythm bones
on a display rack at Music Folk, the acoustic music shop in nearby
Webster Groves, Missouri. They cost $3.75 a set. "This is
an instrument I can afford!" he exclaimed at the time.
As Miller was getting the hang of rattling the bones, local fiddle
champ and violin maker Geoff Seitz suggested playing with a pair
in each hand. "At first I thought he was teasing me,"
laughs Miller. "After all, it was hard enough to play one
set in my dominant hand - but to play a second set of bones with
my left hand too? You gotta be kidding!" Seitz explained
to Miller that playing a set in both hands adds more color to
the sound. Miller was intrigued with bones playing so he learned
as much as he could about them. He discovered that during the
minstrel era, which was the heyday of bones playing, 'Mr. Bones'
always played two-handed. Eventually Miller bought a second set
of bones. Then he fashioned a few more sets from beef ribs he
got from the butcher shop. He practiced around four hours a day
virtually all year long. That was 15 years ago. Since then Miller
has developed into one of the finest - if not, rarest - rhythm
bones players on the planet.
Scarcer Than Hen's Teeth
"Bones might look easy enough
to play, but folks who try their hand at them quickly discover
they're not," says Miller. "Anyone can pick up a set
of bones and make noise with them, which throws the band off.
That's probably why bones have a bad rap among traditional musicians
- and why even virtuoso bones players often have to contend with
an unjustly tarnished reputation. But with enough drive and determination,"
says Miller, "anyone can learn to play bones."
"As with any other musical instrument, it takes years of
practice to become proficient," Miller says. "And good
luck trying to find a bones player in your neighborhood who can
teach you," says Miller who can count the number of bones
players he knows in Missouri on one hand. "Most bones players
I know learned from their father, grandfather, or an itinerant
bones player. For the average person though, learning to play
is simply not worth the effort, which is why skilled bones players
are scarcer than hen's teeth." Indeed. The Rhythm Bones Society
now totals just 117 members, which is more than any previous year.
How many people play bones? "I speculate there are tens of
thousands of bones players in the world and to date we have found
about 650," says Steve Wixson, secretary/treasurer of the
Rhythm Bones Society and editor of 'Rhythm Bones Player,' the
organization's quarterly newsletter. "Most of the first group
can trace their bones playing to the end of the minstrel era,"
says Wixson, "or from a relative who learned from a minstrel
show. These people have gray hair and are getting old. In one
or two decades they will be gone and the number of bones players
will be small. The work of our society is clear - pass on bones
playing to the next generation."
"My hair is turning gray and age is catching up to me fast,"
affirms Miller, who turns 57 in February, adding, "I really
haven't promoted my bones playing much, but I suppose I should.
After all, there's not many opportunities for folks to see a live
bones performance." As a stay-at-home dad with two small
children and a wife who suffers frequent severe migraines, travelling
for out-of-town gigs is difficult if not impossible. "At
this point in time, my show biz 'career' is pretty much limited
to local appearances when I can escape from home." Miller
has been known to bring along one or both of the kids while their
mom is home migraining. "As you can imagine, percussion and
migraines don't mix well."
Miller says his skill level has taken a quantum leap forward during
the past two years. He credits this breakthrough to exposure from
world-class bones players he 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, music gigs, and
events like the 'old-time music open mic night' at Griffins of
Soulard, which is hosted by two prominent local fiddlers, Ted
Vasquez and Barbara Weathers."
"Other prominent local musicians who have tolerated my rattlin'
in Saint Louis include 'Banjo Billy' Mathews, Mike Saputo and
his 'Boney Goat Band,'
ragtime keyboardist Gale 'Gaslite' Foehner, and his blues playing
son and daughter-in-law, 'The
Another big influence, evidently, was the National Old-time Country
& Bluegrass Music Festival where Miller appeared with a diverse
variety of first-rate traditional country performers on eight
different sound stages.
Miller played bones, spoons, and bodhran (Irish drum), this December
with fiddler Charles Pool, and string player Joel Eissenberg on
guitar and banjo. The trio performed in period costumes for an
'1804 Christmas Feast
and Dance.' The event
was put on by the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles reenactment
group which is retracing all the steps of the Lewis and Clark
Corps of Discovery Expedition, starting from Jefferson's home
He also recently appeared at a local benefit concert alongside
traditional vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Nancy Lippincott,
as well as the 'Bates
Street Blues Band.'
Miller gave a bones demonstration and workshop last Spring at
the Southern Illinois Irish Festival in Carbondale, Illinois.
He also joined sessions at McGurk's pub during the annual Mississippi
River Celtic Fest held in Saint Louis last Spring with celebrated
players Mary Bergin and Kevin Henry. "Later in the crowded
pub, Mr. Henry, a distinguished Irish-born flute and pipe player
from Chicago, acknowledged me with a smile and a hearty 'the bones
player!' which really made my day," reflects Miller.
Last August Miller was a featured performer at 'Evanstock 2004:
the Three-day Music Reunion Festival' in Evanston, Illinois, the
town where Miller lived during his middle and high school years.
"I played on stage with 'Diamond' Jim Greene, a steamin'
Chicago-born traditional Delta blues player who now lives in Evanston."
Their act got a standing ovation. "Of course Jim's stellar
performance may have had something to do with it," laughs
A documentary of Evanstock is set for broadcast on Evanston Community
TV and additional cable networks. A documentary video and performance
dvd is targeted for release this year.
His 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 ten years with the legendary Irish band, 'The
Steve Brown: Executive Director of the Rhythm Bones Society and
current 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.
"The world is not exactly jumping with bones players,"
says Miller. "We're few and far between." Bones players
are so rare in fact, that only three bones contests are generally
known to exist on the entire globe. "Each is in a different
country," says Miller. "There's the event I won in Iowa,
which is regarded among leading bones players as the world championship,
and there's a similar competition in Australia. But the All-Ireland
Bones Playing Competition held each May in Abbeyfeale, County
Limerick," declares Miller, "is the most challenging
and prestigious event."
So is a trip to Ireland in the cards for Miller? "With the
two kids in school during that time, and their mom's frequent
debilitating migraines...and considering the expense," he
sighs, I doubt if I can go. "But I am 'boning up' just in
Coming Soon... To A Group, School, Or Museum Near You!
Winning the bones contest has inspired Miller to think about putting
together a musical 'Bones
Through the Ages' presentation.
"It would give folks a chance to hear and enjoy the sound
of this ancient instrument," says Miller who is enamored
by anything historic. He hopes the idea will appeal to local civic
groups, schools, museums, or a private sponsor.
"It's just a pipe dream for now though," says Miller.
"But if it's going to happen, it's got to happen sooner than
later, because after all," he confides, "I'm pushing
sixty. So I'm afraid time is running out for rhythm bones in Saint
Louis. Maybe someone else will come along and pick up the torch.
But I wouldn't hold my breath on it. Skilled bones players are
scarcer than hen's teeth, you know. So when I'm gone," Miller
says ruefully, "odds are you'll never get a chance to see
a live bones performance again in your lifetime." What a
loss it would be for the community to see this ancient instrument
fall by the wayside.
Something You Can Tell
Your Grandchildren About
Although Miller has played rhythm bones for years and maintained
a solid reputation as a first-rate player, it wasn't until after
being declared the 2004 'World Bones' Champion that he began to
achieve celebrity status among traditional musicians as a must-see
Saint Louis has a truly unique trouper in our midst. In his expert
hands, the haunting rattle of rhythm bones enchants everyone who
hears it. "To most people it's just clickety-clack,"
says Miller. But it's not every day we get to see a crackerjack
bones player brandish those ancient instruments in a hot live
performance. And this whiz-bang artist can make 'them bones' really
sing too. Miller doesn't get out very often. If you are among
those who have already seen this intriguing panoply of rhythm,
then you can count yourself among the lucky few. When Miller rattles
the bones you are witnessing a 'bone-a-fide' local legend. So
if you ever get the chance to see him perform, don't miss the
show. It will be something you can tell your grandchildren about.
Just A Pair Of Sticks
"After all is said and done," observes Miller, "rhythm
bones are just a pair of sticks." Scott Miller takes great
delight in playing a deceptively simple instrument few others
Musicians, booking agents, and local impresarios interested in
rhythm bones can contact Miller at www.rhythm-bones.com.
3916 Iowa Ave
Saint Louis, MO 63118
Country Music Association (NTCMA):
Bob Everhart, President
Rhythm Bones Society
Stephen Brown, Executive Director
(Two-time consecutive All-Ireland bone playing champion)
Steve Wixson, Secretary/Treasurer, Newsletter Editor
(previous 'world bones' champion)