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Roger Miller

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 during the '60s which became not only country classics, but popular classics as well.

Miller was born in Fort Worth, TX, but raised in the small town of Erick, OK, by his aunt and uncle, following the death of his father and his mother's debilitating sickness. Initially, he was attracted to music by hearing country over the radio as well as by his brother-in-law, Sheb Wooley. By the time he was ten, he earned enough money picking cotton to buy himself a guitar. At the age of 11, Wooley gave him a fiddle and encouraged him to pursue a performing career. Miller completed the eighth grade and left school to become a ranch hand and rodeo rider. Throughout his adolescence, he played music in addition to working the ranch. Soon, he was able to play not only guitar and fiddle, but also piano, banjo, and drums.

He enlisted in the Army during the Korean war and was stationed in South Carolina, where he met the brother of Jethro Burns who arranged an audition at RCA Nashville for him. Early in 1957, Miller left the army and auditioned for Chet Atkins at RCA. The session was unsuccessful, and he spent a year as a bellhop at a Nashville hotel. While in Nashville, Miller met George Jones and Pappy Dailey, who introduced him to Don Pierce, an executive at Mercury Records. Pierce signed Miller and had him cut three songs. His first single, "Poor Little John," disappeared without a trace. Following the failure of his first single, Miller continued to work at the hotel and tour with other musicians — he played fiddle with Minnie Pearl for a short time, then he became the drummer for Faron Young. After a few months, he was signed as a songwriter for Tree Music Publishing and stopped performing as a supporting musician. Instead of playing music, he became a fireman in Amarillo, TX. The abandonment of performing was short-lived, however — within a few months, he became the drummer for Ray Price's Cherokee Cowboys.


Roger Miller was born in Fort Worth, Texas, the third son of Jean and Laudene (Holt) Miller. Jean Miller died from spinal meningitis when Roger was a year old. Unable to support the family during the Great Depression, Laudene sent her three sons to live with three of Jean's brothers. Thus, Roger grew up on a farm outside Erick, Oklahoma with Elmer and Armelia Miller.

As a boy, Miller did farm work, such as picking cotton and plowing. He would later say he was "dirt poor" and that as late as 1951 the family did not own a telephone. He received his primary education at a one-room schoolhouse. Miller was an introverted child, and would often daydream or compose songs. One of his earliest compositions went: "There's a picture on the wall. It's the dearest of them all, Mother."

Miller was a member of the National FFA Organization in high school. 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. Wooley, Hank Williams, and Bob Wills were the influences that led to Miller's desire to be a singer-songwriter. He began to run away and perform in Oklahoma and Texas. At 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. He later quipped, "My education was Korea, Clash of '52." 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 Miller was stationed in South Carolina, an army sergeant whose brother was Kenneth C. Burns from the musical duo Homer and Jethro, persuaded him to head to Nashville after demobilization.


Roger Dean Miller (January 2, 1936 – October 25, 1992) was a Grammy and Tony Award winning American 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 Oklahoma and serving in the United States 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. 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 Broadway 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 Fame 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 living tribute to Miller in his hometown.

 

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