A Rockapaedia Obituary
Roger Miller died aged fifty-six on 25th October 1992 of lung and throat cancer , shortly after the discovery of a malignant tumor under his vocal cords. His remains were cremated. A main street in Erick, Oklahoma was named Roger Miller Boulevard in his memory and he was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995.
Roger Miller was a lifelong cigarette smoker. During a television interview, he 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 joked, "I smoke 'em!"
Roger Miller was married three times and fathered seven children. Roger Miller married Barbara Crow, from Shamrock, Texas, when she was seventeen. Together the couple had four children, the first of whom died shortly after birth. As Roger Miller's young family grew, his desire for fame and success continued to grow, as well. After moving the family to California for a short time, Roger Miller and Barbara divorced. Subsequent public interest in Roger Miller led to the success he had long hoped for but brought with it struggles for the performer that are often associated with life in the entertainment business: depression, insomnia and drug addiction.
Roger Miller married Leah Kendrick of San Antonio in 1964. Together the couple had two children, Roger Dean Miller, Jr. and Shannon Elizabeth. The Christmas song "Old Toy Trains" was written by Roger Miller, Sr. about his son, who was two years old when it was released in 1967. "Shannon's Song" was written for his youngest biological child and was included as a track on Roger Miller's album, "Dear Folks, Sorry I Haven't Written Lately".
After fourteen years, Leah and Roger Miller divorced in the mid-seventies. Roger Miller eventually married Mary Arnold, whom he met through Kenny Rogers. Arnold was a replacement member in The First Edition, a band that included Rogers. They adopted two children. After the break-up of The First Edition, she performed with her husband Roger Miller on tours as a back up singer. In 2009, she was inducted into the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. She continued to manage 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. Mary was ultimately awarded nearly One million dollars in royalties and rights to the songs Roger Miller wrote in 1964.
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 Miller 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 Miller grew up on a farm outside Erick, Oklahoma, with Elmer and Armelia Miller.
As a boy, Roger 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. Roger Miller was an introverted child, and would often daydream or compose songs.
Roger 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 Roger Miller his first guitar chords and bought him a fiddle. Wooley, Hank Williams, and Bob Wills were the influences that led to Roger Miller's desire to be a singer-songwriter. He began to run away and perform in Oklahoma and Texas. At seventeen, he stole a guitar out of desperation to write songs; however, he turned himself in the next day. He chose to enlist in the United States Army to avoid jail. He later quipped, "My education was Korea". Near the end of his military service, while stationed in Atlanta, Georgia, Roger Miller played fiddle in the "Circle A Wranglers," a military musical group started by Faron Young. While Roger Miller was stationed in South Carolina, an army sergeant whose brother was Kenneth C. "Jethro" Burns, from the musical duo Homer and Jethro, persuaded him to head to Nashville after his discharge.
On leaving the Army, Roger Miller traveled to Nashville to begin his musical career. He met with Chet Atkins, who asked to hear him sing, loaning him a guitar since Roger Miller did not own one. Out of nervousness, Roger Miller played the guitar and sang a song in two different keys. Atkins advised him to come back later, when he had more experience. Roger Miller found work as a bellhop at Nashville's Andrew Jackson Hotel, and he was soon known as the "singing bellhop." He was finally hired by Minnie Pearl to play the fiddle in her band. He then met George Jones, who introduced him to music executives from the Starday Records label who scheduled an audition. Impressed, the executives set up a recording session with Jones in Houston. Jones and Roger Miller collaborated to write "Tall, Tall Trees" and "Happy Child."
After marrying and becoming a father, Roger Miller put aside his music career to be a fireman in Amarillo, Texas. A fireman by day, he performed at night. Roger Miller said that as a fireman he saw only two fires, one in a "chicken coop" and another he "slept through," after which the department "suggested that he seek other employment. Roger Miller met Ray Price, and became a member of his Cherokee Cowboys. He returned to Nashville and wrote "Invitation to the Blues," which was covered by Rex Allen and later by Ray Price, whose recording was a number three hit on country charts. Roger Miller then signed with Tree Publishing on a salary of $50 a week. He wrote: "Half a Mind" for Ernest Tubb, "That's the Way I Feel" for Faron Young; and his first number one, "Billy Bayou," which along with "Home" was recorded by Jim Reeves. Roger Miller became one of the biggest songwriters of the 1950s; however, Bill Anderson would later remark that "Roger was the most talented, and least disciplined, person that you could imagine," citing the attempts of Roger Miller's Tree Publishing boss, Buddy Killen to force him to finish a piece. He was known to give away lines, inciting many Nashville songwriters to follow him around since, according to Killen, "everything he said was a potential song."
Roger Miller signed a recording deal with Decca Records in 1958. He was paired with singer Donny Lytle, who later gained fame under the name Johnny Paycheck, to perform the Roger Miller-written "A Man Like Me," and later "The Wrong Kind of Girl." Neither of these honky-tonk-style songs charted. His second single with the label, featuring the B-side "Jason Fleming," foreshadowed Roger Miller's future style. To make money, Roger Miller went on tour with Faron Young's band as a drummer, although he had never drummed. During this period, he signed a record deal with Chet Atkins at RCA Victor, for whom Roger Miller recorded "You Don't Want My Love" (also known as "In the Summertime") in 1960, which marked his first appearance on country charts, peaking at number 14. The next year he made an even bigger impact, breaking through the top 10 with his single "When Two Worlds Collide", co-written with Bill Anderson. But Roger Miller soon tired of writing songs, divorced his wife, and began a party 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, Roger Miller decided that he might have a chance in Hollywood as an actor. Short of money, he signed with the up-and-coming label Smash Records, asked the label for $1,600 in cash in exchange for recording 16 sides. Smash agreed to the proposal, and Roger Miller performed his first session for the company early in 1964, when he recorded the hits "Dang Me" and "Chug-a-Lug". Both were released as singles, peaking at number 1 and number 3 respectively on country charts; both fared well on the Billboard Hot 100 reaching number 7 and number 9. The songs transformed Roger Miller's career, although the former was penned by Roger Miller in just four minutes. Later that year, he recorded the number 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 number 4 on the Billboard 100. It also reached number One in the UK Singles Chart for one week in May 1965. The song was inspired by a sign in Chicago that read "Trailers for Sale or Rent" and a hobo who happened upon Roger Miller at an airport in Boise, but Roger Miller needed months to write the song, which was certified gold in May 1965 after selling a million copies. It won numerous awards and earned a royalty check of $160,000 that summer. Later in the year Roger Miller scored hits with "Engine Engine number 9", "Kansas City Star" , and "England Swings". He began 1966 with the hit "Husbands and Wives."
Roger 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 Roger Miller recorded songs written by other songwriters. The final hit of his own composition was "Walkin in the Sunshine," which reached number 7 and number 6 on the country and adult contemporary charts in 1967. Later in the year he scored his final top 10 hit with a lowkey cover of Bobby Russell's "Little Green Apples". The next year, he was first to cover Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee," taking the song to number 12 on country charts. In 1970, Roger Miller recorded the album A Trip in the Country, honky-tonk-style standards penned by Roger Miller, including "Tall, Tall Trees." Later that year, after Smash Records folded, Roger Miller was signed by Columbia Records, for whom he released Dear Folks: Sorry I Haven't Written Lately in 1973. Later that year, Roger Miller wrote and performed three songs in the Walt Disney animated feature Robin Hood as the rooster and minstrel Allan-a-Dale, including "Whistle-Stop" which was sampled for use in the popular Hampster Dance web site. The other songs are Oo-De-Lally and Not In Nottingham. He provided the voice of Speiltoe, the equine narrator of the Rankin/Bass holiday special Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey in 1977. Roger Miller collaborated with Willie Nelson on an album titled Old Friends. The title track was based on a song he had previously penned for his family in Oklahoma. The song, with guest vocals from Ray Price, was the last hit of Roger Miller's career, peaking at number 19 on country charts in 1982.
He continued to record for different record labels and charted a few songs, but stopped writing in 1978, feeling that his more "artistic" works were not appreciated. This was the time when his only visit to England led him to Kippax. . He was absent from the entertainment business following the release of Old Friends in 1981, but returned after receiving an offer to write a Broadway score for a musical based upon Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Although he had not read the novel, Roger Miller accepted the offer after discovering how the story brought him back to his childhood in rural Oklahoma. It took a year and a half to write the opening, but he eventually finished it. The work, entitled Big River premiered at Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York on April 25th 1985. The musical received glowing reviews, earning seven Tony Awards including "Best Score" for Roger Miller. He acted the part of Huck Finn's father Pap for three months after the exit of actor John Goodman, who left for Hollywood. In 1983, Roger Miller played a dramatic role on an episode of Quincy, M.E. He played a country and western singer who is severely burned while freebasing cocaine.
Roger Miller left for Santa Fe to live with his family following the success of Big River. 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 number seven on country charts. He began a solo guitar tour in 1990, ending the following year after being diagnosed with lung cancer. His last performance on television occurred on a special tribute to Minnie Pearl which aired on TNN on October 26th 1992, the day after his death.