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Oklahoma musician Roger Miller honored with tribute album

September 17, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The first track of the new album “King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller” opens with Miller jokingly dubbing himself “probably one of the greatest songwriters that ever lived.”

As usual, Miller manages to deliver the truth with a sly wit and an effortless turn of phrase in this 23-second snippet of banter.

After all, we’re talking about the genius who managed to do the one thing with the ever-befuddling English language that they said couldn’t be done: He came up with a rhyme for “orange.” He paired it with “door hinge,” which is the kind of rhyme that only a Texas-born, Oklahoma-raised songsmithing virtuoso could devise.

As both a singer and songwriter, Miller still boasts one of the most distinctive voices in pop culture history. That he died more than 25 years ago at the relatively young age of 56 makes this achievement all the more impressive and tragic.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, but raised in Erick, Miller is one of Oklahoma’s brightest stars in the country music stratosphere, which is pretty impressive considering this is the state that counts Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill, Ronnie Dunn and more in its constellation.

But Miller’s influence extends well beyond that single musical format. He won the 1985 Tony Award for best score of a musical for his vibrant work on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” adaptation “Big River,” which also won the Tony for best musical that year.

He wrote multiple songs for Disney’s 1972 version of “Robin Hood” and he strutted his stuff vocally as the animal animated tale’s troubadour, Allan-a-Dale — a rooster.

Of course, the Oklahoma man is undoubtedly best remembered for penning and crooning “King of the Road,” the tuneful ode to vagabond life that reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Country charts and No. 4 on the Hot 100, The Oklahoman reported . It also earned five Grammy Awards on eight nominations in a single night and has transcended genre to become one of those songs that people absorb almost subconsciously from the wider culture. “King of the Road” was so big that it even helped fellow Oklahoma singer Jody Miller win a Grammy Award for her answer song “Queen of the House.”

It’s most fitting, then, that the new tribute album is named for that indelible anthem but also spans 36 tracks of his other incredible songs, performed by some of the most famous and respected musical artists not just in the country music arena but in the pop, alternative rock, musical theater, bluegrass and gospel realms.

Produced by Colby Barnum Wright and Roger Miller’s son Dean Miller, “King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller” was released recently on BMG. True to its namesake’s spirit, there are some unusual combos on this sprawling homage, which opens with western swing standard-bearers Asleep at the Wheel chugging through “Chug-a-Lug,” along with rocker Huey Lewis. Dunn, who like Miller was born in Texas but came of age in Oklahoma, makes “The Crossing” with the Blind Boys of Alabama, while Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss join forces for “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me.” Jamey Johnson and Loretta Lynn make a fine pairing in “Husbands and Wives.”

Naturally, several top country music stars participated in the project: Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and the late Merle Haggard reunited for Miller’s last country hit, “Old Friends.” Brad Paisley does “Dang Me,” Dwight Yoakam covers “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” live, and Robert Earl Keen is a perfect for “Do Wacka Do.” Kacey Musgraves luminesces on “Kansas City Star,” and Eric Church charms on the “Robin Hood” ditty “Oo De Lally.”

But like Miller’s influence, the scope of artists on the tribute extends beyond country. Alternative rockers Cake amble through “Reincarnation,” and Toad the Wet Sprocket bounds through “Nothing Can Stop Me.” John Goodman, who originated the role of Pap Finn in “Big River” on Broadway, reprises his big bluesy number from the show, “Guv’ment.”

There’s even a Beatle on board as Ringo Starr croons the deep cut “Hey, Would You Hold It Down?”

Fittingly, nearly every one of the album’s contributors join in on the closing cover of “King of the Road,” and “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd” also gets the all-star treatment. It’s the quintessential Roger Miller song: funny and wise, with an infectious melody and unforgettable lyrics.

Although he died in 1992, Miller’s legacy continues to travel as far and wide as the “King of the Road” of his most-beloved song.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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