Roger Dean Miller, Sr. (January 2, 1936 – October 25, 1992) was an 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 Army, Miller began his musical career as a 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 began a recording career and reached the peak of his fame in the mid-1960s, continuing 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 acted.
Miller died from lung cancer in 1992, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame three years later. His songs continued to be recorded by younger artists, with covers of "Tall, Tall Trees" by Alan Jackson and "Husbands and Wives" by Brooks & Dunn, each reaching the number one spot on country charts in the 1990s. The Roger Miller Museum in his home town of Erick, Oklahoma, is a tribute to Miller.
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. "Jethro" Burns from the musical duo Homer and Jethro, persuaded him to head to Nashville after demobilization.
After his military discharge, Miller traveled to Nashville to begin his musical career. There, he met with Chet Atkins, who asked to hear Miller, and even loaned him a guitar after learning that he did not own one. Out of nervousness, Miller played the guitar and sang a song in two different keys. Atkins advised him to come back at a later date, after a little more work. Miller remained in Nashville and worked as a bellhop at the Andrew Jackson Hotel, to make ends meet; he was soon known as the "singing bellhop," Meanwhile, he was hired by Minnie Pearl to play fiddle in her band, and later met with George Jones, who introduced him to music executives from the Starday Records label, for an audition. The label executives were impressed with Miller and set up a session in Houston, accompanied by Jones. Jones and Miller collaborated, writing "Tall, Tall Trees" and "Happy Child.
After marrying and fathering a child, Miller put his Nashville career on hold and left for Amarillo, Texas to become a fireman. He did not altogether abandon his musical career; though he worked as a fireman by day, he spent his nights performing gigs. Miller later recounted that in his career as a fireman, he saw only two fires, a "chicken coop" and another that he "slept through." After the latter, the department "suggested that...[he] seek other employment." Miller met Ray Price, and was hired as a member of his Cherokee Cowboys. He moved back to Nashville, and penned the song "Invitation to the Blues," which was covered by Rex Allen and later by Price, for whom it was a number three hit on country charts. Miller 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" were recorded by Jim Reeves. Mi