Jon Miller Induction

Best of the Best!!

Miller, Ballard to be inducted into Kansas Music Hall of Fame             BY WENDY NUGENT

NEWTON—Newton musician Lander Ballard has recorded nine complete albums, five of which are original tunes with four being covers, including two Beatles covers. "I'm a huge Beatles fan," he said. "I like to think I did a nice turn on their stuff."

The singer/songwriter/guitar player is one of two Newton/North Newton residents recently named to the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. The other is Jon Miller of North Newton.

Currently, the 72-year-old Ballard is semi-retired, although he's still teaching. Ballard said a friend of his nominated him for the hall of fame and while Ballard was playing at Botanica last year, it was announced Ballard was nominated. "The voting concluded at the end of the year," Ballard said.

After Ballard found out he was one of those being inducted, he was told to keep it to himself until it was announced publicly. "The hardest part was not telling anybody," he said, although he had to tell his wife. "We've pretty much been all grins here for the past few days."

Ballard said he's been singing since he can remember and playing guitar since the age of 6. Around that age, he sold garden seeds to earn money to purchase a plastic guitar. "I took lessons for a number of years," he said. "During that time, the music scene was just exploding. In the mid-'50s, all the rock'n'roll stuff hit. They were just changing it seemed like. I was lucky enough to be born at that time." The 1950s and '60s were a really good time to be a guitar player, Ballard said. "The electric guitar really exploded," he said.

While in high school, Ballard put a band together, which he said was more than a garage band. "It was a good start being a professional musician," he said. However, he wasn't in that band while serving in Vietnam, but played in a different band there. "We kind of brought a piece of home to [the military members there,]" Ballard said. They played for guys coming back from the bush and other military members. The singer was in the Navy, while a couple of other members, including Ballard, were in the Air Force. Ballard plays various guitars like electric and acoustic, as well as rhythm and lead, but doesn't get too much into jazz or classical. "If it was a good song, I'd play it," he said.

He's been a professional musician, like playing as the house gig by himself in Wichita in the early '70s. At the time, he still was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base and played in beer bars four hours a night four times a week. He ended up making Nashville connections and did a demo that ended up being half of his first album. He went to Nashville in 1976 and recorded his first album, which was released in March 1977. When things didn't click and the album didn't sell, a man approached Ballard about starting his own record company, so after the guy gave him that idea, he started one.

Since that time, Ballard has been playing and always came back to Wichita. He met Rebecca and they've been together for 40 years. When they got together, Rebecca lived in Newton, so they moved to Newton. "We've been married 35 out of those 40 years," Ballard said. He still plays and teaches music in his studio and in Wichita. "I just love doing the music," he said. "Music to me is the most magical thing in the world, sharing something that people can enjoy and relate to. I've always wanted to do it right."

Jon Miller

Miller, who now is retired, said he was a musician for more than 50 years, owned Miller Music in Wichita and had Miller Recording Studio in North Newton. "We did professional recording for groups like Rick Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel," Miller said. "We had Mark O'Connor, world-renowned fiddle player." O'Connor also played symphonic music, he said, adding Mark and Donnie Wahlberg recorded in his studio when Mark Wahlberg was starting Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. "That no longer exists," Miller said about that group.

Miller also recorded for the Miss USA Pageant in Wichita for two years and did live sound for The Cotillion Ballroom in Wichita. "With the advance of technology at the time, we produced a platform and venue for local and national artists to get their music heard," Miller said in his bio, adding he also taught many students and did apprenticeships for colleges. "In recording, you only want people to hear what you want them to hear," he said.

"When I was in bands, actually we did a show with Jeff Beck. He just died." Miller said when he was in a band, they backed up the Drifters and did some circuit playing with the Flippers and Blue Things. He played with Terry Crane and the Blue Diamonds, Wichita Linemen and worked jobs at McConnell Air Force Base with stars from Nashville.

In his early history, Miller played in a group called The Weeds, advertised on KOMA in the 1960s, traveled a four-state area and played Oscars Palladium in Nebraska. He also did an album called "Greenfield Hands," associated with Hesston Corp. "We played Topeka and all kinds of things," Miller said, adding when they traveled to gigs, The Weeds usually put in 400 miles a week, returning home early Sunday mornings.

Back in the day, Miller Recording Studio was the only one doing computer-automated mixing in the region. "It took a lot to do that," Miller said. "It took $150,000 at least in equipment plus recording and rebuilding in a North Newton residential area." They had to insulate it. "You build a building inside a building and insulate it," Miller said. "Taking that project on was a real leap of faith."

Miller played guitar and bass. The local band he played with was Second Time Around. Like Ballard, Miller served in Vietnam, where he got two medals. "One for getting shot at and one for getting hit," he said. He was there for two years.

Miller's wife, Meri, said it's hard to find really, really good recording studios and that her husband recorded jingles and commercials. Miller said if the wheels didn't go round and round, the studio wasn't making any money.

Big names in music used to come through the area and asked if they could record a demo on a down day. The recording studio was for professionals. "The format we were in had the format for the professionals and national acts," Miller said. "That's how we did the Miss USA Pageant. We had the right equipment. Playing music is like looking in a mirror with your own eyes. Recording is looking at a picture of yourself with the world's eyes."

Miller said he decided to get into the music business, not just music only. Meri nominated her husband for the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. She said she wanted to shine a light on him while he still was alive. "In the studio, we did so much," Miller said, adding it was local bands and big names. "Small dogs, big dogs." One of those included Chuck Berry. For the hall of fame, there's an induction ceremony on April 15 in Liberty Hall in Lawrence.  

                                       Way to Go, Jon!!!