Roger Miller was a popular singer, songwriter, and musician who had a varied career in the music business, both country and pop, and who was known for his optimistic attitude toward life, his laid-back style, and his very good sense of humor.
Roger Miller was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1936, the youngest of three boys, and raised by his aunt and uncle on a farm outside of Erick, Oklahoma, a town "so small that the city limits signs are back to back." Inspired and aided by his cousin's husband, Erick native Sheb Wooley (who would later have a #1 hit with The Purple People Eater), Roger learned to play the guitar, fiddle and banjo when he was growing up. He later enlisted in the United States Army, with whom he served in Korea. Sometime after his return he went to Nashville in the mid-50's where he auditioned for Chet Atkins. Miller worked as a bellboy at the (now defunct) Andrew Jackson Hotel while spending a lot of his time writing songs, and looking for his break.
That break came when Ray Price recorded Roger's Invitation To The Blues and it reached the top twenty on the country chart in 1958. The song was also recorded by Patti Page. Miller secured a full-time writing contract and his songs were recorded by artists such as Ernest Tubb, George Jones and Jim Reeves. He also played different instruments on various recordings made by established country stars, such as the fiddle for Minnie Pearl, and bass for Ray Price. In 1962 he collaborated with Faron Young as his drummer, as well as songwriter. From 1958 to 1960 Roger Miller recorded country songs on the Starday label, then on RCA from 1960 to 1963, some of which became country hits: When Two Walls Collide (on which his co-writer was Bill Anderson), You Don't Want My Love, and Lock Stock And Teardrops. In March of 1963 when a plane carrying singing legend Patsy Cline and others was reported missing in bad weather about ninety miles west of Nashville, Roger joined the search party trying to find it.
Miller signed a recording contract with the Mercury subsidiary Smash and suddenly had a big hit with Dang Me, which crossed over to the pop chart in 1964. Dang Me made top ten pop as did his next one, Chug-A-Lug, and Roger had established himself to a wider audience as a likeable singer with some catchy tunes that had singable, clever lyrics, most of them self-written. He was writing and recording songs that people liked: Do-Wacka-Do, King Of The Road , Engine Engine #9, Kansas City Star and England Swings were all top forty pop hits in 1964 and 1965. Miller was at the height of his popularity. Dang Me and King Of The Road were number one country hits. In 1964 and 1965 he won eleven Grammy awards, a number that was unheard of in the industry. King of The Road became Roger Miller's biggest hit ever (at #4 pop in 1965), his signature song, and one that has been recorded by dozens and dozens of artists.
He kept going. Miller appeared on various television shows that were popular at the time, where his humor was quite welcome and appreciated: Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, Andy Wiilliams and others. He hosted his own show on NBC in 1966. He continued recording. Some of his songs were a little wacky, such as My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died and You Can't Roller Skate In a Buffalo Herd (some sample lyrics: "Ya can't take a shower in a parakeet cage... Ya can't go swimmin' in a baseball pool... Ya can't... change film with a kid on your back... drive around with a tiger in your car... go fishin' in a watermelon patch..."). Other songs continued coming... Husbands And Wives, Walkin' In The Sunshine, and his final top forty pop hit, in 1968, Little Green Apples. Every one of Miller's top forty pop hits had been released on the Smash label.
From his base in Nashville Miller helped get careers started for other songwriters, such as Bobby Russell (Little Green Apples) and Kris Kristofferson (Me And Bobby McGee). He contributed to film soundtracks such as Waterhole 3 in 1967 and the Disney animated feature Robin Hood in 1973. In the 60's, 70's, and 80's Roger continued turning out albums which his many fans scooped up. One of these, Old Friends in 1982, was recorded with another prominent singer who had worked as a songwriter in Nashville in the early days, Willie Nelson.
Roger took to writing the musical score for a stage show based on author Mark Twain's The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, called Big River. It opened in 1985 to rave reviews and was enormously popular. Big River won seven Tony Awards, including one to Miller for best musical score; he is the only country artist to have ever won a Tony. Miller was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1991, and died the following year in Los Angeles at age 56.
Roger Miller was a good singer and a very intelligent person. Many regard him as a musical genius. He is remembered by pop music fans for his top ten pop songs in the 60's Dang Me, Chug-A-Lug, Engine Engine #9, England Swings, and especially his most well-known song from 1965, King Of The Road.
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