Tag Archives: king of the road

The King of Cool and the King of the Road

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Dean Martin and Roger Miller may seem an unlikely pair at first, but the two entertainers were quite similar in many ways. They both possessed an inviting, conversational vocal style, a sharp, playful wit, a natural ability at improvisation and an endless supply of humor and charm.

Roger Miller was a country music superstar who achieved cross-over commercial success with infectious masterpieces like “King of the Road” and “Dang Me.” Martin was a pop and film icon who had a sincere affection for country music and recorded several country albums, beginning with 1963’s Country Style. Dino even covered a few Roger Miller songs.

Here’s a clip of these two flip sides of the same coin in a sketch from The Dean Martin Show about fishing, drinking and a “Dang Me” duet. And just as Dean Martin could wrap himself around a heartfelt ballad with the best of the crooners, so too did Roger Miller have a gift for poignant ballads. The clip closes with Miller singing his masterful “Husbands and Wives” at Dino’s request.

Roger Miller made four appearances on The Dean Martin Show between 1966-68. Here they meet up in Season 1 for some humorous wordplay. Miller calls out for a number, Martin answers with 21, and the two begin to seemingly write a song on the spot. (Of course the song, “Got 2 Again,” had already been written and recorded by Miller – the record begins by Miller calling out for “a number between 20 and 22” – released as the B-side to “Dang Me.” But why spoil the fun?)

 

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Roller Skating in a Buffalo Herd

He’s a nut. But he’s the most talented nut I’ve ever known. – Minnie Pearl

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Roger Miller had no off switch.  In a career that took him from the dive bars of Lower Broad to the Broadway stage – amassing 11 Grammy Awards, a Tony, and his rightful place in the Country Music Hall of Fame (1995) and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1973) – he was one of those live wires directly tapped in to the pulsating energy that holds the universe together, burning white hot bright and all too brief.  When asked, those who knew him universally remember his relentless spontaneity, genius and humor.

There is nothing spontaneous about Erick, Oklahoma. The topography surrounding Erick is broad and green and endless. It stretches out for miles in every direction without relief or intermission. This was the environment where the boisterous, explosive genius spent his formative years picking cotton on his family’s farm and escaping into his overly active imagination.

What I’d do is sit around and get warm by crawling inside myself and make up stuff… I was one of those kids that never had much to say and when I did it was wrong. I always wanted attention, always was reaching and grabbing for attention.

Miller first began composing songs on the three-mile walks to his one-room country schoolhouse.  His older cousin married a local boy named Shelby who gave Miller his first guitar and, with it, his first taste of a life outside of Oklahoma. Shelby became better known as Sheb Wooley, most notably for his 1958 novelty record “The Purple People Eater” as well as dozens of film and television roles as a western character actor, including Rawhide and a memorable performance playing notorious murderer Frank Miller’s brother Ben in High Noon.

After a stint in the Army, Miller made his way to Nashville where he worked as a bellhop at the Andrew Jackson Hotel and toured as a harmony singer with Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys to make ends meet. He was signed to a publishing deal and in 1958 several of his songs became hits with other artists. Ray Price took “Invitation to the Blues” to #3, Ernest Tubb hit with “Half A Mind,” Faron Young cut “That’s the Way I Feel” and Jim Reeves gave Miller his first #1 record with “Billy Bayou” all in that same year.

Miller was well on his way. But he longed to be a recording artist himself, and he blew through his songwriting draw most nights at Toostie’s Orchid Lounge.

The famed honky tonk in downtown Nashville is today a soulless shell of its former self. Tootsie’s was once ground zero for Continue reading →