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Roger Dean Miller (January 2, 1936 – October 25, 1992) was a Grammy and Tony Award winning Americanmarker singer, songwriter, musician and actor, best known for his honky tonk-influenced novelty songs. His most recognized tunes included the chart-topping country/pop hits "King of the Road", "Dang Me" and "England Swings", all from the mid-1960s Nashville Sound era.

After growing up in Oklahomamarker and serving in the United States military, Miller began his musical career as a Nashvillemarker songwriter in the late 1950s, penning such hits as "Billy Bayou" and "Home" for Jim Reeves and "Invitation to the Blues" for Ray Price. He later started a recording career and reached the peak of his fame in the late-1960s, but continued to record and tour into the 1990s, charting his final top 20 country hit "Old Friends" with Willie Nelson in 1982. Later in his life, he wrote the music and lyrics for the 1985 Tony-award winning Broadwaymarker musical Big River, in which he also acted.

Miller died from lung cancer in 1992, and was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Famemarker three years thereafter. His songs continued to be recorded by later artists, with covers of "Tall, Tall Trees" by Alan Jackson and "Husbands and Wives" by Brooks & Dunn, each reaching the #1 spot on country charts in the 1990s.

The Roger Miller Museum serves as a tribute to Miller in his hometown.

Early life

Roger Miller was born the third son of Jean (father) and Laudene Holt Miller (mother) in Fort Worth, Texasmarker. Jean died from spinal meningitis when Roger was only a year old. With his mother unable to provide for the family during the Great Depression, each of the three boys were sent to a different brother of Jean. Roger ended up on a farm outside Erick, Oklahomamarker with his aunt and uncle, Elmer and Armelia Miller.

Miller had a hard childhood, spending many days picking cotton or working the land on the farm. He would later reflect that he was "dirt poor" and as late as 1951, the family did not own a telephone. Until 8th grade, he received a primary education at a one-room schoolhouse 3 miles from home, but earned poor grades, eventually graduating. Although he "always wanted attention," Miller was an introverted child, who would often daydream and compose songs. One of his earliest alleged compositions went as follows: "There's a picture on the wall, It's the dearest of them all, Mother."

Miller attended high school 7.5 miles from home and was a member of the Future Farmers of America organization. He enjoyed the radio, and listened to the Grand Ole Oprymarker and Light Crust Doughboys on a Fort Worthmarker station with his cousin's husband Sheb Wooley. Wooley was a Hollywoodmarker entertainer, and taught the boy to play his first guitar chords and bought him a fiddle. Wooley, along with Hank Williams and Bob Wills, were the influences that led to Miller's desire to become a singer-songwriter. Later in his high school years, he began to run away and perform gigs in Oklahoma and Texas. During one escapade in Texas, he stole a guitar out of desperation to write songs, but turned himself in the next day, choosing to join the Army rather than go to jail, despite being only seventeen years old. He later quipped, "My education was Korea, Clash of '52." Near the end of his military service, while stationed in Atlanta, Georgiamarker, Miller played fiddle in the "Circle A Wranglers," a military musical group started by Faron Young. While stationed in South Carolinamarker, an army sergeant whose brother was Kenneth C. Burns from the musical duo Homer and Jethro, convinced Miller to head to Nashville after his departure from the service.

Career

Nashville songwriter

After his discharge, Miller traveled to Nashvillemarker to begin his musical career. Once there, he met with Chet Atkins, who asked to hear Miller, and loaned him his guitar after being notified that he did not own one. Out of nervousness, Miller played the guitar and sang a song in two different keys. Atkins advised him to come back at a later date, after a little more work. Miller remained in Nashville and worked as a bellhop at the Andrew Jackson Hotel, to make ends meet. He soon became known as the "singing bellhop." Meanwhile, Miller's musical career was beginning to progress. He was hired by Minnie Pearl to play fiddle in her band, and later met up with George Jones, who introduced him to music executives from the Mercury-Starday label to set up an audition. The label was impressed with Miller and awarded him with a session in Houstonmarker. Jones accompanied him to the performance, and the two collaborated, writing the songs, "Tall, Tall Trees" and "Happy Child." The deal did not work out for Miller, who decided to leave Nashville and become a fireman in Amarillomarker.

Miller worked as a fireman during the day and spent the nights performing gigs. He later recounted that as a fireman, he saw only two fires, a "chicken coop" and another that he "slept through." After the latter, the department "suggested that...[he] seek other employment." Miller met with Ray Price, and was hired as a member of his Cherokee Cowboys. He moved back to Nashville, and penned the song "Invitation to the Blues," which was covered by Rex Allen and later for Price, for whom it became a #3 hit on country charts. Miller signed with Tree Publishing, working for $50.00 a week, and soon began composing a series of hits including "Half a Mind" for Ernest Tubb, "That's the Way I Feel" for Faron Young and his first #1 song, "Billy Bayou," which along with "Home" were recorded by Jim Reeves. Miller soon became one of the biggest songwriters of the 1950s. But Bill Anderson would later remark that "Roger was the most talented, and least disciplined person that you could imagine" citing the attempts of Miller's Tree Publishing boss, Buddy Killen to force him to finish a piece. He was also known to give away lines, inciting many Nashville songwriters to follow him around since "everything he said was a potential song." (Killen)

Recording career

Miller signed a recording deal with Decca Records in 1958. He was paired with singer Donny Little, who would later gain fame under the name Johnny Paycheck, to perform the Little-penned "A Man Like Me", and later "The Wrong Kind of Girl." Both songs were honky tonk and did not chart. His second single with the label, featuring the B-side "Jason Fleming," foreshadowed Miller's future style. To make extra money, Miller went on tour and joined Faron Young's band as a drummer, although he had never drummed before. During this period, he signed a record deal with his acquaintance Chet Atkins at RCA Records. For the label, Miller recorded his song "You Don't Want My Love" (also known as "In the Summertime") in 1960, which marked his first appearance on country charts, peaking at #14. The next year, he would make an even bigger impact, breaking through the top 10 with his single "When Two Worlds Collide," cowritten with Bill Anderson. But Miller soon grew tired of writing songs and began a lifestyle that earned him the moniker "wild child." He was dropped from his record label and began to pursue other interests.



After numerous appearances on late night comedy shows, Miller decided that he might have a chance to go to Hollywood be an actor, but he needed more money. As a result, he signed with the up and coming label Smash Records. Soon afterwards he asked the label for $1,600 in cash, in which he would record 16 sides in return. Smash Records agreed to the proposal, and Miller performed at his first session for the company early in 1964. During this session he recorded the hits "Dang Me" and "Chug-a-Lug," which both were released as singles, peaking at #1 and #3 respectively on country charts. Both also fared well on the Billboard Hot 100 reaching #7 and #9. The songs transformed Miller's career, although the former was penned by Miller in only four minutes. Later that year, he recorded the #15 hit "Do-Wacka-Do," and soon after the biggest hit of his career "King of the Road," which topped Country and Adult Contemporary charts while peaking at #4 on the Billboard 100. The song took months for Miller to write and was inspired by a sign in Chicagomarker that read "Trailers for Sale or Rent" and a hobo happened upon by Miller while at an airport in Boisemarker. The song was certified gold in May 1965 after selling a million copies. It won Miller numerous awards, and earned him a royalty check worth $160,000 that summer. Later in the year Miller scored hits with "Engine Engine #9", "Kansas City Starmarker" and "England Swings," an adult contemporary #1. He began 1966 with the hit "Husbands and Wives."

Miller was given his own TV show on NBC in September 1966 but it was canceled after 13 weeks in January 1967. During this period Miller recorded songs written by other songwriters. The final hit from his own composition was "Walkin In the Sunshine," which reached #7 and #6 on the country and adult contemporary charts in 1967 . Later in the year he scored his final top 10 hit with a cover of Bobby Russell's "Little Green Apples." The next year, he was one of the first artists to cover Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobbie McGee," taking the song to #12 on country charts. In 1970, Miller recorded the album A Trip in the Country, madeup of honky tonk standards penned by Miller, including "Tall, Tall Trees." Later that year, Smash Records folded. Miller was soon signed by Columbia Records, for whom he released his 1973 aptly title album Dear Folks: Sorry I Haven't Written Lately. Later in the year, Miller wrote and performed three songs in the Walt Disney animated feature Robin Hood as the rooster/minstrel Alan-a-Dale, which was sampled for use in the popular internet meme commonly known as "The Hampster Dance". He also provided the voice of Speiltoe, the equine narrator of the Rankin/Bass holiday special Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey in 1978. Miller collaborated with Willie Nelson to create an album titled Old Friends. Miller wrote the title track, using a song he had previously penned for his family in Oklahoma. The song was released as a single, with guest vocals from Ray Price, and was the last hit of Miller's career , peaking at #19 on country charts in 1982.

Late career

Miller stopped writing songs in 1978, feeling that his more "artistic" works were not being appreciated. He was absent from the entertainment business following the release of Old Friends but returned after receiving an offer to write a Broadwaymarker score for a new musical based upon Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Although he had never read the novel, Miller accepted the offer after discovering how the story brought him back to his childhood in rural Oklahoma. It took him a year and a half to write the opening but he eventually finished. The work, entitled Big River premiered at New Yorkmarker's Eugene O'Neill Theatremarker on April 25, 1985. The musical received glowing reviews, earning seven Tony Awards including one for Miller for "Best Score." He also acted the part of Pap's father for three months after the exit of actor John Goodman, who left for Hollywood.

Miller left to Santa Femarker to live with his family following the success of Big River. However, in 1990 he began a solo guitar tour. Miller co-wrote Dwight Yoakam's hit "It Only Hurts When I Cry" from his 1990 album If There Was a Way, and supplied background vocals. The song was released as a single in 1991, peaking at #7 on country charts. Miller ended his tour after being diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 1991. His last performance on television occurred during a special tribute to Minnie Pearl that aired on TNN on October 26, 1992, the day following Miller's death.

Style

Although usually grouped with country music singers, Miller's unique style defies easy classification. Many of his recordings were humorous novelty songs with whimsical lyrics, coupled with scat singing or vocalese riffs filled with nonsense syllables. Others were sincere ballads, which also caught the public's fancy, none more so than his signature song, "King of the Road." The biographical book Ain't Got No Cigarettes described Miller as an "uncategorizable talent", and stated that many regarded him as a genius.

On this own personal style, Miller remarked that he "tried to do" things like other artists but that it "always came out different" so he got "frustrated" until realizing "I'm the only one that knows what I'm thinking." He commented that his favorite song that he wrote was "You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd." Johnny Cash discussed Miller's bass vocal range in his 1997 autobiography. He commented that it was the closest to his own that he had heard.

Personal life and death

Miller was married three times, and fathered seven children. Miller's first wife Barbara bore his first child, Michael, who later died of SIDS. The couple had 3 more children subsequent to Michael's death including Alan, Rhonda and Shari. By the time Shari was born, Miller's career was beginning to blossom into national popularity. The family remained in Inglewood for a short time after Miller's new found fame. The influx of interest in Miller caused struggles for the performer. At this time, he suffered from depression and insomnia and had a drug addiction that catalyzed the end of both his first and second marriages. During this point of his life, Miller was known to walk off of shows and get into fights. After a divorce with his first wife, he married a woman named Leah. She gave birth to his son, Dean Miller, who like his father, went on to become a singer-songwriter. The Christmas song, "Old Toy Trains" was written by Miller about his son, who was only two years old when it was released in 1967. After divorcing Leah, Miller married Mary Arnold as his third wife. She gave birth to two of Miller's children: Taylor and Adam. Arnold was a member of Kenny Rogers' backing band, The First Edition. Rogers introduced the two, and she subsequently performed with Miller on tours, including a White Housemarker performance for President Gerald Ford. In 2009 she was inducted into the Iowamarker Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame, and currently manages Roger Miller's estate. She sued Sony for copyright infringement in the 2007 case Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publishing, LLC, which went to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Miller was a lifelong cigarette smoker. During a television interview Miller once explained that he composed his songs from "bits and pieces" of ideas he wrote on scraps of paper. When asked what he did with the unused bits and pieces, he half-joked, "I smoke 'em!" Miller died of lung and throat cancer in 1992, at the age of 56. His death followed the discovery of a growth under his vocal cords that did not respond to radiation treatment.

Discography

Main albums

  • Roger and Out (1964)
  • The Return of Roger Miller (1965)
  • The Third Time Around (1965)
  • Words and Music (1966)
  • Walkin' in the Sunshine (1967)
  • A Tender Look at Love (1968)
  • Roger Miller (1969)
  • Roger Miller Featuring Dang Me! (1969)
  • A Trip in the Country (1970)
  • Roger Miller 1970 (1970)
  • Dear Folks, Sorry I Haven't Written Lately (1973)
  • Celebration (1976)
  • Painted Poetry (1977)
  • Off the Wall (1978)
  • Waterhole #3 (1978)
  • Making a Name for Myself (1979)
  • Old Friends (with Willie Nelson) (1982)
  • The Country Side of Roger Miller (1986)
  • Green Green Grass of Home (1994)


#1 singles

Released and recorded by Miller
Recorded and released by other artists


Awards

In addition to 11 Grammy Awards, Roger Miller won Broadwaymarker's Tony award for writing the music and lyrics for Big River, which won a total of 7 Tonys including best musical in 1985. He was voted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973 and the Country Music Hall of Famemarker in 1995. Miller's 11 Grammy Awards held the record as the most won by any artist until Michael Jackson's 1982 album Thriller. In Erick, Oklahoma where he grew up, a thoroughfare was renamed "Roger Miller Boulevard" and a museum dedicated to Miller was built on the road in 2004.

Below is a list of awards won by Miller:



References

Bibliography

  • Cooper, Daniel. (1998). "Roger Miller." In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 347–8.


External links




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