Music News

Chris Daniels and Hazel Miller Team Up on New Album

Todd Park Mohr, Hazel Miller and Chris Daniels.
Todd Park Mohr, Hazel Miller and Chris Daniels. Dan Fong
A year ago, singer and guitarist Chris Daniels was invited to play a virtual benefit for the Inner City Health Center, which provides health and wellness to underserved populations in Denver and the surrounding metro area. But instead of bringing his eight-piece band the Kings, which he’s fronted since 1984, he recruited blues and soul powerhouse Hazel Miller, who has performed statewide for more than three decades, and her longtime keyboardist, Dana Marsh.

Five of the songs the trio played during that benefit appear on the new album What We Did, which releases digitally on July 2 and physically on July 23. Daniels, who was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2013, says the album’s moniker refers to what Miller said after hearing the rough mixes of those songs and saying, “Look at what we did!” It also answers the ubiquitous question of 2021: “What did you do during the pandemic?”

Miller plays both acoustic and electric guitars, and Marsh plays keys. Some other heavy hitters contributed to the album, including Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd & the Monsters, whom Miller has toured with for the past two decades; bassist Victor Wooten; mandolinist Sam Bush; Leftover Salmon bassist Greg Garrison; Freddi Gowdy of the Freddi Henchi Band; and eTown house drummer Christian Teele. The album also includes bassist Kenny Passarelli and fellow Colorado musicians Tom Capek on the Hammond B3 and Mark Oblinger and Linda Lawson adding background vocals.

What We Did, which is made up of seven covers and three originals, opens with the Doobie Brothers 1976 hit “Takin’ It to the Streets.” Daniels had Miller swap out the word “sister” for "brother" in the song’s first line.

“I've always felt that it was such a boy’s song,” Daniels says. "I love the idea of the opening line being, ‘You don't know me, but I'm your sister,’ because it really widens the scope of Michael McDonald's great old tune.”

Daniels says legendary bluesman Albert King’s version of “Born Under a Bad Sign” was very macho — “You know, I’m born under bad sign, and I’m badass.” For style, Daniels and Miller looked to a 2011 Tiny Desk Concert performance by the song’s original composer, Booker T. Jones.

“Booker T. did it with ‘I'm born under a bad sign, and this sucks,’” Daniels says. “It's not a good thing. I just love the honesty of that.”

Mohr digs in during guitar solos on both “Born Under a Bad Sign” and Z.Z. Hill's "Down Home Blues."

“He’s just really good,” Daniels says of Mohr. “I would say one of the best blues-guitar players around. He's got an Eric Clapton sense, but it's much more raw, and it's just fun.”

Elsewhere on the album, Daniels, Miller and company also play renditions of Irving Berlin’s swinging standard “Cheek to Cheek,” the Carole King/James Taylor ballad “You’ve Got a Friend,” and “What a Wonderful World,” made famous by Louis Armstrong. Miller's vocals soar on Al Jarreau’s gospel-tinged “Could You Believe.”

Daniels notes that “I’m Still Lookin’” was the first song he wrote for Miller, but this time around, instead of it being funky and bluesy — like it is on her album of the same name — they gave it more of a bossa nova feel, à la Antonio Carlos Jobim.

The album was really born out of Daniels's joy in singing with Miller, something they’ve been doing off and on since Daniels first invited her on stage at a blues festival in the mid’80s, not long after she moved to Colorado from Louisville, Kentucky.

“She was sitting in the wings,” Daniels says “I'd heard her singing backstage, and I said, ‘Come on out here and sing.’ So she came out and joined us — Al Kooper and David Bromberg and myself and the Kings.”

On What We Did, Miller and Daniels reprise a version of “Stealin’ Candy,” which was the first duet they ever sang together. While Daniels and Miller each have their own large bands, he says they might continue performing together as a trio or quartet.

“It’s a lot easier than touring with a seven- or eight-piece band, which she and I are both toting around,” Daniels says. “Our hope is to be able to go out and do stuff all across the country where we can fly in the three or four of us and just perform.

“There are expectations for Hazel Miller and the Collective or Chris Daniels and the Kings,” Daniels acknowledges. “My fans want to hear ‘I Like Your Shoes,’ and Hazel's fans want to hear the songs that are her sort of signature pieces.”

While they might work on new material for their smaller group, during the pandemic, Daniels wrote enough material for a solo and another Kings album.

“I mean, you can only watch so much Netflix,” he jokes.

For more information, visit Chris Daniels online.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon