King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller is a double CD featuring all new recordings by a variety of country and rock artists. We spoke with Dean Miller about honoring his father’s contributions with this extensive new package.
By Warren Kurtz
ROGER MILLER debuted in the Top 10 in 1964 with a pair of back to back hit singles, “Dang Me” and “Chug-A-Lug.” The following year he achieved three Top 10 singles, beginning with his biggest hit, “King of the Road,” followed immediately by “Engine Engine #9.” He returned later that year to the Top 10 with “England Swings.” He wrote all five of these hit singles and many more, which are featured in this new double CD tribute that his son Dean Miller co-produced with Colby Barnum Wright. In this two-part interview, Goldmine spoke with Dean Miller about the new recording, which features Dean on one of the numbers. In the second part, we focus on Dean’s contributions as a recording artist and a composer over the years. We also hear from Daphne Culver of Daphne and The Mystery Machines on their contribution to this new tribute recording.
PART ONE – KING OF THE ROAD
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on this double CD, which is quite a tribute to your father’s musical legacy. You join Nashville’s McCrary Sisters on a fun and lively song from 1965 that I didn’t know. It wasn’t on your dad’s Golden Hits collection that I know.
DEAN MILLER: I wanted to do a non-obvious, overlooked song, so I chose “You Can’t Do Me This Way.” The approach that I took led to including the McCrary Sisters, which made for the version to be really cool.
GM: Let’s talk about the new versions of a couple of the songs that are on the Golden Hits album and new versions of the flip sides of those singles too. When Asleep at the Wheel came to the Country 500 festival here in Daytona Beach last year, my wife Donna encouraged me to see them. I had talked about them for years and she was right. They were so entertaining and one of my favorite acts at the festival last year.
DM: My dad loved Asleep at the Wheel too, with tall Ray Benson. Ray said he was good friends with Huey Lewis, which led to “Chug-A-Lug” by Asleep at the Wheel featuring Huey Lewis. There are combinations on this new album I wouldn’t have thought to do.
GM: When our daughter Brianna was in high school in Virginia in the ‘90s, Cake was big with her group of friends. She plays trumpet, so that was part of her attraction to Cake. It is great to hear John McCrea singing the flip side “Reincarnation” with Vince DiFiore on trumpet. What a unique song of potential challenges of love.
DM: We randomly approached Cake and they said, “We are Roger Miller fans.” It is done so well. My dad was such a brilliant writer and so out there weird as a composer.
Flip side: Reincarnation
A side: Chug-A-Lug
Top 100 Debut: September 5, 1964
Peak position: 9
GM: In addition to Cake, Tonic was another ‘90s family favorite with their song “If You Could Only See.” I love Emerson Hart’s voice and heard a solo song of his on the radio in the following decade when we were living out west. He brings his emotional style to “Engine Engine #9” joined by Jon Randall.
DM: And Jon is a great country songwriter with recordings in the mid-‘90s on RCA.
GM: The original flip side of “Engine Engine #9” was one of your dad’s best country titles, “The Last Word in Lonesome is Me.” Dolly Parton, with soft harmonies from Alison Krauss, is certainly reminiscent of the traditional sound heard on Dolly’s Trio album with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.
DM: When we approached Dolly, she immediately knew which one she wanted to record. Then we suggested adding Alison for harmony vocals. Dolly was friends with my dad.
Flip side: The Last Word in Lonesome is Me
A side: Engine Engine #9
Top 100 Debut: January 30, 1965
Peak position: 7
GM: The first time I spent a full Saturday in London, the biggest highlight for me was seeing an icon that I first learned of through your dad’s music, “the tower of Big Ben” in “England Swings.” His song was definitely in my head when I was taking pictures of that tall clock. Lyle Lovett and the fiddle sounds give this song a great bounce.
DM: The album is filled with all brand new recordings, diverse and eclectic. In this case, Lyle just sent his recording to us and we loved it. When my dad first arrived in England, he saw two “bobbies” pushing bicycles and the song’s lyrics took off from there.
GM: Brianna grew up on Disney VHS movies at home and cassettes of Disney music in the car, including “Oo De Lally” from Robin Hood.
DM: I saw Eric Church at a bar in Austin and talked with him about the project. He immediately said that he wanted to do “Oo De Lally” and then started humming it, with a version in his mind immediately on how he would like to approach it.
GM: I love “Nothing Can Stop Me” by Toad the Wet Sprocket, one of the ‘90s bands who had Top 40 singles from the soundtrack to the TV show “Friends.”
DM: Speaking of “Friends,” my co-producer Colby is friends with Glen Phillips from that band, which led to this connection for the project. There are a lot of friendships which helped make this project happen.
GM: It is great to hear Loretta Lynn record new music in recent years, including “Half a Mind” on this collection.
DM: Loretta Lynn is a heroic figure to me. She and my dad knew each other and she chose to record this song. Ernest Tubb had recorded it and he and Loretta Lynn worked a lot together. Johnny Cash’s son John Carter Cash is the producer on this new recording.
Photo: Loretta Lynn and Dean Miller, courtesy of Dean Miller
GM: At this year’s CMA Fest it was good to see Dwight Yoakam live on stage. When “Guitars, Cadillacs” came out in the mid-‘80s, he certainly caught my ear.
DM: Me too. I loved Dwight and encouraged my dad to write with him. He didn’t co-write much, but he did with Dwight creating “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” in 1990. Now Dwight ends the first CD with his live version of the song and mentions my dad.
GM: The second CD includes an eerie atmospheric version of your dad’s final Top 40 pop single as a composer, “I Believe in the Sunshine” by Daphne and the Mystery Machines. Daphne told me “I always felt that the lyrics of that song were kind of somber, or as though Roger Miller wrote it to all major chords to pretend to be a smiling, happy-go-lucky person, which is what you would expect from him. He was more than a public figure, he was an icon, recognized everywhere he went. The writer in me read the lyrics, not listening to the original production, and thought the lyrics would sit nicely in a minor mode. When he wrote, ‘I’m glad the sunshine found me, I know I’ve been hard to find,’ I imagine someone coming out of a dark place and then realizing, yes, this is hard, this hurts, but it’s not everlasting.”
DM: It is a such a unique take on it, so different from the original.
L to R: Jenn Palmer and Daphne Culver of Daphne and The Mystery Machines, photo by Ross Jaynes, courtesy of Daphne Culver
GM: The grand finale at the end of the second CD is a relaxed version of “King of the Road,” with different singers taking turns including Willie Nelson.
DM: We put as many people on it as we could. Everybody wanted to do that track.
King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller also includes standouts “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go” by the family act The Stellas with Lennon and Maisy, “World So Full of Love” by Rodney Crowell, who brings a New Riders of the Purple Sage-like country rock treatment to that song, and “Dang Me” by Brad Paisley. Other performers include Ringo Starr, Kacey Musgraves, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Mandy Barnett, The Cox Family, Ronnie Dunn, The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Earls of Leicester, Shawn Camp, Shooter Jennings, Jessi Colter, Flatt Lonesome, Jamey Johnson, Emmylou Harris, Lily Meola, Radney Foster, Tawnya Reynolds, The Dead South, Robert Earl Keen and John Goodman.
PART TWO – DEAN MILLER: Songwriter, Recording Artist and Inspiration
GM: Traveling throughout North America, I not only enjoy different country acts in the U.S. but also in Canada. Terri Clark got her start in a province I have spent a lot of time in, Alberta. Her 2000 album Fearless includes your composition “A Little Gasoline,” with a unique rhyme pattern in the chorus.
DM: That song is a good example of the importance of showing up. I wasn’t feeling good that day. I didn’t want to go to my songwriting appointment. I went, and in twenty minutes I came up with the song idea, co-writing with Tammy Rogers King. When I left, I wasn’t sure that it was good, but then later it appeared on Terri’s record and I was thrilled.
GM: Then there is the great melody on Trace Adkins’ “I’m Gonna Love You Anyway” from his more… album.
DM: I am thankful for that placement and co-writing it with Stacey Dean Campbell.
GM: Another one from that era that I enjoy is “The Long Way Home” from your album. It is so tight.
DM: You are digging into my deep past. That is another one that I wrote with Stacey Dean Campbell.
GM: Finally, as we get closer to the holiday season, I must bring up “Old Toy Trains,” one of my favorite Christmas songs. I first heard it on Glen Campbell’s 1968 album, That Christmas Feeling and then I searched, found and bought your dad’s original two minute single. It is concise, and seems to alternate quickly between choruses and bridges.
DM: This song, which Dad wrote for me when I was a little boy, was too obvious to be included on the new album. This is truly a classic of my dad’s work. He was the master of two minute songs and after that he would want to move on. Many artists have recorded this including Toby Keith. I also do this song in concert. “Old Toy Trains,” from my dad, is a big gift.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.