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Roger Miller, 1936-1992: 'King of the Road' in Country Music

Singer and songwriter Roger Miller arrives at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles in 1987
Singer and songwriter Roger Miller arrives at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles in 1987

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SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I’m Shirley Griffith.

SARAH LONG: And I’m Sarah Long with the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today we tell about music writer and performer Roger Miller.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The name of that song is “Dang Me.” It was written and recorded by Roger Miller in nineteen-sixty-five. It was not the first song he had written, but it was his first huge hit record. In fact, the recording of “Dang Me” helped Roger Miller win five of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy Awards.

One of those awards was the Grammy for best new country and western artist. Before “Dang Me” became a hit record, few people outside the music business knew the name Roger Miller. Yet he had been working his way to the top of the music business since he was a boy.

Roger Miller won a Grammy award for best new country and western artist
Roger Miller won a Grammy award for best new country and western artist


SARAH LONG: Roger Dean Miller was born January second, nineteen thirty-six in the western city of Fort Worth, Texas. His father died when Roger was only one year old. His mother became sick soon after. Roger was sent to live with his uncle in Erick, Oklahoma.

Roger Miller had a difficult childhood. Most of his days were spent working on his uncle’s farm, picking cotton. He was a lonely and unhappy child. Roger began writing songs because he loved the music he heard on the radio. He also learned to play the guitar and the violin, sometimes called a fiddle. Much later, he learned to play the drums. Music helped the young Roger escape the hard work on his uncle’s cotton farm.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Roger left the farm when he was still very young. He traveled from town to town in the West. He worked at any job he could find during the day. At night, he went to music clubs and drinking places where country and western bands played. These places provided him with a music education.

Roger Miller entered the United States Army at the age of seventeen. He was sent to an army base near Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, he played with a music group called The Circle “A” Wranglers. When he left the Army, Roger moved to the home of country music in Nashville, Tennessee.

At first, he worked in a hotel. Stories say he would sing there for anyone who would listen. He soon got several jobs playing his violin. And he began writing songs for other singers.

SARAH LONG: Roger liked writing songs. He also wanted to perform his own songs on the stage. He recorded several records, but they were not popular and did not sell many copies.

Roger Miller loved to perform
Roger Miller loved to perform

In nineteen sixty, Roger recorded a song called “You Don’t Want My Love.” Today, the song is better known as “In the Summer Time.” It is the first song he wrote and sang that became popular.


“In the Summer Time” sold many copies. It showed record company officials that Roger Miller was a good performer.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: On January tenth, nineteen sixty-four Roger Miller agreed to record sixteen songs. One of those songs was “Dang Me.” It became his first number one selling record. It was a hit with country music fans and with popular music fans too. It sold millions of copies.

Another funny song recorded at the same time also became a major hit. It is called “Chug-a-lug”.


SARAH LONG: Roger Miller became extremely popular as the result of the success of “Dang Me” and “Chug-a-Lug”. He began appearing on television. His records sold by the millions. But it was another record that made him extremely famous.

Roger often told the story about how he wrote his most famous song. He was driving late at night near the middle western city of Chicago. He saw a sign near the road. Written on the sign were the words, “Trailers for Sale or Rent.”

The words stayed in his head and would not go away. Later, he used those words as the opening of his most famous song, “King of the Road.” Like many of his other songs it was popular with country fans and with popular music fans as well. It is played often on radio stations throughout the United States.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Rocco Landesman once taught at the School of Drama at Yale University. He really liked Roger Miller’s music. Mr. Landesman wrote several letters asking if Roger could write the music for a play that would appear on Broadway in New York.

The story would be taken from Mark Twain’s famous book, “Huckleberry Finn.”

Roger agreed to write the music for the show called “Big River.” It opened on Broadway in April of nineteen eighty-five. It was a big hit. “Big River” received seven Tony Awards. Roger Miller won two for the music he wrote. The most popular song from the show is called “River in the Rain.” The song is about the Mississippi River. Roger sings it here.


SARAH LONG: Roger Miller died of lung cancer nineteen ninety-two. People who knew him say his songs expressed the way he felt about life -- full of pure excitement and joy.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This Special English program was written by Paul Thompson and produced by Caty Weaver. This is Shirley Griffith.

SARAH LONG: And this is Sarah Long. Listen again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.