Friday, June 22, 2007

There is nothing new under the blogging sun - or, this blogger used to love Roger Miller but she died

To read the whole thing, start here.

Songwriter, singer, guitarist, fiddler, drummer, TV star, humorist, honky-tonk man, Broadway composer, and perhaps above all else, an awesome wit- Roger Miller was all of these and more....

Roger...did let his humorous guard down now and then to comment on the insecure loner he truly seems to have been as a child. "We were dirt poor," he once explained. "What I'd do is sit around and get warm by crawling inside myself and make up stuff."...

Miller was as hot as a hillbilly songwriter could be in the late 1950's, but he was also proving himself to be the type of carefree spirit who gave industry players fits....

Though he remained great friends with Ray Price, he hadn't stayed long with the Cherokee Cowboys, in part because his harmony phrasing, which was as idiosyncratic as his wordplay, drove Price nuts....

[P]art 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.

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....

All right and fine, but let's get to the meat of the affair (you knew I was going to get here - again):

"Old Friends" was the last most people heard of Roger Miller until Huck Finn floated down Broadway.

The story of Big River is as fantastic as any of Roger's life. The key man was Rocco Landesman, a former Yale professor at the Yale School of Drama who happened to be the world's #1 Roger Miller fan.

"I thought he was an absolute genius," Landesman says. On the way to a New York appearance by Roger at the Lone Star Cafe, Landesman conceived the notion that Miller ought to write a Broadway score - and the Adventures of Huckelberry Finn would be the perfect vehicle. He approached Roger's wife, Mary, after the show. She encouraged him to write a letter to Roger with the idea. Roger jokes, "He made me an offer I couldn't understand."

Nevertheless, Landesman wrote a number of letters to Miller and about a year later had him convinced he was the right man for the project. Roger was off on another new journey. Landesman commissioned William Hauptman to adapt Twain's book and the project was underway.

Roger, initially intimidated, spent a year and a half on the first phase of the musical. He was "writing from every corner of my heart," as he put it. The play opened at Harvard's American Repertory Theatre, then moved to La Jolla, California, where a struggling young actor named John Goodman took the role of Huck's father, Pap. In the play, Pap's feature song is "Guv'ment", which Roger wrote while thinking about the uncle who raised him. Elmer Miller didn't drink like Pap, but he did "used to cuss out the government," Roger said.

Big River opened at New York's Eugene O'Neill Theatre on April 25, 1985, during one of the bleakest seasons in the history of the Great White Way. The press offered the hope, which they clearly considered him, that Big River might save the day.
As it turned out, the play was a smash hit, earning seven Tony Awards, including Miller's for best score. When Goodman left the role for the movies, Roger took over his part for three months. He also made an album on MCA, called Roger Miller, on which he sang several songs from the play, including "Guv'ment" and the magnificent "River in the Rain".

For Roger, Big River was the crowning achievement of a fantastic career that to him only then seemed complete. He is still the only Country artist to win a Tony Award. With Big River a proven success, Roger was able to relax at his Santa Fe home....


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