Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel
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Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel

Kokomo, Indiana, United States | INDIE

Kokomo, Indiana, United States | INDIE
Band Blues Soul




"Mike Milligan digs deep in well of influence"

Staff Writer

When Mike Milligan was 5 years old, he received a copy of Virginia Lee Burton’s “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” and his first guitar.

He’s never been far from either since then.

And with a slight amendment, the Kokomo native even named his band after Burton’s book, as Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel, which performs Friday at The Livery in Benton Harbor.

The book depicts how Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, persevere in the face of competition from the new gasoline, electric and diesel shovels that invade their territory and how the people clamor for the new technology in place of Mary Anne’s older but reliable steam technology.

“My mom brought that book home from a garage sale,” Milligan says by telephone from a park in Kokomo while watching his 5-year-old son play. “I’ve always had the book and read the book. … The theme of the book is relevant to what I do with my music.”

Born in 1971 and raised in Kokomo, Milligan came of age during the height of MTV’s influence on popular music, but he instead gravitated to the blues, soul and R&B that his father, “Big” Mike, played in local bands and as the guitarist for The Drifters’ touring band.

“I guess it was important in me being who I am, just being around it,” he says about his father’s influence, which he sings about in his song “Like Father, Like Son,” a scorching blues-rocker. “If my dad had been some sort of sportsman — a fisher, a golfer, a bowler — I probably would have gotten into it. I was never forced into it, and my dad never sat me down and said, ‘This is what you need to do.’ ”

Between seeing his father play live, listening to his father’s record collection and the ascendance of Stevie Ray Vaughan in the early ’80s, Milligan naturally gravitated toward the older blues and R&B forms of music they exposed him to.

“I don’t think he realized how much his record collection influenced me because if he was touring or working his day job, his record collection was right there for me,” he says. “And he didn’t have to look very far if something was missing. He knew where it was.”

Milligan did, however, try to play other, more contemporary styles of music, including covers of early-’90s Seattle bands, but none of them stuck.

“I tried that route with rock, and it really completely wasn’t me,” he says. “Even the rock stuff I do, it comes off as an R&B-, soul-flavored thing, and that’s how I write also.”

After he discovered Vaughan, Milligan says, he started a journey backward to Albert King’s and Albert Collins’ records that led him further back in time to Robert Lockwood Jr. and Son House.

“Back and forward and back and forward,” he says. “I love it when somebody says, ‘I love that “Killing Floor” you do.’ Then they find out it was Howlin’ Wolf and they buy it and find out I got my thing from Hubert Sumlin, who played on that. It’s cool that I’m doing the same thing Stevie Ray Vaughan and (Jimi) Hendrix did, turning on younger people to the people who influenced them.”

Minus the Texas accent, Milligan has the same deep, meaty approach to singing as Vaughan, who also serves as his most obvious influence in terms of the tone of his guitar and his rhythm playing.

On his 2004 live album, Milligan never overplays on his guitar solos and instead infuses his playing with a blues- and soul-inflected grittiness, fine tension in his use of sustain and release, and a melodic lyricism.

“I’m definitely not Chicago style, which is also a lot of different things,” he says. “It’s more of a soulful thing than a blues thing because you might not hear a standard blues song from me all night. I don’t sit down and say, ‘Today I’m going to write a shuffle.’ I think it’s like it already existed in space and I get to be the one who does it. I think a lot of writers will tell you the same thing.”

On “Live,” Milligan turns in an acceptable version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” although his voice isn’t quite right for the song, but on “Timing Is Everything,” his blues guitar playing on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” deepens the blues textures already present in those songs.

His original songs, which make up the bulk of Milligan’s live and studio material, take a serious and personal approach to the usual blues topics of relationships and the usual pressures and aspirations that come from being alive.

“I’m not concerned with the cliché or copying, because the guys I’m into are drawing from the same deep well,” he says about writing new blues and R&B songs. “Everything is linked together. What did John Lennon say? ‘There’s nothing you can sing that hasn’t been sung.’ I’m not doing anything new. It’s original because I write my own stuff, but it’s not something somebody else couldn’t do or hasn’t done.”

The family connections in his music also extend to Milligan’s band: His younger brother, Shaun, is Steam Shovel’s bass player.

- South Bend ,In Tribune 5-30-2009

"Soul Power"

Soul Power

*this review is dedicated to the three special people in SouthSide's life who could be with her to share this extraordinary night of soul/funk music with her*

...soul power... ~ Tower of Power

Hey, blogspot readers, got soul? SouthSide's got plenty of soul ...and more tonight while at the world famous House of Blues! She was about to experience something so soulfully exciting ...spiritually uplifting urban sounds of funk/jazz music by the legendary super group Tower of Power (CA) featuring Mike Milligan & Steam Shovelas the opening act. It was going to be one extraordinary night for this reviewer in which she'll never forget, blogspot readers. Seated in an opera box about the sound engineer at stage left, SouthSide had the best view to not only observe the crowd on the main floor and balcony but also to watch bandleader (and on 2nd tenor saxophone/vocals) Emilio and the band "work" their funky soul magic up close and personal. It was a fantastique view!

SouthSide highly recommends rockin' to the blues/funk (and of course a bit of soul) sounds of Mike Milligan & Steam Shovel who coincidentially opened for Tower of Power at House of Blues five years prior to tonight. And this reviewer could see why. Mike and the band had the energy as well as vibe to rev up this packed venue during their short yet lively set with songs like Do What You Got To Do and Timing Is Everything (title track off their last CD). This quartet of talented blues musicians (from IN) had the crowd feeling the hot harmonica rhythms thoughout each song performed ...right down to the cool sounds of the guitar riffs jazzing their feet to dance along. This reviewer like their blues rendition of Billy Preston's Going Round in Circles (one of SouthSide's favorite songs from the 70s) in which they flipped the original upbeat tempo of this 70s classic for a steady laidback groove yet retaining plenty of energy via harmonic rhythms ...and Mike's deep falsetto voice added the right amoung of vibrant umph to pop the lyrics to life. Steam Shovel truly made their mark on stage while covering a song from The Commitments move that was performed (almost) spiritually within a Southern blues/soul combination before rockin' out the set with a bang, blogspot readers. Visit http://www.mikemilligan.homestead.com for more details and music.
- southside on the town SATURDAY, MAY 21, 2011

"Milligan excavates old-school sounds"

Staff Writer. Jan, 2011
Mike Milligan knows that there's a lot in a name.
Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel perform Saturday at the Midway Tavern in Mishawaka.
In concert
Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Midway Tavern, 810 W. Fourth St., Mishawaka. Admission TBA. For more information, call 574-255-0458 or visit themidwaytavern.com or mikemilligan.homestead.com.
A children's book, Virginia Lee Burton's "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel," inspired his band's name, Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel.
The guitarist says his mother purchased a copy of the book at a garage sale when he was a boy.
Milligan says he loved that book as a child in part because the main character's name is so similar to his own. Milligan says he also liked the plot, which tells the story of Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, who are confronted with modernization in the form of diesel-powered shovels.
Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne have to look for work as more people turn to the diesel-powered machines, and they persuade officials in a small town to allow them to dig the cellar for a new town hall.
There are definitely similarities between the travels and travails of the fictional Mike Mulligan and Mike Milligan's musical journey.
Milligan grew up traveling in tour buses with his father, who played for The Drifters in the 1970s.
While Milligan's contemporaries listened to stadium rock, Milligan immersed himself in the music of Motown, Stax Records, Donny Hathaway and Ray Charles.
Milligan says that playing classic soul became his calling, and he has played that music for most of the last 20 years.
"I was with a cover band in the late 1980s that did radio hits," he says.
He soon returned to his first musical love, and went on to form Steam Shovel in 1993. The band will hold a release party Saturday at Mishawaka's Midway Tavern for its latest CD, "Lucky Person."
Milligan knows he's an analog musician in a digital world, and in that way, the children's story "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" is a metaphor for his group and his musical career.

"That is exactly right," he says. "We are definitely an old-school blues and R&B band."
But Milligan says he can't pinpoint why he gravitated to classic soul.
"I was just talking to my wife about that," he says. "When I was growing up, I heard all types of music, starting with the older stuff that my dad played."
Milligan's father also listened to such rock legends as Led Zeppelin, but Milligan zeroed in on the classic soul.
"It might be that it seemed more real to me than a lot of other music," he says.
"Lucky Man" includes six original songs and four covers.
Each track features Milligan's soulful and husky vocals. The cover tracks includes a blues/gospel rendition of Stevie Wonder's "A Place in the Sun" and funk versions of Billy Preston's "Will it Go Round in Circles" and the Ray Charles hit "Busted."
A Kokomo resident, Milligan knows that Charles' 1963 song about hard times remains relevant in places that are still recovering from the Great Recession.
Milligan says he changed a couple of the verses because he grew up in a town that made cars instead of growing up on a Georgia farm.
"Instead of saying 'cotton is down to a quarter a pound,' I sang 'the factories in town are all closing down,'" he says.
The group's originals, such as "I'm Not Lost" and "Lucky Man," retain that classic soul feel, while Milligan says he channels the soul/country/rock sound of Sun Records on "Fool No More."
The group has been holding release parties and concerts to support "Lucky Man," but Saturday's show in Mishawaka is special. The group has played in the South Bend area on several occasions, but this will be Steam Shovel's first show at the Midway Tavern. "We've been asking to get a show there for years," Milligan says, "and we are delighted to finally be at the Midway."

Staff writer Howard Dukes:
- South Bend, IN Tribune Jan 2011

"Mike Milligan, Steam Shovel dig niche in blues scene March 11, 2011"

Mike Milligan, Steam Shovel dig niche in blues scene
March 11, 2011
Journal and Courier. Lafayette, IN
Tim Brouk

Mike Milligan is one "Lucky Man." He has carved a stellar career playing the blues while based out of Kokomo and -- until last year -- with a dial-up Internet connection. He's now living in the lap of high-speed Internet luxury as one of Indiana's top blues acts. "I'm three hours from Chicago, three hours from Louisville (Ky.), three hours from Cincinnati," said Milligan from his home, which is where he recorded parts of his new album, "Lucky Man." "We put 12,000 miles on the van last year." Over the years, Milligan has opened for or shared the stage with BB King, Lonnie Brooks, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Cray and many more. With his band Steam Shovel, Milligan displays his clever and humorous side. Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel is a take on the classic children's book by Virginia Lee Burton, "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel." Gigging around the region since 1997, Milligan's music gets his fans revved up so much that fans sometimes think the book written in 1939 is about him. "They're like 'Hey, did someone write a book about you guys? I was researching your band and found a book about you guys,' " Milligan laughed. "Lucky Man" contains mostly original tunes with a few re-workings -- "Busted" by Ray Charles and "A Place in the Sun" by Stevie Wonder among them. Milligan and Steam Shovel return to the Knickerbocker Saloon this weekend. He has been playing the downtown Lafayette venue for 13 years.
- Journal and Courier. Lafayette, IN

"Mike Milligan And Steam Shovel - Lucky Man"

Featured Blues Review . Blues Blast Magazine. March 17, 2011
Mike Milligan And Steam Shovel - Lucky Man
Mojo Hut Records
Blues-rock is the jumping off point employed by Kokomo, Indiana’s Mike Milligan and company in this curious mélange of originals and R&B covers. Mike leads the basic power trio with his guitar, vocal, writing and keyboard skills that get occasional beefing-up by horns, harmonica and backing vocals. His hearty voice and his varied approach to blues-rock riffing lend enough originality to keep things interesting. The rhythm section is rock-steady throughout.
A nifty bass intro kicks off what for me is the standout original found within, the gospel driven “The Bridge”. It’s a strong tale of perseverance. It features two guitar parts, one of which is played through a Leslie speaker or Leslie effect. “I’m Not Lost” is Texas slow-burner done-up ala Los Lobos. Vocal and acoustic piano lead-off the deliberate “Sunshine Today” which is topped off by a sax solo that sounds as if it was lifted from The Saturday Night Live Band. “ Meat & Three” sees the band working out on a funky guitar instrumental aided by guest guitarist Bart Walker that owes a debt to the guitar wizardry of Earl Hooker. The title track is a perfunctory ode to the singer’s better half. The song and album is closed out by daughter Lilyanne on toy piano and giggles to bring the family vibe full circle.
My nod for the best cover version would be the slowed down take on Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” that has Stevie Berek’s harmonica taking the keyboard- horn part. Jazz-tinged guitar brings the tune to an end like a stream-train slowing to a stop. The Ray Charles chestnut “Busted” is given its due as Texas-guitar interlock with the driving horn section. The sentiment is apropos of these current financially woeful times. “The Dark End Of The Street” is a pretty much straight reading of the Chips Moman-Dan Penn classic. Mike Milligan’s sigh leading into his vocal on the lead track, Stevie Wonders’ “A Place In The Sun”, seems to be in anticipation of the weird falsetto backing vocal that mars an otherwise ok blues-rock interpretation. (note from Mike: reviewer obviously didn’t read the credits to see that the “weird falsetto” is my 7 yr old son, Maceo, singing with me!)
These guys fit nicely alongside Indigenous or any of the similar-minded current blues-rockers, although they tend to expand the genre along a R&B path at times. Much attention is given to the arrangements. The record doesn’t come off as just songs plugged into a blues-rock blueprint. Boot that “Mickey Mouse” background vocal (see Mike’s note above) and what you have here is blues-rock nirvana taken a step further.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta. He is the proprietor of Bluesdog’s Doghouse at http://bluesdog61.multiply.com.
- Blues Blast Magazine. March 17, 2011


CDs on Mojo Hut Records

1998. All My Life
2001. When I Get There
2004 LIVE (@ the Slippery Noodle Inn)
2004. If You Don't Change
2007. Timing is Everything
2010. Lucky Man



Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel is a Soul, Blues, Rock group from Kokomo, Indiana, (everyone is from somewhere!) United States. Formed in 1993… and Celebrate 20 Years in 2013!

They just sold out show w BB KING again this year!

With 100's of Thousands of miles and several Thousands of performances under their hats, they were voted the Best Band in Indiana 2002 by The Crossroads Blues Society. Went to Memphis. Made friends. Landed gigs!

In 2012, Mike signed with Fender Guitars(FMIC) as Fender Artist! http://www.fender.com/artists/artist.php?id=2449

Mike has been called a "triple threat"... (among other things!) guitarist/singer/songwriter

All tour dates are in support of their 6 CD releases on Mojo Hut Records (“98,”01,”04, LIVE “04,“07, “10)

They perform top venues and high-profile festivals continuously in Chicago (House of Blues), Cleveland (House of Blues),Cincinnati (REDS Stadium), Austin and Dallas, TX, Louisville, Nashville and Memphis, TN, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, Michigan, and all over their home state of Indiana (including the Indy 500-97,97,2008 and INDY JAZZ FEST 04,07,08, and SUPER BOWL!).

They have shared the stage with musical giants such as, BB King, Tower of Power (2x), Robert Cray (3x), Buddy Guy(4x),
Al Green, Double Trouble (Mike fronted DT in Nashville, TN. 20th Anniversary SRV Memorial Concert2010), Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Aretha Franklin, WC Clark, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Walter Trout, Sam Lay,Lonnie Brooks, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Long John Hunter, Martin/Medeski/Scofield/Wood, GE Smith (SNL), Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tommy Castro, Carl Weathersby, James Hunter, Joe Bonamassa(2x), Lil Ed, Shannon Curfman (Now with Kid Rock) ...

In 2007, LIVE! and Timing is Everything CDs were picked up for national distribution by all Meijer and Best Buy stores and named "Top Selling Artist of 2008", by Audio Recon, MMSS’s digital distributor. Audio Recon is responsible for placing MMSS tunes on iTunes, Emusic, Rhapsody...

"Mike plays with that indefinable, yet very real thing called soul, that thing about being real that one always knows when it’s there" Snip of review from Buddy Guy show. INdy . 9-5-05 by George Fish

"Mike's so good I should've been carrying his sh*# !"
Funny quote from Tommy Shannon (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble). 8-28-2010

“We keep it simple, play from the heart, and reach out to those suffering and celebrating.”…Mike