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1964 Grammy Awards - from left: Jack Stapp, Jerry Kennedy, Roger Miller, Buddy Killen

One of Roger's checks from Tree Publishing

Saturday Evening Post - February, 1966

Not that anyone had forgotten "Dang Me", for on April 13, at the Carousel Club in Nashville, Miller was awarded his first five Grammy's including, hilariously, the award for "Best New Country and Western Artist." He repeatedly called Kennedy to the microphone to share in the credit for his phenomenal success.
By the summer of '65, Roger's career was made. The first royalty check he received from Tree was for $160,000. "He cried," Killen says. His persona was also well established. He was a breath of fresh air firing off one-liners and juicing prime time radio with his unique songs.
Roger's inroads into the larger world of pop excited a flurry of articles in the mainstream press. Life Magazine called him a "cracker-barrel philosopher"; in Time he was the "unhokey Okey." In February 1966, Roger made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post for a hefty piece on the "Big Boom In Country Music," and a couple of years later the New Yorker caught up with him in Las Vegas. In general, journalists trailed him for his consistently quotable verbage - his seemingly inexhaustable store of free association witticism and his extemporaneous observations. After all, who could resist a chart-topping hillbilly who called his music "depressive jazz"?
Roger, however, was never comfortable being portrayed as the down home court jester of pop. "I don't want to appear the hick," he said. "That's the thing I fight a lot." Proving his point, he continued to write and record terrific, serious music that showed many other sides of his personality.
For one thing, part of Roger's genius was his ability to deliver essentially downbeat material like "Dang Me" in an upbeat manner that made the emotions involved seem much more complex. Destitution never sounded so appealing as in "King of the Road", and abandonment never swung so freely as in "Engine Engine #9". Thus, whenever Roger tackled a straight-ahead country sad song such as "Husbands and Wives" or "The Last Word in Lonesome Me", the results were that much more effective.


Roger on Andy Williams' show

Among the novelty smashes and lonesome ballads of Roger's peak years were any number of hits like "England Swings" or "Walkin' in the Sunshine" - songs the sole purpose of which had been to communicate his boundless joy in life.
Roger's style rarely strayed from the tight,compact sound laid down on his first session. He used the same five musicians for the first five years or so. Occasionally a ringer or two would be brought in - Boots Randolph played the trombone part on "Kansas City Star", and "My Uncle Used to Love Me but She Died" was recorded in Los Angeles with LA session players. Eventually, guitarist Chip Young was brought into the fold, and if an extra lick of some kind was needed, Kennedy himself would sit in.
By the end of 1966, Roger was in danger of becoming over-exposed. In September that year, hot off of appearances on Andy Williams' TV show, Roger was given his own NBC program. Having other people writing his material and setting his routines was difficult for him. He had an impressive list of guests, but the show was cancelled after thirteen weeks.


TV Show Photos


TV Guide ad for The Roger Miller Show

Roger didn't want anyone else using his train set so he blew up the train on the final episode. "It set my career back two years," he later said. "It must have set the network back ten years."

Charting early in 1967, "Walkin' in the Sunshine" was Roger's last crossover hit of his own writing. Later that year, he recorded but didn't write the soundtrack for the western, Waterhole #3, and in October he finally cut "Old Toy Trains" which he had written two years earlier for his son, Roger Dean Miller, Jr.
Kennedy and Miller had good ears for interesting songs from other sources. People like Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newberry, and Dennis Linde had come to them. In 1967, Roger scored what proved to be his last Top Ten hit with Bobby Russell's "Little Green Apples". Most people thought Roger had written it.
Just over a year later, Roger recorded "Me and Bobbie McGee" even as Kirstofferson was writing it. Says Kennedy, "We would go into the studio and cut, and I think Kris came in with some of the second verse. We loved what we were hearing with the first verse and the chorus... then I think while we were in the studio he brought in the lyric for the second verse."
In June 1970, with his songwriting still on hold, Roger finally got around to creating an album that he had been talking about for years. Called "A Trip in the Country", it consisted of Roger singing a bunch of his old standards with straight-up honky-tonk arrangements. That was his roots. There were vintage songs like "Invitation to the Blues", "Tall, Tall Trees", "That's the Way I Feel", and "Half a Mind". He also slipped in "Don't We All Have the Right", which he had written in 1962 and which years later became a #1 hit for Ricky Van Shelton.
Mercury folded the Smash subsidiary in 1970, a move that spooked the superstitious artists on the label, including Roger. His recording dates grew sporadic, and the hit singles all but disappeared. His last chart record for Mercury was "Hoppy's Gone" a song in which the death of a matinee idol, Hopalong Cassidy, virtually signifies the end of all that was just and true in America.

 

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