Music has always played an integral part of everyday life. When I think of musicians who have had a lasting impact on not just my family but Arkansas and the south, there are several that come to mind, such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, etc. Honestly, the list could just go on and on. But today, I really want to talk about Roger Miller. This was a man who, in the span of his too-short life, brought so much light to the music industry and to listeners everywhere.
I am surprised, sometimes, when I find something else that Roger Miller contributed to. We’ve all seen Disney’s 1973 animated Robin Hood, but did you know that the guitar-strumming rooster narrating the tale is none other than Roger Miller? Roger Miller also scored the movie, including such songs as Oo-De-Lally, Whistle Stop, and more. This is arguably the best Disney movie from this time period, I think, though I know that each person has their own preferences. The charm that Roger Miller adds, however, is undeniable. Waterhole #3, a very popular western, was also narrated and scored by Roger Miller.
Roger Miller’s honky-tonk songwriting is almost effortless in a way; he was just an incredible talent. He didn’t shy away from controversial issues, but he didn’t write with an agenda either. One of the most endearing traits of his music is his sense of humor. And he didn’t have an easy life at all. He struggled almost from day one.
Roger Miller was born in January of 1936 in Fort Worth, Texas. This was during the Great Depression, so life was already going to be difficult, but when Roger was a year old, his dad died at the very young age of 26 from spinal meningitis. His mother was very young, early twenties, and unable to take care of he and his two brothers all by herself. She had three brothers of her own and each came and took one of her sons with them, to raise. Roger ended up in Oklahoma with an aunt and uncle who never really understood him. He did very poorly in school, and is quoted to say that he “even flunked school bus.” They were very poor and the whole family picked cotton in an effort to make it through. He tended to daydream while he was working which caused conflict with his teacher and with his family, I am sure. He was intensely creative and while unhappy with his home life, he told himself stories and made up songs all of the time. He ran away from home a lot when he was in high school. When he was 17, he stole a guitar because he was so desperate to write his own music, but, guilt-ridden, he turned himself in to the police the next day and joined the Army so that he would not have to go to jail. He was young to serve in the military and it opened up a whole new world for him. When he finished his tour, he traveled straight to Nashville and refused to give up until he reached his dream.
Will be continued next week….