Scott Miller in front of Roy’s Record Shop in downtown Maryville, circa 2002. (The Daily Times file photo)
There’s something about knowing where a man lays his head at night that’s reassuring, and most of the time we don’t even realize it.
We take for granted that the friends we make and the musicians we love are just a part of life here in East Tennessee. Shows they play are a regular thing, and when we get to know them beyond the persona they project from stage, we take for granted that they’re our neighbors — that we might run into them buying steaks at Kroger or filling up their car at Weigel’s.
And then something happens — they move on or, God forbid, pass on, and suddenly we become very aware of that empty spot where that person used to be.
Fortunately for those of us who know and love Scott Miller, he’s decided to do the former. It doesn’t make it any less disappointing, but if there’s any comfort to be found in the singer-songwriter’s recent relocation to his home state of Virginia, it’s that he’s just up the road. And he assures us he’ll be back in the Knoxville area often.
“You won’t even notice I’m gone! I’m coming back tomorrow, and I’ll be there all week, through Monday,” including a show opening for The Dirty Guv’nahs on Friday night at The Tennessee Theatre with his band The Commonwealth, Miller told me on Tuesday afternoon. “I’ll be coming back for my October show at the Laurel (Theater), I always have Nashville stuff to do, and The V-Roys are rehearsing for New Year’s Eve. Even when I lived there, it’s not like I was in town anyway. I was always on the road.”
And to be fair, he pointed out, he’s never made it a secret that he wanted to eventually move back to the Commonwealth.
“Anybody that knows me, or anybody I have let get to know me, knows that I’ve always said I’m moving back near the (family) farm eventually,” he said. “I come home all the time — to help bring cattle in, two weeks to help bale the hay, and earlier in the summer, it was just painfully obvious my dad needed help. Anybody with elderly parents knows the deal. And I can work anywhere, and Thea (his wife) was cool with moving her business (Miller Lane Studio, an interior design firm).”
What he didn’t expect, he said, was to move so quickly. He and Thea found a house in Staunton, Va. — home of the Statler Brothers, birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson and the first town in America to implement the city manager system of government, the history buff is quick to point out — but it was a fixer-upper. Negotiations for a home loan took time, and the Millers weren’t sure their Rocky Hill home would sell in such a dismal economic climate.
“Then this guy called and said, ‘I want this house, and I need to be in it by Aug. 26,’” he said. “We were like, ‘Holy cow — that’s in two weeks!’ We were counting on a month, and I was even thinking it might be the first of the year. We thought we’d come up, work on this while our house was on the market and ease everybody into the idea. Sometimes, though, people need a kick out the door.”
And so last week, PBS sent a documentary film crew to town to spend some time with Miller for an “American Voyage” segment on East Tennessee. (”I spent the whole day with them and didn’t bother to tell them, ‘Hey, tomorrow morning there’s a moving van pulling out with all my shit,’” he joked. “To alleviate that guilt, I got them to do something on R.B. Morris, too.”) The next morning, he helped his V-Roys bandmate Mic Harrison with Harrison’s landscaping business, and that afternoon, the two hit the road driving two U-Haul trucks north.
There’s plenty of work to be done. In addition to rehabbing the old house he and Thea now call home, he’s working on a “mess” of new songs (”I’ve got to talk to Doug Lancio” about work on a new record, he said), and of course The V-Roys will undoubtedly sell out their New Year’s Eve show at The Bijou Theatre. (Disc Exchange on Chapman Highway will host a ticket pre-sale event at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, for that concert; the first 30 people who purchase tickets at the event will also be able to purchase an autographed copy of “Sooner Or Later,” the band’s new compilation album, two weeks before its regular release date.)
And with so many loose ends left untied here in East Tennessee, he probably won’t be gone long enough to miss us.
But for those East Tennesseans who came to adopt a skinny kid from Virginia who came here two decades ago, his absence will be noted.
“That town raised me, and I consider that my hometown,” he said. “I came to Knoxville a country ding-dong. Everything I learned in that city and East Tennessee, that’s part of me. East Tennessee is a part of me. I carry it with me, and I’ll carry it home.”