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Richard "Curly" Miller (1954–2013)

Richard “Curly” Miller was a renowned musician who lived in Kingston (Madison County). He and his wife, Carole Anne Rose, co-founded the band The Old 78’s. He was also a noted organic farmer, establishing Sweden Creek Farm with Rose in the deep woods of the Ozark Mountains.

Richard Miller was born on August 10, 1954, to John C. Miller and Roberta Beck Miller in Baltimore, Maryland, although he was raised in Penfield, New York. He played classical violin as a child, rock-and-roll guitar as a teenager, and three-finger Leo Kottke–style guitar during his one semester at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Guitarists Doc Watson and Norman Blake inspired him to learn flat-picking guitar, while Frankie Gavin and others drew him into Irish fiddling. Miller discovered old-time music in the mid-1980s, bowing bass for Clarke Buehling and the Skirtlifters. Miller also discovered passions for 1840s minstrel-era banjo, 1880s classic-era banjo, and 1920s old-time string band fiddling.

Miller settled in Kingston in 1976, homesteading eighty acres with his first wife, Jeannie, son Kerry, and daughter Sara. The couple divorced in 1985. In 1986, he met Carole Anne Rose, who had purchased an adjacent farm property after recently moving from New Jersey. The two became farming companions, eventually marrying in 1992 and having a son, Silas. They formed Sweden Creek Farm in 1986 and grew organic shiitake mushrooms, herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers. They developed their own growing process and became major nationally certified organic shiitake mushroom suppliers.

Curly Miller and Carole Anne Rose were also musical collaborators. They sought the oldest recordings and sheet music of fiddle and banjo tunes. In 2005, they took on the name The Old 78’s, resulting from frequent comments that they sounded just like old 78 rpm recordings. The duo designed a large six-string banjo suited for Rose’s technique, a right-hand “clawhammer” alternating bass-note pattern. That metronomic sound, along with flat-key fiddle rags and classic banjo duets, became The Old 78’s signature. They performed nationally and were a local dance-band institution at the monthly Fayetteville Traditional Dance Society dances through May 2013, in spite of Miller’s declining health. They made six recordings, including The Old 78’s (2008), featuring Clarke Buehling, and The Women Wear No Clothes At All (2011), which features string band rags and pre-1930s jazz explorations with Arkansas musicians Ray and Melanie Palmer, Buehling, Paul McGowen, and Seth Shumate.

Miller became fascinated with the impact of early jazz on string band music and wrote many arrangements. The Old 78’s partnered with Richard Hartness, Deborah (Tolly) Tollefson, Brian Schmiel, and Edwin Wilson, known collectively as the Retro Ramblers. They performed this type of music at Breaking Up Winter Festival 2013, near Nashville, Tennessee. Miller also inspired festival-goers and music-camp musicians to read chord charts and musical notation, demonstrating that written music has a place in traditional music.

Miller continued to perform and work while undergoing treatments for colon cancer in his final five years. Another recording was in progress at the time of Curly’s passing. He died on July 4, 2013; his ashes were placed, as he had requested, in the herb garden where he and Rose were married. Rose continues to perform and to operate Sweden Creek Farm.

For additional information:
Green, Steve. “The Old 78’s and Shiitakes—Carole Anne Rose & Curly Miller.” BanjoCrazy.com. http://www.banjocrazy.com/articles/old78shitake.shtml (accessed April 19, 2016).

The Old 78’s. http://www.TheOld78s.com (accessed April 19, 2016).

Greg C. Adams
Germantown, Maryland

Richard Hartness
Greensboro, North Carolina

Carole Anne Rose
Kingston, Arkansas

Last Updated 4/27/2016

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