A Hancock, Md., couple makes music together as touring duo

January 05, 2011|By TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • Donna and Russ Miller travel and perform popular music as a duo named Take Two Variety Band.
By Kevin G. Gilbert

HANCOCK — Each summer, Russ and Donna Miller celebrate a marriage of music making with a yearly ritual, touring the country and gigging from a mobile stage they unhitch from their RV and assemble.

Only this time, they hope to bring a brand new album with them.

The Millers have built a name for themselves as Take Two Variety Band, performing a broad range of family-friendly songs at the places they stop. Donna is the drummer. Russ plays the horns or guitar. They both sing. Recently, the couple caught the attention of Truck Camper Magazine and Lance Camper, which published stories about the couple.

“We’re not worried about getting popular and getting discovered,” Russ said. “We’re just happy to do it.”

While they may not be concerned with getting signed with a major record label, they are motivated to get their music out there. Russ and Donna Miller have been waiting for a lull in their busy performing schedule — they book indoor shows during the holidays — to spend more time in their Hancock studio.

It’s early in the process, and they have started to lay down tracks for a yet-to-be-named third album. Russ said the work-in-progress would be an album of jazz and big-band standards. Take Two indulged The Herald-Mail with a sample performance of Erroll Garner’s “Misty.”

Russ and Donna have been touring as Take Two for four years and have been married for 26. But the music was there before they were a couple.

“We’ve been making music forever,” Donna said.

Donna started playing drums at age 15, after a country band in need of a drummer noticed she could play the organ and thought the skills would translate.

“They said, ‘If you could play all four limbs to play an organ, you should be able to play the drums,’” Donna recalled.

Russ started playing trumpet as a seventh-grader, taking lessons from the late Capt. Thomas F. Darcy, cornetist, composer and commander of the U.S. Army Band from 1935 to 1946. Darcy led the band on an overseas tour during World War II.

“That’s probably my biggest influence in music,” Russ said.
He still gets choked up when he talks about his first mentor. Russ has Capt. Darcy’s personal affects, including his coronet.

“He was like a god to me,” he said.

While they both studied music, the Millers decided early in life that they didn’t want to pursue it full time. They decided to teach instead.

Actually, they met each other through teaching.

Russ taught special education at Hancock Elementary School and at Hancock Middle-Senior High School. Donna taught fourth and fifth grades at Hancock Elementary. They were performing shows outside of school and bumped into each other at a gig.

That’s when the chemistry sparked.

The Millers started a family, though their children Jennifer Miller, 24, and Bryce Miller, 19, aren’t interested in music.

As for the future, they’ve got each other and they’ve got their music, that’s the message they hope to convey when they perform.

“It is possible to realize your dream, in terms of playing music,” Russ said. “One of the things we try to communicate when we’re playing is that it’s a heck of a lot of fun.”

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