Louisiana buried J.D Miller on this day back in 1996. The Iota native wrote “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” famously sung by Kitty Wells but his real impact on the record industry came when he sat in the producer’s chair.
Starting in June of 1946 when Miller recorded Happy Fats, and Doc Guidry for his nascent Fais-Do-Do label, Miller would begin an historically crucial run, and become one of the prime architects of the early Louisiana sound. After folding Fais-Do-Do into his new concern, Feature, Miller set about in earnest recording the young Cajun musicians of the day like Lee Sonnier, Jimmy C. Newman, and a 19 year old wildman named Doug Kershaw.
Feature would put out “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” with Al Montgomery singing but it took Kitty Wells to turn it into a monster. Miller was cat quick when he sensed trends changing and by 1955 he’d shifted his interest towards the hottest thing going in the Deep South, the blues.
Working for Ernie Young’s Excello imprint, Miller tasked himself with the business of recording the young cats working the circuit of juke joints, taverns, and hideaways across Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. ‘Swamp blues’ was born via the raw sounds from hot shots like Lightnin’ Slim, Silas Hogan, Lazy Lester, and Lonesome Sundown.
Miller was manic and chameleonic in his approach to the business. He would go on to found more labels and record rock n roll, zydeco, r&b, traditional Cajun and pop. If he thought he could have a decent print run, and make a few dollars with a new sound he’d go all in in a hot minute.
Even a brief biography like this one must mention the fact that J.D Miller was a virulent racist. This is not the space to examine that aspect of the Miller’s life but if you’re of a mind even cursory research will reveal some ugly truths about the man.
J.D Miller would go into the hospital for heart surgery in March of 1996. He passed on March 23rd of that same month.
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