Miles Johnston Biography

Miles Johnston has been playing music for over forty years. He started playing drums in grade school when he was ten, played in a few bands in his teens with his friend Willy Jam, and, after marriage, went on to join the Army where he stayed for more than six years. In the Army Miles played in the 7th Infantry Division Band at Ft. Ord, California, and the 3rd Armored Division Band in Frankfurt, Germany. After the service, Miles studied music at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire and then piano technology at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls.

While in the Army, Miles played in stage band, concert band, marching band, and small jazz and rock groups. With the 3rd Armored Division Band he traveled throughout Germany, Holland, and France playing Fasching parades, concerts, beer tents, and Army ceremonial jobs. When Miles wasn't playing for the Army he was doing gigs on the side and when he didn't have a gig you could find him at the band hall practicing. There were musicians in the Army who had studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, too, who helped tutor Miles in his Jazz drumming.

After the Army and school Miles and his family moved to the Rochester, Minnesota area. Not able to find any Jazz groups to get involved in, Miles joined the variety trio Mixx, led by Charles Wilson-guitar/vocals with Rod Jurrens-bass/vocals. He spent a year with them and moved on to play for a year with Risky Business, led by local guitarist and singing legend Danny Schweitzer. The country and pop variety band, that also included Terry Bull-bass and Dave Zill-guitar/vocals, played both locally and on the road.

Tiring of the road, Miles hooked up with singer Tim Nelson, who had developed a big local following as a quirky front man with the group Artemus and was starting a new band called The Briefs. The Briefs were a five piece rock variety group that, owing to Nelson's endless stream of humorous antics, peculiar Morrisonesque dance steps, and powerful singing, enjoyed a strong local following. The other members of this well rehearsed band were: Mark Carithers-keys, Laird Macmillan-guitar, and Daniel McCullough-bass. The Briefs were together for three years before they broke up and Miles started a short lived rock variety band with Carithers called The Rhythm Vendors before moving on.

Some of the other bands Miles has been a member of since then are:

The Chubbs - Led by another local guitarist and singing legend Mike Little with his wife Pat-bass/vocals and Chris Ricks-guitar/vocals.

Lester's Biscuit - An off shoot of the Briefs playing more contemporary rock and alternative with Mark Carithers-keys, Daniel McCullough-bass, Laird Macmillan-guitar/vocals, and Chris Ricks-guitar/vocals.

Stewart Hall and the Household Budget - Another rock variety band with Cory Shore-vocals, Mark Carithers-keys, Brad Hoag-guitar, Kevin Senner-bass, and Rick Stack-guitar.

Deja Blue - A Stevie Ray Vaughn/Jimi Hendrix cover band led by Ken Koga-guitar, with Tim Scribner-bass, and Craig Tangen-vocals. Later, Steve Leven-bass and Cory Shore-vocals

The Dinosaurs - Rock variety with Cory Shore-vocals, Mike Little-guitar/vocals, Brad Hoag-guitar, and Dana Garrett-sax.

Dog House Jon and the Misbehavers - A blues group led by Jon Lackey-vocals/blues harp, Steve “Einer” Hansen-bass, Charlie Lacy-guitar, and Tom “Chief” Kochie-guitar.

Blue Light Boogie - A west coast swing group led by Dana Garrett-saxes/vocal with Mike King-guitar/vocal, and Jim Little-bass.

Wigglefoot - Funky blues and roots led by bassist/vocalist Steve “Einer” Hansen with Charlie Lacy-guitar.

Black Dog - A Led Zeppelin revival group with Cory Shore-vocals, Rick Stack-guitar, Steve “Einer” Hansen-bass, and Steve Webb-harmonica.

Baja - Surf and oldies, led by guitarist/vocalist Tom “Chief” Kochie with Dave Zavala-guitar/vocals and James “Willee” Wilson-Bass/vocals.

Annie Lawler and Wheel House - Americana, led by Annie Lawler-lead vocals and guitar, with Tom Kochie-guitar and vocals, Charlie Lacy-guitar, and Tim Scribner-bass.

When their children were grown, Miles and his wife decided he should take a trip to Chicago on an exploratory venture to look into the possibility of moving there, Chicago being a great jazz town. He rented a room and attended jam sessions throughout Chicago, playing along side a lot of the local jazz musicians. Most of the people in Chicago were very supportive and generous with their time and encouraged him to stay in Chicago. Some of the musicians he met were: Drummer Isham “Rusty” Jones, (great nephew of bandleader/composer Isham Jones) who had played with George Shearing for a number of years in the seventies and hosted a Thursday night jam session in Niles; drummer Charlie Brougham, who had played many years with trumpeter/flugelhornist Clark Terry; tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, who hosted a Tuesday night session in South Chicago; tenor man Lin Halliday, who hosted a jam session at the Bop Shop in Chicago; tenor saxophonist and trumpeter Ira Sullivan, who was up from Florida to do a week at Joe Segal's Jazz Show Case; and bassist John Bany, who took him to meet Barrett Deems.

The first time I met Barrett Deems at the restaurant he frequented after playing the Elbow Room was very surreal for me. Here I was sitting next to this eighty-one year old man who had spent seven years with the famous jazz violinist Joe Venuti in the thirties and forties, had done stints with band leader Jimmy Dorsey, vibest Red Norvo, cornetist Muggsy Spanier, Trombonist Jack Teagarden, and played four years with Louis Armstrong's All Stars and I was talking to him while he ate Chinese. He literally had me eating out of his hand as he gave me julienne strips of pork. When he was done with his main course he shared the almond cookies he was having for dessert. I had just read Warren “Baby” Dodd's biography and had also read Buddy Rich's biography written by Mel Torme' in which Barrett was mentioned. 'Them were all press rolls' he said in his gruff voice, when I asked him about the famous drummer “Baby” Dodds style of playing jazz. Barrett was always easy to talk to and very generous with his time. I was fortunate to have met him.

After three months of sitting in with and observing many of the great Chicago musicians, Miles decided to head back home and immerse himself in drum practice, gigging as much as he could locally, mostly with the west coast swing group Blue Light Boogie.

When Miles was in his early forties, he decided to take up the cornet as a second instrument. Working on the cornet and vocals simultaneously, he began to build a repertoire of songs from the Great American Song Book. After seven years of cornet practice, just as he had started to play publicly, Miles was humbled by the onset of Bell's palsy which temporarily paralyzed the left side of his face. It was three months before he could blow a decent note again and a year before he could play out publicly.

In two thousand and two thousand-one Miles played on Norwegian Cruise Lines flag ship the S. S. Norway which cruised the east and west Caribbean and sailed to Europe. The piano trio, led by pianist/vocalist Bill Chelf, played a variety of styles including bossa novas, cha chas, rumbas, tangos, light rock, and swing, with Bill and Miles sharing the singing responsibilities.

After the ship, Miles and guitarist/singer Mike King started the swing group 2 O'clock Jump with Bill Chelf on piano and Mike Sloane on Double Bass. Bill has since left the area and is back doing the cruise ship circuit. He was replaced by Dave Townsend on tenor sax and clarinet.

In addition to 2 O'clock Jump and freelance work, Miles currently drums and sings in his Jazz group the Miles Johnston Quartet with John Paulson on tenor sax and flute, Larry Price on piano and Mike Sloane on Double bass. He also plays the cornet and sings in his trio with Larry Price and Mike Sloane and in a duo with Mike King on guitar and vocals.

COPYRIGHT © Miles Johnston,