Thursday, January 2, 2014

January 2: County singer Roger Miller, "King of the Road, "Dang Me" "England Swings," was born on this date in 1936…


… he died on October 25, 1992.


Roger Dean Miller was famous for his catchy near-novelty songs. His best known records include the country and pop hits "King of the Road,” "Dang Me" and "England Swings,” all recorded in the mid 1960s.

Roger was born in Fort Worth, Texas and raised in Oklahoma. Growing up, he listened to the Grand Ole Opry and Light Crust Doughboys on a Fort Worth station with his cousin's husband Sheb Wooley. Wooley taught Miller his first guitar chords and bought him a fiddle.

Roger used to sneak out of his house and perform in Oklahoma and Texas. When he was 17, he stole a guitar to write songs, but turned himself in the next day. He chose to enlist in the Army to avoid jail.

Near the end of his military service, while stationed in Atlanta, Georgia, Miller played fiddle in the "Circle A Wranglers," a military musical group started by Faron Young. While stationed in South Carolina, an army sergeant whose brother was Kenneth C. Burns from the musical duo Homer and Jethro, convinced Miller to head to Nashville after he was discharged from the Army.

In Nashville, he met with Chet Atkins, who after listening to him, advised him to come back after he polished his act. 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."
Eventually, Roger was hired by Minnie Pearl to play fiddle in her band. Later, he  met up with George Jones, who introduced him to music executives from the Starday Records label for an audition. The label was impressed with Miller and awarded him with a session in Houston, accompanied by Jones. Jones and Miller collaborated, writing "Tall, Tall Trees" and "Happy Child."

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After starting a family, Miller left for Amarillo, Texas to become a fireman, and while his music career wasn't completely abandoned, was put on the back burner.

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 by Price, for whom it became a number three hit on country charts.

Roger wrote "Half a Mind" for Ernest Tubb, "That's the Way I Feel" for Faron Young, and his first number one, "Billy Bayou," which along with "Home" were recorded by Jim Reeves.

Miller became one of the biggest songwriters of the 1950s. However, 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."
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." Neither song made the charts.
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 Chet Atkins at RCA Records, for whom Miller recorded "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," co-written with Bill Anderson.
After appearing on late night comedy shows, Miller decided that he might have a chance to go to Hollywood and become an actor. With little money  he signed with Smash Records, asking for $1,600 in cash, in exchange for recording 16 sides. Smash agreed to the proposal, and Miller performed at his first session for the company early in 1964, when he recorded the hits "Dang Me" (which took him under 5 minutes to write) and "Chug-a-Lug.” 

 Both songs 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. 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.
Miller continued to record and tour into the 1990s, charting his final top 20 country hit "Old Friends" with Willie Nelson in 1982. Late in his career he wrote the music and lyrics for the 1985 Tony-award winning Broadway musical Big River, in which he also appeared.

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


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