Skip to comments.Ain't Got No Cigarettes: Memories of Music Legend Roger Miller
Posted on 09/16/2006 5:58:25 PM PDT by Nita Nupress
BOOK REVIEW & DISCUSSION:
Ain't Got No Cigarettes: Memories of Music Legend Roger Miller
By Lyle E Style
"It's an endless story about Roger. He was one of the cleverest people I've ever met in my life." (Waylon Jennings)
This is my own review of Ain't Got No Cigarettes, the first Roger Miller book ever published. My review is based on reading the book (twice) and having several discussions with Lyle E Style, the author. He may stop by later to answer questions (as his schedule allows).
This one is a must-read, folks. And for you radio personalities who lurk, Lyle is very articulate. (YouTube.:-)
Roger Miller's spontaneous wit and creativity were legendary among his friends. Even today, they regard him as the most gifted songwriter/entertainer they've ever known. How do I know this? Because that's exactly what they told me in this book.
Author Lyle E Style has compiled a remarkable account of a man whom we knew and loved as Roger, but who was also known in Nashville as "The Wild Child." This is no ordinary "biographical" type of book. You'll read it cover to cover, laughing out loud one minute and maybe shedding a tear the next. Go read the reviews on Lyle's website if you need to. . Better yet, go read the reviews and then buy the book. If you like country music, you won't regret this one. If you do, send it to me. I want another one.
Style spent four years tracking down friends and peers of Roger Miller to see what they remembered. As it turned out, they remembered plenty.
The King of The Road Finally Gets His Due
Roger Miller himself needs no introduction. I'll do it anyway, though. There's always one in every crowd -- someone who can't remember the 1960s because he spent it with Janis Joplin in Haight-Ashbury, probably watching his hair grow. Also, those of you who weren't alive in the '60s or who lived on planet Venus may need a short background. (If you don't need the 3-paragraph bio, skip it.)
Roger Dean Miller (1936-1992) began writing songs at age five when he wrote a verse about his mother while walking to school. At age 11 he taught himself to play fiddle, followed by the guitar, banjo, drums, and piano. By the time Roger died in 1992 of cancer, he had written hundreds of songs. No doubt you remember Roger for those funny songs we all knew and loved such as "Dang Me" and "Chug-a-Lug," as well as his signature classic "King of the Road." Many people don't know that Roger was the voice of Alan-A-Dale the Rooster in the 1973 movie Robin Hood. He also wrote and sang several of the movie's songs ("Oo-de-lally", "Not in Nottingham" and "Whistle-Stop"). He was a regular on Johnny Carson and other TV shows. In 1985 this multi-faceted artist blazed new trails by writing the musical score for Big River, a Broadway play that swept the Tony Awards that year.
Roger Miller's remarkable songwriting skills and vocal chords earned him a total of 11 Grammys in the mid-1960s, a record that remained unbeaten until Michael Jackson and Thriller. His rise to Nashville stardom actually began in the late '50s when other singers began covering his songs (Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, George Jones, Little Jimmy Dickens, Jim Reeves, Faron Young). In 1964 he released two songs ("Dang Me" and "Chug-a-Lug") on Smash Records that became overnight hits. Those two songs were unlike anything Nashville had ever seen. They also helped him walk away with Grammy awards in all five of his nominations, including that of Best New Country & Western Artist. Miller wasn't competing against slouches, either. Roger's unique style beat out such notables as Buck Owens, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Bobby Bare, Hank Williams, Jr., Sonny James, Dottie West, Bill Anderson, and Connie Smith.
By 1965 the British Invasion was in full swing, starting with the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. When Beatle-mania began sweeping the country, other British bands followed, such as Hermann's Hermits, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, and The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton. Meanwhile, Roger Miller had crossed musical genres into pop, giving him another record-breaking year at the Grammy Awards. His song "King of The Road" beat out the Beatles' "Yesterday" in two separate categories. That year, Miller went home with awards in six of his nine nominations. Roger Miller's Grammy domination had been so complete, the rules were changed so it wouldn't happen again. (Source). One of his songs, "Dang Me," is in the Grammy Hall of Fame. (More biography: Country Music Hall of Fame and CMT.com)
So, yeah. Roger Miller was big, all right. Plenty big.
Lyle E Style seems to be a really nice guy from what I can tell. He's a songwriter, singer, and connoisseur of country music, especially that of the "Outlaw" variety. Style had never heard of Roger Miller until one Tuesday night in 1998 when he caught a music-filled tribute on TNN -- ``Roger Miller Remembered.'' Wanting to know more, Style began searching book and music stores but soon realized that detailed information about Roger Miller was not easy to find. Most of Roger's music had not been reissued, despite his discography of over 800 songs. Even harder to believe, no one had written a book. Style decided he couldn't do much about the first problem, the paucity of music, but he was soon crafting plans to remedy the second problem. Within two years Style had landed his first interview: Merle Haggard.
Unbelievably, Style managed to snag face-time with such notable greats as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Buck Owens, Mel Tillis, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakum, and many, many others too numerous to list. (Full list is on Lyle's website). Some of the names you'll recognize instantly and some are more "behind the scenes," but all of them knew Roger in some capacity. As Style's 4-year journey progressed he was often told, "Oh, don't bother with him. He doesn't do interviews. Hasn't in years." Style asked them anyway, despite the well-meaning advice. And like so many others had done, the reclusive people were eager to talk about their friend and share their Roger-memories with the world. Even if it meant sharing some face-time with this stranger from Winnipeg.
When I started reading this book it wasn't long before I noticed the same words being used repeatedly during the interviews. "Genius." "Brilliant." "Quick." "Witty." "Clever." The words and phrases were everywhere. If a genuine respect and admiration for Roger Miller's creative genius was ever in doubt, this book dispels those doubts in a very big way. Roger seems to be universally liked and admired by his peers in Nashville and beyond, which makes it even more astonishing that Lyle's book is the first one ever written.
"Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Roger Miller were real close friends, all four of us. It's a funny thing that none of us ever bring up Roger when we're together. It's too tender. You know, I don't know of anybody that would say anything bad about Roger. I don't think there is any bad. He was loved by everybody who knew him. I really cared a lot for him and I miss him every day." (Merle Haggard)
"[Roger]... was probably my favorite. He was the most talented singer, the most talented and gifted person of the century. He was exactly what he appears to be. He was sensitive, he was funny, he was highly intelligent, and I don't go a week that I don't think about him." (Mickey Newbury, songwriter)
To be honest, I was halfway expecting to find the obligatory, "Oh-he-was-such-a-fine-fellow" type of praise you often see when a public figure diess. Instead of the faux praise, I was struck by all the seemingly genuine, heartfelt emotions. Even if I tried, I couldn't convey the admiration shown in this book for Roger's songwriting talent.
"Roger was hands down the most creative articulator of words that we ever had in Nashville. ... Nobody else ever approached the cleverness with which he could handle a subject." (Ted Harris, songwriter)
The interviews weren't limited to the well-known, "famous" people such as Buck Owens and Roy Clark. Style showed some real insight by tracking down lesser-known country music "insiders," some of whom accompanied Roger on road trips for months at a time. This diversity helped give the book a well-rounded balance.
One of the interviews was Sheb Wooley, who was Roger's brother-in-law. (You may remember him as a country music singer and the "Pete Nolan" character on Rawhide). Back when Sheb was nineteen and Roger was nine, Sheb would visit the Miller farm while courting Roger's sister (technically his cousin, but that's another story). When Sheb is asked if he and Roger ever sang together, he states: "...we would ride that old horse together, ride out across them prairies, singing them songs. He had a nice voice when he was a little kid. He was on pitch too. He had a nice sense of humor even back then."
To round out the interviews, Style even talked to Roger's Nashville doctor, Dr. Robert Ossoff, and to Manuel, Roger's clothing designer. I suppose we could over-analyze here and make an argument that Styles' thoroughness was due to "obsession" and not "insight." People with obsessive traits do tend to write good books because of its arduous nature. We shouldn't make that leap, though. Manuel-the-clothier had a hilarious story to tell and only a thorough person could have found it. About the only people Style didn't track down were the pilots of all those Lear jets. Maybe he's saving that for Part 2.
The Interviewing & Editing
At Styles' insistence, the "Not-so-Famous" storytellers were included alongside the "The Famous." It was Styles' determination to save them that helped guide his choice of publisher. Some of the U.S. publishers wanted to chop the 'lesser-knowns,' who were arguably the people who knew Roger best. When push came to shove, Style seems to have taken notes from one of his heroes, Waylon. In true country music "Outlaw" fashion, Style chose a publisher that would give him more creative control over his work.
For the most part, Style asked the questions that you or I would have asked, which helped keep the reader focused. After asking a question, he would prudently sit back and give the storytellers free reign. Sometimes they strayed off-topic, but in many ways, that's one of the big positives about the book. We get to hear all the side stories.
Occasionally, one of the storytellers would wander off-topic and you could see Style's "journalistic self-control" meander right out the door with him. But then again, how do you spend a three-day weekend with Waylon Jennings and not ask him about that trademark "Whoop! Whoop!" sound he makes? I think Style has addressed this somewhere else, but I'll say it more bluntly: Would you have told Waylon Arnold Jennings to get "back on topic" when he started telling you about that ongoing feud with Tompall Glaser? And would you have pulled out your "refocusing skills" if record producer Jack Clement -- THE Jack Clement, mind you -- started sharing all his stories about Elvis, Sam Phillips, Sun Studio, Jerry Lee Lewis, RCA, and Chet Atkins?
This book is also unique because it has minimal clutter. Style has gotten a few emails from unhappy readers who wanted more author commentary. I disagree strongly. Mr. Style did not know Roger Miller. It was not his story to tell. The book probably would have benefited from having an expanded Index in the back to make stories easier to find again, but other than that, I wanted the stories! If I want an expansive biography, I can find them on Wiki or Answer or at the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
As with all books, white space costs money. It's simple, really. The more verbiage Style wrote about a man he didn't know, the fewer 1st-hand stories I would get to read.
|(1st Person Stories + Author Verbiage)||||
Total # of really cool Roger-stories
You knew I would get to it eventually. I have to. It was part of who Roger Miller was.
First, this is not a "tell-all" book in any way whatsoever. That's not what Style wanted and it's not what he delivered. But yes, Roger's friend tell us lots of stories about his drug use. Surprisingly, though, many are just as candid about their own. Evidently, rampant pill-popping was an considerable part of the Nashville music scene four decades ago. The quote below is toward the beginning of the book. Whether by design or not, its early placement in the text was an inkling of what may follow. I don't want to be a spoiler here so I won't give you any more specifics. Go buy the book.
"Now, Lyle, don't go writing a whole bunch of stuff about speed and stuff and say I'm the only one who mentioned it. I don't want to be the only one. We were all doing it, every one of us. Everybody knew it and everybody used it. If you ask the next person you interview, "Did you do speed in the sixties?" Damn right they did! If they say, "No," they're lying. (Don Bowman)
Mr. Bowman, you needn't have worried.
So what about Roger's pill use? Why? A few of his friends talked about the "why" directly but I'll leave that to others to contemplate. If you're going to read this book, it would help to first read about his early childhood. Then when you read Lyle's book, it helps to puts things into perspective. It lets you see exactly what he had to overcome. I've read the book twice already to digest everything that's in it. As soon as I get a chance I'll be reading it again. (Reading and rereading this book seems to be a common practice. It's that good.)
Roger's early childhood trauma left him with a wound that most of us can only imagine. By age three, he had lost all of his immediate family members to either death or separation: His father, his mother, both of his older brothers, and finally, the familiar surroundings he knew as "home." This type of inner hurt and pain would have made a lesser person curl up and die, at least on the inside, anyway. Roger was resilient, though, even as a 3-year old. Instead of curling up and dying, he learned how to survive.
God Bless you, Roger Miller. You were just something else.
Lyle E. Style has accomplished two things with this book, either one of which could stand alone on its own merits. Style does both.
First, he provides us with a truly heartwarming account, however painful at times, of a legendary musical artist who has largely been forgotten. No doubt, there are other readers here who grew up listening to Roger Miller like I did. Those who go on to read Lyle's book will realize that, while we were listening to (and laughing at) all those funny, "cutesy" songs, many of Roger's musical masterpieces remained unheard. Or even worse, they were left unrecorded. It's as if some of his songs got stuck somewhere between Bakersfield and the dusty bank vaults of Tree Publishing (now Sony/CBS).
The second thing Mr. Style has done is give us an insider's glimpse into early Nashville in its heyday. We hear 1st-person narratives straight from those who lived it. Nashville in Roger Miller's day was a time of camaraderie between singers, songwriters, and even producers. Talent ruled the day, not young executives with lap tops. Grand Ol' Opry performers walked across the alley to Tootsie's Orchid Lounge for a drink between shows. Singers and songwriters met for guitar pulls to bounce songs off one another. Roger and Roy Clark would pull all-night joke marathons to see who would be left standing. These stories and more are in these interviews.
Many of these storytellers have already passed away, and the graying music legends who remain aren't getting any younger. By gathering these legends all in one spot, Style, a Canadian, has preserved a valuable slice of our Americana history.
Even if you don't like Roger Miller's music or Roger Miller the man, you may find this book interesting for its historical value alone.
"All in all, it's safe to say there will never be another Roger Miller, not even close." (Fred Foster, songwriter)
Trailer for sale or rent.
Room to rent for 50 cents.
Clinton was the worst President in history.
King of the road.
I liked his 60s music. Didn't remember he died in '72. RIP, Roger.
Dang me,dang me,they oughtta take a rope and hang me...
The way I have this figured, if you guys keep posting one verse at a time, though all 800+ of his songs...
I think you'll be up all night!
Miller's name is added on a separate panel, in a slightly different typestyle and fresher paint (or, at least it appeared so in 1980).
Erick is justly proud of its boys...
Thanks, my parents and I were just remembering some of his music last week.
Back when I was in my teens, I had the privilege to meet Dottie West and "Whispering Bill". Both were genuinely nice people. That was in Dottie's "Country Sunshine" days.
Great guy and funny music.
Great songwriter and performer. "England Swings" is one of my favorites.
You might say it's Billy C,
But I fear, I got to disagree
Jimmy Carter was worse -- times three.
He ran from a rabbit, and he sired Amy.
I'm sick to barfing of his toothy smile
The MSM must have him on speed dial
No balls, no brains, no plan
A knife in the back of the Shah of Iran
Won't some one give him a broom
Show him which end he needs to sweep the room
A man of means, by no means
King of the road....
As they should be. Lefty and Sheb were awesome.
But we may be fighting over Roger Miller because he was born in Ft Worth. How about we both claim him and call it even? (The "Bakersfied" in the text up was especially for you, btw.)
Ok, people... Tell me some Roger Miller stories! I never saw him in person, just on my 33/45 rpm record player.
My favourite, hands down.
Good article, thanks for posting. Remember his songs well, he was a great songwriter.
This is the 3-CD boxset that has the most music on it.
From his website:http://rogermiller.com/boxset.html
Roger Miller Boxset
"King of the Road - The Genius of Roger Miller"
CD - $26.50
This career retrospective of 70 songs from 1957 to 1986 includes 8 previously unreleased songs and a deluxe 40-page booklet with biography and rare photographs. Aficionados of 20th century music will find this boxset a "must-have' addition to any complete collection. Click here for the songlist
Unfortunately, my memory is fogged by an excess of drink -- so I can't recount a single one of them.
A long-term project of mine has been compiling "The Top 150 Country & Western Songs of All Time...In My Opinion". If forced to cut it even finer, "King of the Road" is a clear Top Ten. And "Dang Me" is on there somewhere.
Thanks for the post. Roger is fun to remember.
Yes, I love that one too. I can't imagine trying to sing it. I read somewhere how he didn't sing it much in public because it was too hard to sing. Don't know if that's true or not.
woop woop woop woop woop....
I've got to get this for my father!
Roger Miller was a huge talent, as well as a unique-but-exemplary product of his time. I'll look forward to reading the full story about him.
There's a great story in Johnny Cash's memoir ... JC and Roger Miller were driving across the desert somewhere like Arizona, on the way to a show (and no ac in those day!), and suddenly, Roger Miller said, "Stop! Man, you gotta stop the car!" Johnny Cash figured he had to (ahem) go, so he pulled over and Roger got out and walked out of sight.
He didn't come back for a while, so Johnny Cash leaned back and dozed off. Roger Miller came back a couple hours later and woke him up, and Johnny asked, "What happened? Did you get lost? Are you sick?" and Roger Miller said, "No, I just had to write a song real quick!"
He'd walked off into the desert and written, "Dang Me"!