There was a time — the ’70, ’80s and well into the ’90 — when blues vocalist/harmonica player Bill “Mr. Stress” Miller could be found playing with his band at the Euclid Tavern in University Circle every week without fail.
And, starting in the ’60s, you could hear Stress and his ensemble at dozens of other venues around town as well. His was probably the name most people associated with local blues, right after the late Robert Lockwood Jr.
Mr. Stress’s reputation never found its way beyond northeastern Ohio, a fact Akron’s Chrissie Hynde memorialized on the Pretenders’ 1980 debut album in the song “Precious,” when she sang “Howard the Duck and Mr. Stress both stayed trapped in a world that they never made.”
But a local treasure is still a treasure. And when word came in December that Miller, who turned 71 on New Year’s Day and had been in poor health for the last decade and a half, had suffered a stroke while doing a radio interview, his plight touched a blues musician from the subsequent generation of area players.
Colin Dussault, known as one of the area music scene’s hardest working and most ubiquitous players, was still reeling from a tragedy of his own: his mother Laurel had died unexpectedly in the fall, just a few weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. Jumping in to help Miller was his way of forgetting his own pain and paying forward the support and love his mother had given him.
“He was doing a radio interview via Skype, and they heard a change in his voice,” explains Dussault. “They called 911.”
When Dussault tracked down Miller in the hospital four days later, he was, he says, “presented with this litany of problems.
“He was being evicted from his apartment, they’re going to put his stuff on the lawn, the mover refused to move him,” recalls Dussault. “Musicians Tower [a senior residence in Cleveland Heights] won’t even let him fill in an application because he’s not officially out of the other building. He has no ID, no birth certificate. We don’t even know where to look for them. The new building won’t let him in until he has a Social Security card. I’m looking at him, and I’m going ‘holy shit.’”
Dussault sprang into action, calling in a social worker and starting to methodically work through the list of Miller’s needs. Fortunately, Dussault and his father have a moving company, so they got his stuff packed, moved and stored.
“I was on the phone every day,” says Dussault. “I got him a birth certificate, I got him a state ID.”
Luckily, Miller’s situation is stable now.
“He is doing excellent,” says Dussault. “He was a boat sinking and full of holes. Now he is seaworthy. It’s very relieving, refreshing and rewarding to go into that situation and be able to do something. I took him to my New Year’s Eve gig, and he did a song with us. I’m just keeping an eye on him.”
As more of Miller’s friends heard about his situation, checks began arriving, a token of appreciation for all the years of pleasure the musician had provided to listeners. Dussault opened a Stress Relief Fund bank account to make sure the money was accounted for and went straight to Miller.
But he was aware that many area musicians wanted to do something special for this local icon. He hatched the idea of doing a CD.
“I was going to do one disc,” he says. “I put word out on Facebook, and before you know it I had four discs’ worth of material.”
That package is available now, and it’s a real feast for local music lovers. Fifty-eight musicians contributed 70 tracks. Michael Stanley provided a unreleased song. Lockwood’s widow gave permission to use one of his tunes. Area blues fixtures like the Alan Greene Band, Wallace Coleman, Crazy Marvin, Travis Moonchild Haddix, the Bad Boys of Blues, Frankie Starr, and Becky Boyd, and younger blues players like Kristine Jackson and Austin “Walking Cane” Charanghat, all contributed tracks for their colleague.
But musicians from the pop, rock, reggae, folk, Celtic and roots music scenes stepped up as well: Alex Bevan, Carlos Jones & the P.L.U.S. Band, I-Tal, Denny Carlton, Rich Spina, Bob Gatewood, Brigid’s Cross, Cats on Holiday, Moko Bovo, Alan Leatherwood, and the Ernie Krivda/Kenny Davis Jazz Quintet, just to name a few.
What makes the set even more special are some vintage local music tracks. Dussault didn’t have to look too far for a couple of those. His father Artie Dussault had played with the Blackweles and Audi-Badoo in the ’60s.
“I dug in my dad’s archives,” he says. He also got a couple of tracks from Michael Stanley’s teenage band the Tree Stumps, as well as one from short-lived mid’70s Cleveland band Granicus. The set also includes a 24-page color booklet packed with archival photos. If you’re at all familiar with Dussault and his tendency to be verbose, you know that the liner notes are copious — a journey through Mr. Stress’s life and career.
Dussault pre-sold over 150 copies just by letting his Facebook list know about it. Now the discs have arrived and are ready for order. He’s created a Stress Relief website where you can get more information and order your own copy.