Tice will open for Miller on Thursday and Friday nights at Godfrey
Daniels, the Bethlehem listening club where they met and have
independently made CDs. (Both shows are sold out.) The performance will
cap a dizzying 10-week period where Miller agreed to produce a virtual
stranger and Tice became everything from a travel agent to a rock 'n'
Tice is accustomed to balancing careers with life paths. For three
decades she's been writing songs of bliss, cruelty and faith. At clubs
and festivals she's performed ''The Marijo Tonight,'' a journalist's
report on an essential Irish pub, and ''Soul's Urging,'' the healthy vow
of a woman abused in an Irish convent laundry for unwed mothers.
She's won prestigious awards (the emerging songwriters prize at
the 1996 Kerrville Folk Festival) and shared prestigious projects
(''Life's a Stitch,'' a 2002 book of comic writings by the likes
of Gloria Steinem and Erma Bombeck). Simultaneously, she's been
fertilizing what she believes are her Native-American roots. Her
search has led her to write a song invoking the ghosts of bison,
and to share a sacred bison hunt in North Dakota — even though
she's a vegetarian.
Tice's quest led her to Miller, who grew up in a Mohican-German
family on a Stockbridge-Munsee reservation in Wisconsin. She liked
the way he blended rock with Native-American styles, nature with
human nature. She liked his passion for Indian causes —
establishing a Native-American category for the Grammy awards —
and his passion for painting Indian scenes. Tice's most recent
record, last year's ''In These Bones,'' was inspired by her own
paintings and a Native-American synergy between body and land. On
''The Rape of Leah'' a bottle-cap shaker adds an Indian spookiness
to the lament of a woman ''drowned alive by tears too numerous to
Tice decided to ask Miller to produce her next record last
November, the same month she was offered a mortgage. ''I like to
take risks: It's the only way to grow,'' says the native of
Swedeland, Montgomery County. ''Opportunity doesn't come knocking
on your door unless you've let some light in. I didn't know if
Bill produced or if he didn't produce. I didn't even have his
latest records. I just thought he was somebody that I intuitively
trusted, through his music and through what little personal
contact I'd had with him.
''I sensed Bill was on a deep journey,'' adds Tice. ''You can't
come to that place in your life if you haven't walked through
fire. Something inside me just kept putting him in my view. I
couldn't avoid it, unless I blatantly turned my back. It was like
a tidal wave.''
This winter the wave crashed in Bucks County. A Native-American
friend invited Tice to Miller's Jan. 15 concert at the
Sellersville Theater. That night she asked Miller, whom she'd met
briefly at Godfrey Daniels, if he would supervise her next record.
Then she handed him a copy of ''In These Bones,'' which Tice
recorded at Godfrey's.
Back home in Franklin, Tenn., Miller liked what he heard. He asked
Tice to send him demo tapes. He liked what he heard even more. He
agreed to captain Tice's ship, after years of rejecting offers to
produce records for wealthy musicians with visions he didn't like.
''If Jackie had been in the folkie/'Blowin' in the Wind' box, or
if she had been the righteous-chick man hater, I wouldn't be
here,'' says Miller, a big, bearish fellow with dark, waist-length
hair and a friendly, intense manner that's equal parts dove and
hawk. ''I didn't want to be part of a joke, part of something like
a soundtrack for 'A Mighty Wind.' But she's not in a box. Her
voice has elements of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, but with an
edge. Her music has elements of jazz and rock. She writes songs
with messages; she writes about life in general. She has a sense
of Native-American culture that's very grounded, too. It's a nice,
Miller had two other reasons for producing Tice's recording. One,
he recently began simplifying his own production. He made his last
record, ''Spirit Rain'' (2002), with only 16 tracks and without
digital technology. He cut it in LaCrosse, Wis., near his home
reservation and the Mississippi River, one of his favorite fishing
Another attraction was the chance to return to the Lehigh Valley,
which Miller considers a second home. Godfrey Daniels was the site
of his first live recording, which helped him get a contract with
a major label, Warner/Reprise. Musikfest spectators, he says, are
among his most enthusiastic fans. He sells more recordings in the
greater Philadelphia region than anywhere else, including Los
Angeles and Chicago. For him, producing Tice's record meant the
expansion of a spiritual circle that includes a Mohican named Bill
Miller buried in God's Acre, the Moravian cemetery in Bethlehem.
Miller agreed to leave his wife and five children to spend eight
days with Tice. She agreed to fund his travel, along with the
transportation of Philadelphia keyboardist Joshua Yudkin, a member
of Miller's band since 1999, and Nashville guitarist Pete
Cummings, who worked with Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Producer
and artist both agreed to hire bassist Tony Dominic, a Jim Thorpe
resident who has shared bills with Tice and Miller.
By coming to Coopersburg, Miller postponed a busy schedule that
recently went into overdrive. In February his flute piece
''Approaching Thunder'' aired during an episode of the hit TV
series ''Sex in the City.'' This month public television stations
began broadcasting ''Songs of the Spirit,'' his concert with
flutist R. Carlos Nakai, singer Joanne Shenandoah and the New
Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Miller recently learned that Vanguard
plans to release his first greatest-hits collection. He's also
scheduled to assist Robbie Robertson, another mixed-blood
musician, on the soundtrack to the documentary ''Turtle Island
For eight days Tice traded motherhood for musical den motherhood.
She arranged for friends to provide rooms for musicians; one let
Miller borrow a car. She brought meals and snacks into the studio.
She convinced her friend, Steve Tobin, the innovative
bronze-ceramic artist in Springfield Township, to donate a
sculpture to a musician, a barter arrangement that allowed Tice to
Tice moonlighted as travel agent, too. She sent a car to the
airport to pick up percussionist Jamey Haddad, another
well-connected musician she barely knew. Tice introduced herself
to Haddad, who has played with Paul Simon and Lenny Kravitz, at
the 2002 Celebration of the Arts jazz festival in Delaware Water
Gap. Two years later, she e-mailed the percussionist, asking him
to perform on her next record. She told Haddad of Miller's
participation, gave him Tobin's Web site and reminded him that
Rissmiller was their mutual friend.
Like Miller, Haddad was impressed by Tice's genuine gutsiness. ''I
liked how she felt on the phone,'' says the percussionist from
California, where he was touring with a Moroccan sacred-music
ensemble. ''I liked her sense of purpose. Playing with her just
seemed like the right thing to do.''
On Feb. 29 Miller arrived in the Lehigh Valley, launching Tice's
marathon week. The pair spent that day on pre-production and
whittling a list of 20 compositions.
Miller: ''A couple of songs I had to say: 'You're going to have to
let some of these kids go.'''
Tice: ''I tried to push one in the door.''
Miller: ''And I said: 'No, that kid's not coming in the door.'''
Recording began March 1 in Signal Sound, a ranch-style house in a
bouldered forest. That day Domini added bass and Tice added guitar
and voice to six tunes. March 2 was geared toward Haddad, who flew
in that day from his new home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Miller and
Tice made sure they got a lot of mileage from Haddad, who the next
day would fly to teach at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
The percussionist worked from 1 to 11:30 p.m., with an hour off
for dinner. He played on five tracks, including ''Trail of
Tears,'' a rattling rocker that Tice calls ''my 'Give Peace a
Chance.''' It has a roll call of 30 war-torn places, Miller's
searing electric guitar solo (the first electric guitar on a Tice
record) and Miller's whipping Native-American chant, which Tice
envisioned before Miller volunteered.
Haddad was surprised by how easily he overdubbed without a
mechanical beat, a standard in the recording industry. ''At first,
I was alarmed that Jackie didn't use a click track,'' he says.
''Normally, when an artist does that, it's a catastrophe. I know
that no one can play that steadily by themselves. But Jackie's
sense of time, and sense of creating, has so much purpose. I liked
her cadences, her rhythmic gait.''
The third day was, in Miller's words, for ''balancing the ship.''
Yudkin added keyboard to ''Thunder Moon,'' the one song that began
life as a Tice painting. Miller rejected two tunes, bringing the
record's final total to 10. For comic relief, he flashed producer
silence cards written by Bill Hall, Tice's friend and songwriting
partner. Miller added profanity to such put-downs as: ''And you
are here why?''
The fourth day featured what Miller calls ''frosting on the
cake.'' That afternoon Yudkin and Dominic spent an hour apiece
overdubbing keyboard and bass on ''Coming Home,'' which Tice wrote
with Hall. After handing out chocolate for everyone, Tice entered
the control room to lay down a final vocal. Her normally warm,
elastic, steeped singing sounded hesitant, clogged, foggy.
Tice was simply exhausted. That afternoon she was especially
distracted by the arrival of an interviewer and Cummings, who flew
in from Nashville. She missed her children, too.
''All this traffic was keeping me outside of myself,'' says Tice.
''That's why I needed Bill to help me connect with me. I needed
him to tell me that a perfect take is not necessarily what the
moment is about. Sometimes, the moment's about the feeling at that
That day Miller described himself as a nurturing taskmaster. ''I
check keys, drives, moods — which songs Jackie truly owns,
spiritually. I check mundane things like if she has enough light
to read the words. I'm here to give her borders, to keep her in
the zone, to assist her going through this portal.''
Tice mentions another portal to describe Miller's role. ''He's the
frame,'' she says, ''around my painting.''
The painting isn't finished. After the Godfrey's concerts, Tice's
record will be mixed in Coopersburg by Michael von Muchow, a
Wisconsin resident who co-produced Miller's last CD. After the
mixing is done, the disc will be shopped to record companies.
Miller plans to promote Tice through his newly booming career. She
plans to promote his new status as an independent producer. ''I
want to make him look as good,'' she says, ''as he wants me to
Tice remains stunned by her sudden, hard-earned good fortune. She
expected that if Miller agreed to work with her, it would be in
two years, not less than two months. What doesn't surprise her is
that he turned out to be an ideal guide for her spiritual journey.
''The end product is just a souvenir,'' says Tice, borrowing a
line from her friend, Tobin, a fellow swimmer of the Delaware
River. ''The process is the view from the top of the mountain. And
the view is the beauty of everything around me, being at one with
everything around me.''