Blake Mills, who joins Fiona Apple Friday night at Benaroya Hall, may not be a household name. But L.A. record producers looking for a session guitarist with a lot of cachet surely have him on speed dial.
The 27-year-old Santa Monica native’s résumé is a who’s who of top recording artists. Mills has toured with Lucinda Williams, Jenny Lewis, Band of Horses and Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas — and recorded with Norah Jones, Kid Rock, Weezer, Jakob Dylan, Danger Mouse, Andrew Bird and super-producer Rick Rubin.
He’s also been an organizer of impromptu jam sessions at Mollusk Surf Shop in Venice Beach, Calif., attracting such luminaries as Jackson Browne, Charlie Sexton and Dave Rawlings. Mills, a roots-rocker with an arresting voice, contributed a version of “Heart of Mine” to the “Chimes of Freedom” Bob Dylan tribute album.
His solo debut album, “Break Mirrors,” sold mostly through word-of-mouth when it came out in 2010. In the beginning, the CD (featuring the infectious “Hey Lover”) didn’t have a bar code and wasn’t sent to radio.
Friends burned copies for friends, resulting in a cult following among patrons at Mollusk, where Brown, Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), girlfriend Danielle Haim and L.A. band Dawes (the group he cofounded in 2007 as Simon Dawes) backed him at a show.
Mills’ sophomore album will be released early next year on Verve Records, which described the singer-songwriter, producer, band leader, session musician and virtuoso guitarist as “a true iconoclast — and wise beyond his years.”
Mills and Haim opened for singer-songwriter Apple at the Hollywood Palladium in July 2012, and Mills and Apple began collaborating after that.
After Apple released “The Idler Wheel …” (Epic Records) last year, Mills signed on as the opening act and backup guitarist for her tour. The album landed on The Billboard 200 album chart at No. 3 and subsequently became the highest-charting album of her career. Rolling Stone called the song “Hot Knife” one of the “50 best songs of 2012.”
The current Apple/Mills tour, which includes only a dozen dates at concert halls, is dubbed “Anything We Want: An Evening With Fiona Apple & Blake Mills.” Apple and Mills will perform songs from their respective albums, as well as unreleased material in a show likely to be filled with surprises.
When the tour was announced, the two artists were unsure of how they would collaborate onstage, adding that “the uncertainty excites us.” The set could be every bit as electrifying as Mills’ impromptu performances at Mollusk Surf Shop, with the added benefit of Benaroya’s superb acoustics.
Gene Stout: email@example.com