Jim Miller, Western Centuries Founder, Dies Unexpectedly

by Clayton Edwards
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Jim Miller, a founding member of Donna the Buffalo and Western Centuries passed away Thursday evening. At this time, his family has not released a cause of death.

Jim Miller: Singer, Musician, Collaborator

Over the years, Jim Miller made a name for himself as a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter. More importantly, though, Miller proved time and again that he was a natural collaborator. He never let his ego get in the way of making good music. For instance, he played guitar and sang with Donna the Buffalo. Then, he appeared on bandmate Tara Nevins’ 1999 album Mule to Ride. Additionally, he worked with artists like Dirk Powell, Tim O’Brien, and Ginny Hawker. Later, he met Cahelen Morrison and Ethan Lawton. Together, they formed Western Centuries.

Jim Miller talked about his reason for forming Western Centuries on the band’s website. “I had been in Donna the Buffalo for 20 years and my role in that was rhythm guitar and harmony singing,” he explained. “I didn’t want to be the backup dude anymore. My thought was, if I’m gonna do this, I want to contribute to the material in a more meaningful way.”

In Western Centuries, Jim Miller shared songwriting duties and lead vocals evenly with both Morrison and Lawton. In their years together, the band released three full-length albums. 2016’s Weight of the World, 2018’s Songs from the Deluge, and 2020’s Call the Captain. The final album’s title was a nod to the band’s philosophy of being a band without a leader, a ship without a captain.

Western Centuries had just embarked on a spring tour. Their first show on the tour was Thursday, March 24th at the Burren Irish Bar in Somerville, Massachusetts. Miller died hours after the show.  

Miller’s Early Days

According to Saving Country Music, Jim Miller was born in Boston and raised on the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada. He started his musical journey at five years old when he joined the Saskatoon Boys Choir. They toured the country singing Broadway songs. His parents introduced him to folk music and occasionally played music together in his childhood home. In high school, Jim’s family moved to Connecticut. There, Miller began playing in local rock bands which set his feet on the path he would follow until his passing. .

Jim Miller, Ph.D.

Jim Miller’s path didn’t take him directly to a music career. First, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a biologist. Miller earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University. He worked as an associate curator at the Museum of Natural History in New York and did a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institute in DC.

However, he didn’t neglect his passion for music while getting an education. Jim Miller helped to form the folk-rock band Donna the Buffalo while still in grad school.

While we mourn the storied musician, check out the Jim Miller-penned “Space Force” from Western Centuries’ 2020 record Call the Captain. That’s miller on lead vocals as well.  

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