Roger Miller Biography

2 January 1936, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, d. 25 October 1992, Los Angeles, California, USA. Miller was brought up in Erick, Oklahoma, and during the late 50s, moved to Nashville, where he worked as a songwriter. His ‘Invitation To The Blues’ was a minor success for Ray Price, as was ‘(In The Summertime) You Don’t Want Love’ for Andy Williams. Miller himself enjoyed a hit on the country charts with the portentously titled ‘When Two Worlds Collide’. In 1962, he joined Faron Young’s band as a drummer and also wrote ‘Swiss Maid’, a major hit for Del Shannon. By 1964, Miller was signed to Mercury Records’ Smash label, and secured a US Top 10 hit with ‘Dang Me’. The colloquial title was reinforced by some humorous, macabre lyrics (‘They ought to take a rope and hang me’). The song brought Miller several Grammy Awards, and the following year, he enjoyed an international Top 10 hit with ‘King Of The Road’. This stoical celebration of the hobo life, with its jazz-influenced undertones, became his best-known song.

The relaxed ‘Engine Engine No. 9’ was another US Top 10 hit during 1965, and at the end of the year, Miller once more turned his attention to the UK market with ‘England Swings’. This affectionate, slightly bemused tribute to swinging London at its zenith neatly summed up the tourist brochure view of the city (‘bobbies on bicycles two by two... the rosy red cheeks of the little children’). Another international hit, the song was forever associated with Miller. The singer’s chart fortunes declined the following year, and a questionable cover version of Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ barely reached the US Top 100. In 1968, Miller secured his last major hit with a poignant reading of Bobby Russell’s ‘Little Green Apples’, which perfectly suited his understated vocal style. Thereafter, Miller moved increasingly towards the country market and continued performing regularly throughout America. In 1982, he appeared on the album Old Friends with Ray Price and Willie Nelson. Miller’s vocals were featured in the Walt Disney cartoon Robin Hood, and in the mid-80s he wrote a Broadway musical, Big River, based on Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. Roger Miller finally lost his battle with cancer when, with his wife Mary and son Roger Jnr. at his bedside, he died on 25 October 1992. A most popular man with his fellow artists, he was also a great humorist and his general outlook was once neatly summed up when he told the backing band on the Grand Ole Opry, ‘I do this in the key of B natural, which is my philosophy in life.’

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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