Jim Miller of Western Centuries Dies Unexpectedly

Cahalen Morrison, Jim Miller, Ethan Lawton

This story has been updated.

When Cahalen Morrison, Ethan Lawton, and Jim Miller decided to form their own group called Western Centuries, some though it was silly to call it a “supergroup,” since none of them were exactly “superstars.” But to those who knew them—individually or altogether—they knew the term “supergroup” was totally appropriate due to the musical prowess, creativity, and history each member brought to the band. Now word has come down that Jim Miller has passed away unexpectedly, and way too soon.

Jim Miller was a long time singer, guitar player, and songwriter for numerous projects. A natural collaborator who didn’t let his own ego or a personal agenda get in the way of the music, he’d made a name for himself for how he enhanced the musical expressions of others, while being unafraid to stand in front of the mic and sing one of his own when it was his turn.

Jim Miller was born in Boston in January of 1953, but grew up on the Canadian Prairie in Saskatchewan. He joined the Saskatoon Boys Choir when he was five years old singing Broadway songs, and touring around Canada in a school bus. His parents turned him on to folk music early on, and played music upon occasion around the home. During his high school years, Jim Miller’s family moved to Connecticut, where he began playing in local rock and roll bands.

Jim’s father was a biologist, and he followed in his father’s footsteps, attending Cornell University in New York State, and earning his PhD. He did a fellowship at the Smithsonian, and worked at the Museum of Natural History in New York as an associate curator. But music was always a major passion, and he helped form the folk rock band Donna The Buffalo while in graduate school. Miller would go on to tour with the band on and off for 15 years, as they garnered a cult following, including full-time between 1999 and 2005, and appeared on five of the band’s albums.

As a rhythm guitarist and harmony singer, Jim Miller found himself in the studio for multiple important projects in roots music, always deferring the spotlight to others, even if he deserved some of it himself, including the solo album Mule To Ride from Donna The Buffalo’s Tara Nevins released in 1999 where Miller sang many of the lead parts, and If I Go Ten Thousand Miles from 1996 where he worked with Dirk Powell. Miller also worked on numerous Jim Lauderdale albums, and also collaborated with Tim O’Brien and Ginny Hawker.

How Jim got mixed up with Cahalen Morrison and Ethan Lawton in Seattle was a bit of accident. Miller moved to Seattle with his wife while she attended graduate school, and his first week in town, found himself at a music party with the two, and magic was sparked, and they began releasing albums on Free Dirt Records, including Weight of the World in 2016, Songs from the Deluge in 2018, and 2020’s Call The Captain, all to critical acclaim. Western Centuries became one of the most important independent country bands of the Pacific Northwest that were beloved coast to coast.

After the three years of his wife’s graduate school, Jim Miller moved back to New York, but Western Centuries remained together. The band had just embarked on a tour Thursday night, March 24th, set to perform at The Burren Irish Bar in Somerville, Massachusetts. Jim Miller passed away before the show due to cardiac arrest. He was 69 years old.

“We’re so sorry to announce that our dear friend and bandmate Jim Miller unexpectedly passed away last night,” the band announced Friday afternoon. “We’re all absolutely heartbroken and speechless right now. Please stay tuned for updates on upcoming shows while we grapple with this terrible loss. Jim was family, and we’re all struggling to understand this right now.”

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