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Bloodshot Briefing: Chicago's Texas Ruby

Jane Baxter Miller is to Bloodshot Records what Smead Jolley was to the 1931 Chicago White Sox. Both the label and the team could count on Miller and Jolley to deliver in the pinch.

While Baxter Miller isn't on the label's roster, she's what the West Irving Park crew calls a Bloodshot Drinking Buddy - somebody who isn't in the starting lineup but still comes up huge in the clutch.

Hailing from eastern Kentucky and a theater major at University of West Virginia, Baxter Miller's been around the blocks in Chicago for a couple of decades. Her Texas Rubies country duo in the early 1990s with sister-in-law Kelly Kessler was around before Bloodshot Records was born.

After bouncing back and forth between theater and music for several years, Baxter Miller is out with a new record, Harm Among The Willows, on the Durga Disc label. She's not sure when her the band will play next, but she definitely wants to fill up Evanston's Space with her sweet sounds.

Beachwood Music: In case you're not familiar with this report, it's a behind-the-scenes look at the artist. We want to know where you get food at 2 a.m.

Baxter Miller: Be very careful how much you want to know.

Beachwood Music: Excellent start. You've been here a while now. Is Chicago home to you?

Baxter Miller: It is. Sorry to say that. But that's not in a bad way. I hate the dialect, and it's a little hard to take. I hear Chicago in my voice now as opposed to the lovely Southern voice I used to have.

Beachwood Music: Where did you land when you first moved here?

Baxter Miller: Oakdale over by where Steppenwolf used to be. I moved here to do theater. I didn't know much about Chicago then, and I was walking around the neighborhood and I found the lake. I had no idea. Also, there was a great bar over there called Gaslight. It's called something else now.

Beachwood Music: You first got into bluegrass and began signing while in college in Morgantown. You then started the Texas Rubies here.

Baxter Miller: We were country before country was cool! We were doing some pretty fun stuff. We played at this awesome bar, Lower Links. It was amazing and run by this amazing woman Leigh Jones. It was like a little clubhouse. It's what the Hideout feels like now. There were also performance artists there. I think David Sedaris performed there before he was David Sedaris.

But we broke up before Bloodshot got going.

Beachwood Music: Despite not being on Bloodshot, you are featured on the label's first compilation, For a Life of Sin, with the song "That Truck." You're like if Julia Roberts shows up on 30 Rock. You've also sang with several Bloodshot bands.

Baxter Miller: Yeah, I'm like the guest star with her own trailer. I've been on lots and lots of compilations. One of my favorites was performing "Rock Island Line" with Rick Sherry and Devil in a Woodpile. Also, I did some harmonies with the Wacos. That was a hoot.

Beachwood Music: What is your relationship with the label for Harm Among The Willows?

Baxter Miller: They are helping out with the distribution, helping with publicity. They call me a Drinking Buddy.

Beachwood Music: After Texas Rubies broke up, you formed Baxter. Tell me about that venture.

Baxter Miller: It was this amazing R&B band. Too short-lived. It was all these jazz players, like Ken Vandermark, who won a MacArthur grant. It got harder to keep it going.

All the time, though, I've been working on songs. Then I got this notion in my head that I wanted to put them out.

Beachwood Music: Who's in Jane Baxter Miller? Is that the name?

Baxter Miller: That's the name. Maybe we should have another name. You have any ideas? Is it too late?

The band is Grant Tye on guitar, Gerald Dowd on drums, Chris Ligon on keyboards, Kent Kessler on bass and me singing and playing acoustic guitar.

Beachwood Music: You've associated with a collection of women artists (Neko Case, Nora O'Connor, Kelly Hogan, Exene Cervenka, Rosie Flores, to name a few) that rank as some of the best in the business. That's one sorority I can get behind.

Baxter Miller: I am in very good company. All wonderful and amazing women. Strong and talented women rock.

Beachwood Music: Let's get personal. Where do you and husband Kent Kessler live?

Baxter Miller: I live on the Chicago River up in Lincoln Square. It's great. I can look out and see ducks, kayaks and trash. You can fool yourself that you're living in the country and then you see some heinous item.

They recently put up some big signs that say under no circumstances do you touch the water.

But I like it here. It kind of reminds where I grew up in eastern Kentucky.

Beachwood Music: Where's the go-to place to eat?

Baxter Miller: Pizza Art. Oh, my, God. Wood-fired pizzas, BYOB, killer big salads. They smoke their own meat. It's cheap and amazing. It's a killer place.

Oh, there's another place. This Mexican place, Santa Rita. There's no alcohol, and it's in this strip mall off Lawrence. Really amazing food there. Shrimp with arbol sauce. Also, amazing pork and hominy stew. Great for hangovers.

Beachwood Music: When can Chicago see the band next?

Baxter Miller: No gigs booked. I am really bad at that, and I am trying to get better. I am talking to Space up in Evanston, and I know we will be there at some point. I also hope back at the Hideout.

Beachwood Music: Robbie Fulks, who also teams up with Grant and Gerald, told me Space was his favorite place to play last year.

Baxter Miller: It's very cool. They even have a recording studio, a co-op studio. Amazing space, amazing setup. The music venue is gorgeous.

Beachwood Music: This has been fun, one of my favorites. But we aren't done yet. End of night. Give me some jukebox tunes.

Baxter Miller: Anything by Bill Monroe. Emmylou Harris's "Two More Bottles of Wine." Ike and Tina Turner's "A Fool in Love." Anything by Emilio Rodriguez.


Editor's Note: Baxter Miller is no relation to Bloodshot co-founder Rob Miller.


Matt Harness brings you his Bloodshot Briefing every Friday, except when it appears on Monday like today. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on February 22, 2010

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