New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media

This article is from our magazine. To view it in its original format, click here

Joseph Alton Miller:
The Vagabond Finds A Home

By Gary Wien

originally published: 07/21/2016

Joseph Alton Miller: The Vagabond Finds A Home

It’s been quite a busy summer for Joseph Alton Miller.  In addition to releasing Songs of Travel for the Vagabond at the end of May, the folk singer celebrated the birth of his first child in June.  Needless to say, touring in support of the new album has been put on hold.

“I’m very used to things happening in chunks with me,” explained Miller.  “At the time when we found out she was pregnant, the album was done and ready to be mixed and mastered.  So, immediately I was like I’ve got to get this album out right now.”

The entire album was inspired by one of the standout tracks called “Procrastination.”  It’s a song that goes back to Miller’s days at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania.  He was accepted and planned to attend Berkeley School of Music, but got cold feet about moving to Boston by himself. Miller, who grew up in the Finger Lakes wine country in upstate New York, decided to attend Mansfield instead.

Miller went on to study classical music, but he wasn’t into it and eventually was kicked out of the program.  As luck would have it, he had performed a few house concerts for the president of the university and she offered him the opportunity to be the first student in a new American folk music program that the university planned to add alongside their jazz and classical programs.

“I immediately had a huge smile on my face,” said Miller.  “I was like, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I want to do!”

The article continues after this ad


He became the only student in the American Folk Music Studies program, studying under Dr. Douglas Crowder — a man who had a huge impact on Miller’s life.

“His big thing was ‘Do not procrastinate, always work hard, and never put anything on the back burner that is important to you,’” Miller recalled.  “And so that song is about him and his ideas on life.  It shaped my writing for the rest of the album.  He was one to get and travel and see the world.  He didn’t want to just sit in one place. He always wanted to get out and see what else was out there.  He inspired me to do the same.  That’s where the whole album comes from.”

Before the program, Miller’s knowledge of American folk music history was largely centered around artists like Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. College helped him learn about what came before such as the people in the 20s and 30s who would go out to the mountains of Virginia to find songs to record.

“I got into that whole idea of families like the Carter Family who were writing music, collecting music, and putting out records,” said Miller.  “Was it for money? Yeah, they did it for money, but now we have all the music that comes after that.  You can look at people like Mother Maybelle Carter, who basically invented lead guitar, and draw a very fine line to AC/DC and Jay Z with some of these hooks that maybe wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for people like that.”

Miller is a big hip-hop fan and manages to combine that love alongside traditional folk sounds in “Dude, Where’s My Whiskey?” - the best track on the album.  This song, written by Miller and Tyrone Green, is basically a story taken straight from the lives of Miller and a friend of his.

Well, I never thought my life would settle down / I was a 23 year-old boy driving to this crazy town / if I knew the road was in the wrong direction / I wouldn’t have traveled south / but you can never recognize a dream / until you pick the wrong ones out

“When I moved down to Jersey from a little town in upstate New York, I had a rough time,” he said.  “I moved down here to get away after college.  I didn’t want to stick around where I was. There wasn’t much going on with music venues and wasn’t a lot of opportunities to play.  I had been through Asbury Park in 2008 and loved the area.  I said I’m going to give it a shot and moved down here.  I just kind of immersed myself in that but, at the same time, I didn’t have any friends around here, didn’t have any family around here, and I started drinking a lot.”

“It took a lot of soul searching to bring myself back, to look at myself from the outside, and get myself back together,” he continued.  “The song is about me and a good friend of mine who was heavy into drinking as well.  I gained a lot of respect for people with addiction issues after I went through a small version of that.  It’s probably the most personal song I’ve ever written.”

The song features a hip-hop/spoken word section by Kuf Knotz whom Miller met in Asbury Park a few years ago.  Miller says he always misses that section when he plays the song live.  Miller brought Frank Lombardi in to play lead acoustic guitar and Andy Lalasis for bass.  Lalasis, from South Jersey, was the bassist who accompanied all of the visiting headliners (including Frank Sinatra) at Elaine’s inside the Golden Nugget Hotel in

Atlantic City.

“(Lalasis) came in and laid down a bass line,” recalled Miller.  “I was going to put drums to it, but I liked how raw it was without any percussion.  It was one of the first songs we recorded for the CD and I ended up not putting any percussion on the record because I felt so good about it.”

Lalasis would wind up on four of the album’s seven tracks.  The others are even more stripped down, without any bass.  Other musicians on the album include Sandy Mack (harmonica),  Sean D’Antoni (trumpet),  Adam Serlin (violin), and Meg Cannon (background vocals).

Even though Miller has released about four other albums since 2001, Songs of Travel for the Vagabond is the only one you’ll find for sale anywhere.  That’s because he decided to take them all down.  He believes he’s grown a lot as a musician and his music is very different from what it was when his last album came out in 2011.  In addition, that album was recorded in his bedroom — a situation which led him to feel the quality wasn’t anywhere near where it should have been.

“The last few albums I put out just don’t fit with this one and I was a little nervous to keep them out there in case they were something someone went to first and it wasn’t their style so they never even listened to the new album,” he explained.  “This one, I really do believe in.  It can be a start of something new.  I changed my stage name from Joe Miller to Joseph Alton Miller and I’m trying to start fresh and put something new out there.”

His plan is to release music more frequently. He’s not sure if that means new albums or just a few singles each year, but the plan is to get them out.  Miller also thinks he will likely rerecord some of his older tunes that he still plays live.

“People listen to the old stuff and a lot of people say they love it, but, as an artist, it’s very personal to have something out there,” said Miller.  “I think you have to believe in it, you have to like it, and you want to bring it to a show and sell it and not feel like I did when I was selling that last album.  It was my CD and I was making excuses for it.  I’d say, ‘Listen to this song, but this song isn’t so good, and I don’t even know why I put this one on the album.’  I don’t want to do that anymore.  I’m kind of starting fresh here.”

Songs of Travel for the Vagabond is not only a fresh start, it’s one of the best albums of the year.  If you’re a fan of folk music or Americana, this should be in your collection.  Songs like “Dude, Where’s My Whiskey?” and “Procrastination” are instant classics; “American Crow” with its powerful vocals, wonderful harp by Sandy Mack, and a simply brilliant bass line by Andy Lalasis is Americana music at its finest.  He dives deep into the history of folk music with his cover of “Do Re Mi” by Woody Guthrie, while his take on “Winding Wheel” by Ryan Adams shows Miller is not limited to traditional folk, but can do much more.

For more by this author, click here

Light of Day's Main Event To Be Broadcast Live at McLoone's Supper Club
(ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- If you couldn't get tickets for the fabled "main event" of the 2019 Light of Day Winterfest, you have another chance see the show.  For the first time in the 19-year history of the festival, the "main event", the star-studded “Bob’s Birthday Bash” on January 19th (a show that has long sold out), will be broadcast live via fiber optic cable at McLoone's Supper Club in Asbury Park.
Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts To Hold Winter Open House On January 27
(BERKELEY HEIGHTS) -- Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts (WIPA) will host a Winter Open House on Sunday, January 27 from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. The free event is open to the public and will be held at the Performing Arts School (PAS) located at 60 Locust Avenue in Berkeley Heights.
Billy Idol and Steve Stevens To Perform At Count Basie Center For The Arts
(RED BANK, NJ) -- Billy Idol and Steve Stevens, one of rock’s most iconic and enduring duos, will hit the road this March for their first ever tour performing as a duo: Turned On, Tuned In and Unplugged. The Billy Idol/Steve Stevens tour comes to The Count Basie Center for the Arts on Thursday, April 4th.
McDonald's Gospelfest To Celebrate The Life of Aretha Franklin With Return to Prudential Center
(NEWARK, NJ) -- The 37th Annual McDonald’s Gospelfest returns to the Prudential Center on Saturday, May 11 for the gospel event of the year. This year's event will honor and celebrate the life and legacy of the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin with an All-Star cast. The 5:00pm to 7:00pm portion of the evening will feature a rising stars competition for all ages and cultures in categories including Soloists, Choirs, Praise Dancers, Singing Groups, Gospel Comedians, Gospel Poets and Gospel Rappers. The gospel concert, beginning at 7:00pm, will feature some of the most renowned gospel artists in music history with the goal of spreading love, peace and joy to all races, nationalities and beliefs.
Bickford Theatre Presents Herb Gardner's Groundhog Jam
(MORRISTOWN, NJ) -- The great Groundhog Jam has a long history of prying jazz fans out of their warm burrows and into the chill of February weather in order to welcome the advent of spring.  The Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum continues a tradition of hosting this event on Monday, February 4 at 7:30pm. Herb Gardner, who plays both trombone and piano, is assembling a stellar group of musicians from the New York, New Jersey, and New England areas including: Fred Vigorito on cornet, Joe Licari on clarinet, James Chirilloon guitar, Mike Weatherly on bass and Robbie Scott on drums.  Daughters Abbie and Sarah Gardner will be handling the vocals and guitar.

Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes At Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme
This coming Sunday, January 20, Scott Wolfson and his band will be serving up their unique blend of Americana at the Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme series at Investors Bank Theater in Succasunna, New Jersey. The band – Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes – formed in Jersey City in 2011, and, even though the members have migrated in various directions since then, they still consider themselves to be a Jersey City band.
"He Totally Wowed Us!" John Oates LIVE! at SOPAC
It’s brisk for an evening walk on South Orange Ave. in South Orange, NJ, this Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 evening, but it’s a good road to follow as it leads us directly to the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) for a special performance by singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Oates and his backup group, The Good Road Band.
“Tons of Fun!” The Glenn Miller Orchestra LIVE! at the Grunin Center
Although Friday, December 21, 2018 is the shortest day of the year, the audience of big band music lovers here at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts is hoping for a long evening of classic swing and holiday tunes performed by the incomparable Glenn Miller Orchestra!
Mike Davis and The New Wonders
Mike Davis traces his love for the trumpet back to a Disney movie. He grew up in a musical family, with both his parents playing strings in the Seattle Symphony. But Davis wanted an instrument of his own. Then, at age 9, he saw “The Aristocats,” the animated film about a bunch of French felines — including a group of jazz-playing alley cats.
Ana Gasteyer's "Holiday Tipple" LIVE! at the Grunin Center
The Grunin Center stage in Toms River, NJ is set this Saturday, December 15, 2018 with drums, a grand piano, a guitar, an acoustic bass, and various microphones for vocals. A stool and several microphone stands are bedazzled with colorful garlands of shiny red, gold, and green, and wrapped gifts are strewn on stage among the instruments. Projected white snowflakes adorn the walls, and Christmas music plays as patrons enter the theater to put everyone in the mood for tonight’s holiday show — Ana Gastayer’s Holiday Tipple!

Event calendar
Thursday, Jan 17, 2019


Open Mic Night! @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 7:30pm


"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm


AMERICAN GIRL LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:00pm

View all events


For more on our awards, click here

New Jersey Stage © 2019 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 |

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.