Grammy Awards - from left: Jack Stapp, Jerry Kennedy, Roger
Miller, Buddy Killen
of Roger's checks from Tree Publishing
Evening Post - February, 1966
that anyone had forgotten "Dang Me", for on April
13, at the Carousel
Club in Nashville, Miller was awarded his first five Grammy's including,
hilariously, the award for "Best New Country and Western Artist."
He repeatedly called Kennedy to the microphone to share in the credit
for his phenomenal success.
By the summer of '65, Roger's career was made. The first royalty
check he received from Tree was for $160,000. "He cried,"
Killen says. His persona was also well established. He was a breath
of fresh air firing off one-liners and juicing prime time radio
with his unique songs.
Roger's inroads into the larger world of pop excited a flurry of
articles in the mainstream press. Life Magazine called him a "cracker-barrel
philosopher"; in Time he was the "unhokey Okey."
In February 1966, Roger made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post
for a hefty piece on the "Big Boom In Country Music,"
and a couple of years later the New Yorker caught up with him in
Las Vegas. In general, journalists trailed him for his consistently
quotable verbage - his seemingly inexhaustable store of free association
witticism and his extemporaneous observations. After all, who could
resist a chart-topping hillbilly who called his music "depressive
Roger, however, was never comfortable being portrayed as the down
home court jester of pop. "I don't want to appear the hick,"
he said. "That's the thing I fight a lot." Proving his
point, he continued to write and record terrific, serious music
that showed many other sides of his personality.
For one thing, part of Roger's genius was his ability to deliver
essentially downbeat material like "Dang Me"
in an upbeat manner that made the emotions involved seem much more
complex. Destitution never sounded so appealing as in "King
of the Road", and abandonment never swung so freely as
in "Engine Engine #9". Thus, whenever Roger tackled
a straight-ahead country sad song such as "Husbands and
Wives" or "The Last Word in Lonesome Me",
the results were that much more effective.
on Andy Williams' show
the novelty smashes and lonesome ballads of Roger's peak years were
any number of hits like "England Swings" or "Walkin'
in the Sunshine" - songs the sole purpose of which had
been to communicate his boundless joy in life.
style rarely strayed from the tight,compact sound laid down on his
first session. He used the same five musicians for the first five
years or so. Occasionally a ringer or two would be brought in -
Boots Randolph played the trombone part on "Kansas City
Star", and "My Uncle Used to Love Me but She
Died" was recorded in Los Angeles with LA session players.
Eventually, guitarist Chip Young was brought into the fold, and
if an extra lick of some kind was needed, Kennedy himself would
the end of 1966, Roger was in danger of becoming over-exposed. In
September that year, hot off of appearances on Andy Williams' TV
show, Roger was given his own NBC program. Having other people writing
his material and setting his routines was difficult for him. He
had an impressive list of guests, but the show was cancelled after
Guide ad for The Roger Miller Show
didn't want anyone else using his train set so he blew up the train
on the final episode. "It set my career back two years,"
he later said. "It must have set the network back ten years."
early in 1967, "Walkin' in the Sunshine" was
Roger's last crossover hit of his own writing. Later that year,
he recorded but didn't write the soundtrack for the western, Waterhole
#3, and in October he finally cut "Old Toy Trains"
which he had written two years earlier for his son, Roger Dean Miller,
Kennedy and Miller had good ears for interesting songs from other
sources. People like Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newberry, and Dennis
Linde had come to them. In 1967, Roger scored what proved to be
his last Top Ten hit with Bobby Russell's "Little Green
Apples". Most people thought Roger had written it.
Just over a year later, Roger recorded "Me and Bobbie McGee"
even as Kirstofferson was writing it. Says Kennedy, "We would
go into the studio and cut, and I think Kris came in with some of
the second verse. We loved what we were hearing with the first verse
and the chorus... then I think while we were in the studio he brought
in the lyric for the second verse."
In June 1970, with his songwriting still on hold, Roger finally
got around to creating an album that he had been talking about for
years. Called "A Trip in the Country", it consisted of
Roger singing a bunch of his old standards with straight-up honky-tonk
arrangements. That was his roots. There were vintage songs like
"Invitation to the Blues", "Tall, Tall
Trees", "That's the Way I Feel", and
"Half a Mind". He also slipped in "Don't
We All Have the Right", which he had written in 1962 and
which years later became a #1 hit for Ricky Van Shelton.
Mercury folded the Smash subsidiary in 1970, a move that spooked
the superstitious artists on the label, including Roger. His recording
dates grew sporadic, and the hit singles all but disappeared. His
last chart record for Mercury was "Hoppy's Gone"
a song in which the death of a matinee idol, Hopalong Cassidy, virtually
signifies the end of all that was just and true in America.