Roger Dean Miller (January 2, 1936 – October 25, 1992) was an American singer, songwriter and musician, best known for his mid-1960s country/pop hits such as King of the Road, Dang Me and England Swings. He also wrote the music and lyrics for the Tony-award winning Broadway musical Big River (1985).
Roger Miller, the youngest of three boys, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, to Laudene Holt Miller (mother) and father Jean Miller. Jean died when Roger was only a year old, and he was subsequently sent to live with his aunt and uncle, Elmer and Armelia Miller, in Erick, Oklahoma.
Miller had a lonely and unhappy childhood. Heavily influenced by the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights and the Light Crust Doughboys on Fort Worth radio, he desperately wanted to be a singer-songwriter. When he was seventeen, he stole a guitar, but turned himself in and chose to join the Army rather than go to jail. He later quipped, "My education was Korea, Clash of '52." Upon leaving the Army, he went to Nashville to work on his music career. In 1959 he wrote his first number-one song, "Billy Bayou" recorded by Jim Reeves.
Although usually grouped with country music singers, Miller's unique style defies easy classification. He had a string of pop hits in the 1960s, and also his own TV show in 1966. Many of his recordings were humorous novelty songs with whimsical lyrics, coupled with scat singing or vocalese riffs filled with nonsense syllables. Others were sincere ballads, which also caught the public's fancy, none more so than his signature song, "King of the Road", a major 1965 hit, about a presumed hobo who relishes his life and freedom, riding the rails. He also had a big single in this year with the #8 hit "England Swings".
In the 1970s, Miller appeared in ads for Monroe shock absorbers, backed by a re-recording of "King of the Road". Miller wrote and performed three songs in the 1973 animated Robin Hood film as the rooster/minstrel Alan-a-Dale. One of these, a high-pitched sample of "Whistle Stop", was later used as the musical accompaniment for the Internet phenomenon "Hampsterdance".
Miller was married to Mary Arnold, who herself was a musician, a member of Kenny Rogers' backing band, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Band leader Kenny Rogers introduced the two. Arnold now manages Miller's estate. He is related to the Burton family. His eldest son, Dean Miller, is a singer-songwriter in his own right. Roger's Christmas song, "Old Toy Trains" was written about his son, who was only two years old when the song came out in 1967.
During the 1980's this multifaceted artist turned his talents to Broadway. In eighteen months he created the musical Big River, based on Mark Twain's classic American novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Opening on Broadway in 1985, Big River collected seven Tony Awards and represented the crowning achievement of Roger's career.
Rejuvenated by its success, he maintained an active career through the remainder of the decade. In 1991, though, he left the road when he learned he had cancer. He fought the disease for a year, but died on October 25, 1992.
In addition to 11 Grammy Awards, Roger Miller won Broadway's Tony award for writing the music and lyrics for Big River, which won a total of 7 Tonys including best musical in 1985. He was voted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995. In Erick, Oklahoma where he grew up, a thoroughfare was renamed "Roger Miller Boulevard." The chorus of one of his songs, "England Swings", was used for the 1998 BBC radio program, 15 Minutes of Misery. The song was also featured in the 2003 movie Shanghai Knights.
Miller was a lifelong cigarette smoker. During a television interview Miller 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 half-joked, "I smoke 'em!" It was in the fall of 1991 that Miller found out he had a form of lung cancer. His last performance was during CMA week in Nashville. Publicly, he refused to let his illness phase him. After a year of treatment and one remission, Roger Miller died at the Century City Hospital on October 25, 1992, at the young age of 56. (Info edited mainly from Wikipedia)
American Bandstand. July 11, 1964