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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

Thirty or More Things
You Should Know About

Roger Miller

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Roger Miller is the only Country & Western artist to ever win the Tony (for "Big River"). His Grammy wins were more than any other artist, and the record remained unbroken until Michael Jackson's "Thriller. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously in about '95

Editor's note: We found mention of Roger Miller being born in Fort Worth, Texas, which came as something of a surprise. We mentioned this to frequent contributor and walking show business encyclopedia Maggie (you'll-never-get-the whole-story-out-of-me) Van Ostrand, who was not only a personal friend of Roger Miller but once co-wrote a book with him - gathering the material between acts at the Sahara in Las Vegas. Her anecdotes of Roger and friends are worthy of another book and she has graciously supplied us with enough of his quotes and stories to expand our normal "Ten things you should know.." to "Thirty or More" things.

While Roger Miller never "shot a man in Reno" - neither did Johnny Cash. Roger Miller, however, did accidentally shoot himself in a Las Vegas pawnshop - which immediately made other singers/ songwriters back in Nashville wish that they had thought of it.

Personal friends included Kris Kistofferson, Willie Nelson, Mason Williams, Glenn Campbell and Maggie - who wrote:

"As for Roger, he rarely mentioned Ft. Worth in chatting with his audiences between numbers, but talked a lot about the place he considered his hometown, Erick Oklahoma. That was because Erick was fodder for all Roger's small-town stories -- here's what I mean:"

Of his Uncle Elmer's farm outside of Erick, he once said "We raised cotton ankle high."

"We used to have a truck farm. We raised GMC pickups. One year we had a bumper crop."

"I worked all my life on a farm so I could get away and make enough money to buy a nice farm and settle down."

"It was when we lived on a dirt road it always rained."

"I'm running for city limits next year. I have the whole town behind me."

"My daddy was a land baron. He owned some of the most barren land you ever saw."

"Our town was so small we didn't have a village idiot; we had to take turns."

"My hometown's so small, the people live in cars."

He pondered what a rabbit carried for luck and he frequently said he was 20 minutes ahead of his time.

And my personal favorite:

"When we were kids, we were so poor, words were our only toys."

Roger had three children by first wife, Barbara, a son, Dean, by second wife, Leah, and two children, Taylor and Adam, with third wife, Mary.

Mary Miller was formerly a member of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Mary worked with Roger as a back-up vocalist from the 1970's on. She is planning to attend the Grand Opening of the Roger Miller Museum in Erick, Oklahoma on October 23, 2004, and has donated many historical items belonging to Roger.

Roger is the only C&W artist to ever win the Tony (for "Big River")

About his stint in Korea, he used to say "My education was Korea, Clash of 52."

He was a phenomenal fiddler and each show's final encore ended with a foot-stompin', thigh-thumpin' Orange Blossom Special.

He was once known as The Singing Bellhop, and he took that job at the Andrew Jackson Hotel because it was in the middle of Nashville's music district.

His first job in country music was on the road with Minnie Pearl. He then met George Jones, and rode back to Texas with George, singing and writing songs along the way, including "Tall, Tall Trees," which Jones (co-wrote) recorded in 1957, and "Happy Child" which Jimmy Dean recorded right away.

He moved to Amarillo and joined the fire dept, and sang in clubs after work. He really was fired, when he slept through the alarm of the second fire of his employment (the first fire was a chicken coop.) "It was in Amarillo that Roger met Ray Price, and became one of the Cherokee Cowboys.

He moved back to Nashville with a new song he wrote, "Invitation to the Blues." Both Rex Allen and Ray Price recorded it.

Ernest Tubb recorded "Half a Mind,"
Faron Young recorded "That's the Way I Feel,"
Jim Reeves recorded "Billy Bayou" which hit # 1 and "Home" which made it to # 2.

In the late 50s he sang with Donny Little, later known as Johnny Paycheck. Years later, Johnny Paycheck wrote the beginnings of another song while sitting in a rocker in my living room. "Take This Job and......"

In 1961 he was being paid $50 / week and he went through money before he even got it. He once took a job as Faron Young's drummer. When Young said he needed a drummer by Monday, Roger said, "By Monday, I'll be a drummer." And he was -- for over a year.

Roger's "When Two Worlds Collide" which he wrote in the back seat of his Rambler station wagon on the way to Texas, was named after his favorite movie.

At this point, he left RCA and went with Smash Records. In order to pay back a $1500 advance, Roger wrote and recorded 16 songs in four days. He wrote "Dang Me" in four minutes in a Phoenix hotel room. He also wrote "Chug-a-Lug" for that session.

His next hit for Smash was "King of the Road," which he wrote while on the road somewhere outside of Chicago. He saw a sign that read "Trailers for Sale or Rent." He wrote the first verse. Then, in Boise, he saw a short-cigar-smokin' hobo on a corner near the railroad station and somehow, that jarred the rest of the lyrics. That song took 6 weeks to write.

Roger's Grammy wins were more than any other artist, and the record remained unbroken until Michael Jackson's "Thriller." You don't read about that anywhere.

Up until I sold my longtime house (after the '94 quake), I had kept the milk can Roger used as a seat on his show, but in the move to Mexico, I left it behind. It was painted worn-out white by the NBC prop dept. They built Roger a special train set to use as a prop or for extemporaneous remarks at which he excelled. After the show was cancelled, Roger blew up the train on the last show. Roger said he didn't want anybody else using it.

Boy, did NBC get mad.

It was during these days, and his stints at the Sahara and the Desert Inn, that we did the book together. The only copy I had didn't make it through the 'quake of '94 and as far as I know, no copy survives.

After this, I lost touch with Roger who went on to what must've been his greatest triumph, "Big River," which he had been scared to do, and ended up with a Tony. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously in about '95.

Other writers followed Roger all over because he dropped song ideas and lyrics and never wanted credit or let them put his name on the song they'd get out of it. As an old friend of his, Buddy Killen, said "He spoke in songs."

So very true.

© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" December 27, 2003 column

Related Topics:
Texas Music

Roger Miller CD

Roger Millers songs and records include:

King of the Road, Walkin' In The Sunshine, Billy Bayou, Husbands And Wives, Dang Me, The Last Word In Lonesome Is Me, Chug A Lug, My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died, Engine Engine #9, Kansas City Star, Do-Wacka-Do, Don't We All Have the Right To Be Wrong, England Swings, In The Summertime, When Two Worlds Collide (his first hit), You Can't Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd, You Don't Want My Love, Me and Bobby McGee (written by Kris Kristofferson, but the first successful recording was Roger's, not Joplin's), Kansas City Star, and Little Green Apples (written by Bobby Russell).






















































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