Saint Louis Dad Becomes
'Bone-a-fide' Music Legend
SAINT LOUIS, MO - Feb 25, 2005 - Other than his next door neighbors
and a scattering of folks in the traditional music community,
few people in Saint Louis have ever seen Scott Miller play rhythm
Yes, we're talking beef ribs. And Miller is one of the finest
- if not, rarest - rhythm bones players on the planet.
But what exactly are these bones? Researchers call bones the world's
first musical instrument. "This venerable little do-it-yourself
folk instrument has charmed and fascinated us since before the
dawn of civilization and throughout all of recorded history,"
says Miller. "It's a skill that has passed down hand to hand
from generation to generation for more than 5,000 years."
Rhythm bones arrived here in the New World from the British Isles.
As an 'equal opportunity instrument,' bones were quickly embraced
by American plantation slaves which led in the 1840's to the blackface
minstrel show. Bones were the hottest thing in popular music during
the American minstrel era, and it was during this period that
rhythm bones enjoyed a phenomenal worldwide appeal. But that was
150 years ago. Once all the rage, bones playing is now a dying
"But it doesn't have to be that way," says Miller. "After
all," he explains, "bones work great with all kinds
of traditional, classical, and popular music." Miller should
know. He's the current World Bones Champion.
In his hands the haunting rattle of rhythm bones enchants everyone
who hears it. "I'm happy to play with anyone who can stand
the clatter," says Miller who lives in south city, just down
the street from the house where his wife Helen Pancella grew up.
The couple have two young children, Zak and Erica, who are doing
fabulous work at Saint Louis Charter School. But Saint Louis is
not what he calls a hot bed for traditional percussion. "In
fact," he admits sadly, "many more people have seen
me play bones outside of Saint Louis in just this past year alone,
than have seen me play here at home over the past 15 years combined."
In addition to accompanying prominent local musicians, Miller
has played rhythm bones with the great Delta blues artist 'Diamond'
Jim Greene of Chicago. During their recent visit in town, Miller
was invited to join the prestigious internationally touring concert
string band, Clarke Buehling and the Skirtlifters. Miller also
made a name for himself last summer at the National Old-time Country
Music and Bluegrass Festival in Missouri Valley, Iowa where he
appeared with top-rate performers on eight different sound stages.
"I'm afraid time is running out for rhythm bones in Saint
Louis," says the stay-at-home dad who's pushing 60-years-old.
"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. So when I'm dead and 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.
Saint Louis has a truly unique trouper in our midst. Folks are
clearly intrigued and curious about 'those sticks.' As soon as
the bones start rattling, the audience perks up. Too bad Miller
doesn't get out to play more often. When he rattles the bones
you are witnessing a 'bone-a-fide' local legend. This is living
history. 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
You can usually catch Miller playing bones at the Hartford Coffee
Company 'Hootenanny' open mic night the third Saturday of each
month; Griffins of Soulard 'Old-time Music' open mic night on
Mondays (except the 2nd and 4th Monday when he's at Girl Scouts
with his 7-year-old); and the Wednesday night Irish session at
Music Folk in Webster Groves.
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