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In 1964, country musician Roger Miller had a big hit on his hands with “King of the Road.”
But there’s more to him than that.
He also did “Dang Me,” “Do Wacka Do” and a handful of other songs that combine lighthearted, clever lyrics and a type of countrified scat singing. These songs don’t sound like any other country or pop singles from the ’60s and ’70s.
In addition to these, Miller wrote a number of serious, heartbreaking songs for himself and others.
And his performances went beyond music. He won a Tony Award for his work on the Broadway show “Big River.” And he contributed songs and voice acting to Disney’s “Robin Hood.”
But his talents as a songwriter and musician are often overlooked outside of country music. Miller’s biggest crossover hits are sometimes treated as novelties. But while he has a catalog rich with wry turns of phrase and nonsense lyrics, Miller is anything but an unserious performer. Look at this clip from “The Porter Wagoner Show.” Notice how Miller commands Wagoner’s band, how he improvises, how he takes a guitar lead at the spur of the moment, and how he then picks up a violin and joins the band on another tune.
Country musicians’ reverence for Miller is on full display in a new tribute album organized by Miller’s son. The record features performances from legends like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton to pop performers Huey Lewis and Cake. Each artist puts a different spin on their song, but Miller’s craft shines through in each track.
Though the album opens with Miller laughingly calling himself one of the best songwriters around, by the end, it doesn’t seem like such a funny notion.
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