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Full Biography of
Roger Miller

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Roger Miller is best known for his humorous novelty songs, which overshadow his considerable songwriting talents as well as his hardcore honky tonk roots. After writing hits for a number of artists in the '50s, Miller racked up a number of hits on his own during the '60s, which became not only country classics, but popular classics as well. He was a multiple [Grammy] and [Tony Award] winner, singer, songwriter, musician and actor. His most recognized tunes included the chart-topping country/pop hits "King of the Road," "Dang Me" and "England Swings."

Roger Dean Miller, was born January 2, 1936, in Fort Worth, Texas, the third son of Jean and Laudene (Holt) Miller. Jean Miller died from spinal meningitis when Roger was only a year old. His mother was unable to support the family, and each of her three sons were sent to a different uncle. Roger grew up on a farm outside Erick, Oklahoma with Elmer and Armelia Miller.

After growing up in Oklahoma and serving in the U.S. military, Miller began his musical career as a Nashville songwriter in the late 1950s, penning such hits as "Billy Bayou" and "Home." for Jim Reeves and "Invitation to the Blues," for Ray Price.

Miller listened to the [Grand Ole Opry]{1} and The Light Crust Doughboys{2} on a local radio station with his cousin's husband Sheb Wooley. Wooley taught Miller his first guitar chords and bought him a fiddle. Wooley, Hank Williams, and Bob Wills were the influences that led to Miller's desire to become a singer-songwriter.

When he was 17, he stole a guitar out of desperation to write songs; however, he 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 his departure from the service.

Once in Nashville to begin his musical he met with Chet Atkins, who heard 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 Houston. 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 Amarillo, Texas.

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 by 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.

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 "A Man Like Me," and later "The Wrong Kind of Girl." Both songs were honky tonk and did not chart.

To make extra money, Miller went on tour and joined Faron Young's band as a drummer, even though he had never drummed before. During this period, he signed a record deal with his acquaintance Chet Atkins at RCA Records. For RCA, 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." Both were released as singles, peaking at #1 and #3 respectively on country charts and both 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 Hot 100.] The song took months for Miller to write and was inspired by a sign in Chicago that read "Trailers for Sale or Rent." The song was certified gold by the RIAA{3} 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 Star" 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 of his own composition was "Walkin In the Sunshine," which reached #7 on the country chart and #6 on the 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, 1968, 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 titled 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. He also provided the voice of Speiltoe, the equine narrator of the holiday special [Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey,] in 1978.

In 1982, 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.

He was absent from the entertainment business following the release of Old Friends but returned after receiving an offer to write a Broadway 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 York's Eugene O'Neill Theatre 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 Huck Finn's father, Pap, for three months after the exit of actor John Goodman, who left for Hollywood.

Miller left to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico to live with his family, following the success of [Big River.] However, in 1990 he began a solo guitar tour. He 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.

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 saying that it was the closest to his own that he had heard.

Miller was married three times, and fathered seven children. His 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 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 contributed to 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 House performance for President Gerald Ford. In 2009, she was inducted into the [Iowa 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.

  • Below is a list of awards won by Miller:
  • 1964-[Grammy Award]: [Best Country Song]: "Dang Me"
  • 1964-[Grammy Award]: [Best New Country & Western Artist]
  • 1964-[Grammy Award]: [Best Country & Western Recording, Single]: "Dang Me"
  • 1964-[Grammy Award]: [Best Country & Western Performance, Male]: "Dang Me"
  • 1964-[Grammy Award]: [Best Country & Western Album]: "Dang Me"/"Chug-a-Lug"
  • 1965-[Jukebox Artist of the Year]
  • 1965-[Grammy Award]: [Best Country Song]: "King of the Road"
  • 1965-[Grammy Award]: [Best Country Vocal Performance, Male]: "King of the Road"
  • 1965-[Grammy Award]: [Best Country & Western Recording, Single]: "King of the Road"
  • 1965-[Grammy Award]: [Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male]: "King of the Road"
  • 1965-[Grammy Award]: [Best Contemporary (Rock 'N Roll), Single]: "King of the Road"
  • 1965-[Grammy Award]: [Best Country & Western Album]: "The Return of Roger Miller"
  • 1965-[Academy of Country & Western Music]: "Best Songwriter"
  • 1965-[Academy of Country & Western Music]: "Man of the Year"
  • 1973-[Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame]
  • 1985-[Tony Award] for [Best Score and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics]: Big River
  • 1988-[Academy of Country & Western Music]: Pioneer Award
  • 1995-[Country Music Hall of Fame]
  • 1997-[Grammy Hall of Fame] Song: "Dang Me"
  • 1998-[Grammy Hall of Fame Song]: "King Of The Road"
  • 2003-[CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music]: Ranked #23.

* The Roger Miller Museum, in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, serves as a tribute to Miller. ___________________________________________________________________________________________ {1}The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly American country music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee that has presented the biggest stars of the genre for nearly 85 years. Also, the show is broadcast weekly, by radio station WSM-AM. It is also the longest-running, live radio program in history since its beginnings in 1925. Dedicated to honoring country music and its history, the Opry showcases a mix of legends and contemporary chart-toppers performing country, bluegrass, folk, comedy, and gospel. Considered an American icon, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world and millions of radio and Internet listeners. Today, as part of the American landscape, it is "the show that made country music famous" and has been called the "Home of American music" and "Country’s most famous stage."

{2}The Light Crust Doughboys were a Texas, Western Swing{4} band formed in 1931 by Bob Wills, Milton Brown and W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel. The band achieved its peak popularity in the years leading up to World War II. In addition to launching Wills, Brown and O'Daniel, it provided a venue for many of the best musicians in the Western Swing genre. It was initially formed to promote the products of a flour mill (Burrus Mill and Elevator Company, producer of Light Crust Flour), hence the name. A version of the band featuring the distinctive dixieland-jazz inflected banjo stylings of player, Smokey Montgomery, who joined in 1935, continued to play live shows into the 1990s and up to the time of his passing in 2001. The current version is led by Art Greenhaw.

{3}The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a group which represents the recording industry distributors in the United States. Its members consist of record labels and distributors, which the RIAA says "create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 85% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States." The RIAA participates in the collection, administration and distribution of music licenses and royalties and is responsible for certifying sales silver (100,000), gold (500,000), platinum (1,000,000), and diamond (10,000,000) albums and singles in the USA.

{4}Western swing is a style of popular music that began in the 1920s in the American Southwest among the region's popular Western string bands. It is dance music, often with an up-tempo beat. The music is an amalgamation of rural, cowboy, polka, folk, New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, and blues blended with a jazzy "swing." Most Western Swing, string bands are augmented with drums, saxophones, pianos and, notably, the steel guitar.

[Biography written by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, edited by bri4daz.]


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Roger Miller

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