Musicians Honor Roger Miller

Sep 1, 2018
Originally published on September 1, 2018 1:05 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Roger Miller hit the top of the charts in the 1960s with songs that included "Dang Me," "England Swings," and "Chug-A-Lug," but, really, Roger Miller was the king of the road.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KING OF THE ROAD")

ROGER MILLER: (Singing) Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents. No phone, no pool, no pets. I ain't got no cigarettes.

SIMON: Roger Miller was just 56 years old when he died in 1992. Now, a who's who of country and rock musicians has come together to honor the man and his music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KING OF THE ROAD")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Two hours of pushing broom, buys an 8-by-12 four-bit room. I'm a...

DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) Man of means, by no means king of the road.

SIMON: Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Lyle Lovett, Brad Paisley, Alison Krauss, Dwight Yoakam, on and on. So many artists, they needed a double album to fit them all. Dean Miller, the son of Roger Miller, helped produce the collection. He joins us now from Nashville. Thanks so much for being with us.

DEAN MILLER: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: What a career your father had.

D. MILLER: Yes. Well, you know, a lot of people don't realize he won 11 Grammys, and at the time, he won five one year and six the next, and so that's one of a series of things my dad accomplished that I think is often overlooked.

SIMON: Look; I love talking to you, but let's get to some more music (laughter).

D. MILLER: OK, great. Sure.

SIMON: One of my favorites is...

D. MILLER: Sure.

SIMON: ...And I pronounce it "England Swings," I think as your father did. But let's hear what Lyle Lovett does with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENGLAND SWING")

LYLE LOVETT: (Singing) England swings like a pendulum do. Bobbies on bicycles, two by two. Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben, the rosy-red cheeks of the little children.

SIMON: Your father was a wonderful lyricist and composer. What can you tell us about - was there a secret? How did he do it?

D. MILLER: The secret is a gift from God. So if you can get one of those, you got it made.

SIMON: (Laughter).

D. MILLER: I wish I had words for it. He was constantly creative. He was unafraid and he did whatever he wanted to do, and the results were secondary. But he did say at one point - when he wrote songs, he would say, I try to say as much as I can in as few words possible.

SIMON: He would write stuff on little slips of paper?

D. MILLER: Yes. He would scribble on cocktail napkins, receipts, little pieces of paper in his pocket.

SIMON: So a song would come into his mind or a phrase?

D. MILLER: You know, he would - he told me one story - I mean, I have a million of these stories - but with the song called "You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd," he was looking at magazines on an airplane, and there was an ad for Kodak film and it had a picture of a guy piggybacking a child and changing what were, at that time, the new cartridges into these film cameras. And the ad said, now you can change film with a kid on your back. And then my dad started the whole song backwards from that. You can't change film with a kid on your back, you can't roller skate in a buffalo herd, you can't take a shower in a parakeet cage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T ROLLER SKATE IN A BUFFALO HERD")

R. MILLER: (Singing) Can't take a shower in a parakeet cage, but you can be happy if you've a mind to.

D. MILLER: His mind just worked that way, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROGER MILLER SONG, "YOU CAN'T ROLLER SKATE IN A BUFFALO HERD")

SIMON: More music if we can. This is Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard teaming up on - let's say you have to be a real afficionado, as some of us are of your father's work, to know this song, "Old Friends."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD FRIENDS")

WILLIE NELSON: (Singing) Old friends pitching pennies in the park, playing croquet until it's dark, old friends, old friends.

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: (Singing) Swapping lies about the life and loves, pitching popcorn to the doves, old friends.

SIMON: I'm just going to guess when you said Roger Miller tribute album, you didn't have any problem booking people.

D. MILLER: (Laughter) Everybody kind of said yes. And I just know from having lived this life with him, I knew the people that were his friends and that he'd had an impact on.

SIMON: How did you choose who would sing what?

D. MILLER: You know, there have been a couple of times we'd tried to do this before, do a tribute album, and each time, record labels and business interests would get in the way and people would say, you have to put this on there or this person or this other thing. And I just wanted it to be pure. So this time around, we just went to the artist and said, what song do you want to do? And they would choose. And if it was already taken, I'd say, well, that's already taken, but here's a list of songs you could choose from.

SIMON: May I ask what kind of father was he?

D. MILLER: Oh, my gosh, he was very mercurial, if I may say. He was kind of wild and flighty and impulsive and going all over the world. And fun was the priority.

SIMON: Another song and this one is interpreted by the great Brad Paisley, "Dang Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANG ME")

BRAD PAISLEY: (Vocalizing, singing) Well, here I sit high, getting ideas. Ain't nothing but a fool would live like this. Out all night and running wild, woman's sitting home with a month-old child. Dang me, dang me, they oughta take a rope and hang me. High from the highest tree, woman would you weep for me?

SIMON: I'm sure you weren't the child, right? It was metaphorical.

D. MILLER: (Laughter) My dad had seven kids from three marriages. Where would you like to start (laughter)?

SIMON: Yeah. Well, that's why I ask about what kind of father he was. I know there were a lot of demands of his time. Do you hope this is going to set off a re-appreciation and other re-interpretations?

D. MILLER: I feel like his whole life and career are full of events where you say - you tell someone and they say, I didn't know that. And I'm hoping that the conversation starts where it reminds people of all the I didn't know that's about him, you know, winning seven Tony Awards for a Broadway play.

SIMON: Yeah, that was "Big River." He wrote he wrote the music for that.

D. MILLER: Absolutely. Having his Grammy and hit success up against the British invasion. I mean, his competition was the Beatles, and he was succeeding, you know? He started and helped the careers of many, many other people. He's had No. 1 songs by multiple, multiple other artists. But he wasn't a person who bragged on himself. He wasn't a person who told stories on himself. And so I think some of those things stayed in the shadows because there was nobody doing press about them, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF ROGER MILLER SONG, "DANG ME")

SIMON: Dean Miller - he is one of the producers of "King Of The Road: A Tribute To Roger Miller." Thanks so much for being with us.

D. MILLER: Absolutely. Thank you for having me, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANG ME")

R. MILLER: (Singing) Just sitting around drinking with the rest guys, six rounds bought and I bought five. And I spent the groceries and half the rent, like $14 and 27 cents. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.