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)
Seriously, though. You would like this book regardless. Even without Ozzie in it.
My teen years were great. My mom was trying to get into country music, so Dad booked shows for which their band would open - Red Sovine when his "Teddy Bear" song was out, Dottie West "Country Sunshine", Tommy Overstreet "That's Where My Woman Begins", and others. We had a lot of fun. That was in Wisconsin. Mom & Dad now live in Branson, but never did make it big in country music. They decided at one point the cost to the family was too high.
If you'll private mail me & tell me your nearest library, I'll send them one today, or maybe tomorrow. All I need is a name; I can find their address.
You HAVE to read this book.
You may be interested in this.
Thanks Nita for the terrific review.
"Chug-a-lug, Chug-a-lug...Makes me wanna holler hidee-ho..."
I swiped my Mom's Roger Miller CD last year, after hearing that song.
You can find other reviews at Amaon (but if you get it from the author's website, you'll get a signed copy)
If anyone leaves a question for the author on this thread, ping me back & I'll try to make sure he sees it.
LOL! I'm telling. Give me her phone number right now.
I have a son who swiped 2 of my best Waylon CDs, one from each 2-CD set.
He still denies it. I don't believe him.
I should drive to Austin one night and steal them back. I would if I knew I wouldn't get shot. Stealing Waylon music is a shooting offense down here.
"But officer, I know I'm just his neighbor, but she was stealing his Waylon! She needed killing!
Thanks, And you're welcome!
I have a question, though. How did you get Merle Haggard for your first interview? Why didn't you start with one of the "lesser-known" friends?
And more importantly, how did you talk him into it? For everyone after him, you could mention "Merle Haggard" in the message to open a few doors. But how did you get that first one?
First off a huge THANK YOU to Nita for taking the time to do this review. It's so appreciated and nice to know that there are other Roger Miller fans out there that know that this man was one of the most interesting characters in the history of entertainment. I'm amazed that more people don't know it, there should be TV specials about Roger, movies and tons of forums on this amazing character.
My wife and I were chatting about it this morning that even if another book was never sold, the book has touched some people's lives and there is a sense that all those years of work was worth it. As sad as it is to lose so many of the legends I was lucky enough to spend time with, there is a sense of pride that the book captured many stories that would have gone untold for the fans of Roger and the interviews themselves if the book wasn't published.
Regarding the Merle interview, I landed that the same way I got to meet Johnny Cash. I just used the power of seeing it happen in my mind's eye. I read some books on the power of positive thinking and visualization and it works. I think there are 100 examples in this book alone on how the power of visualization can work. Wayne Dyer really helped through his words of wisdom.
What happened was I just moved back to Winnipeg from Vancouver and I saw Merle was playing in Grand Forks, North Dakota. As I did when meeting Saint Johnny Cash, I told my family and a few friends that I was going to meet Merle Haggard this weekend and do my first interview with him for the Roger Miller book. They asked me how I was going to do that and I told them I'd let them know when I got home.
I just saw it in my mind's eye that I was going to meet him and talk to him about my book idea. I didn't "try" to meet him, I think that's people's biggest mistake in making goals happen, they "try" - either you do it or you don't. You have to say to yourself I KNOW I can do this, for some reason if you even say to yourself "I THINK I can do this", there is an overtone of failure built into that.
Anyway, I went to the concert, spoke to the merchandise people, asked who the road manager was, introduced myself to him, told him about my book (not concept, just the book I was working on). Luckily, he didn't ask "who else you talked to". He introduced me to Merle, Merle was great, he said absolutely that he'd talk about his friend Roger. I didn't even know before hand if they were that close, so I was lucky that they liked each (if the book was on Waylon, I don't think Merle would have spoke to me). Afterwards, Merle gave me his phone number and said to keep in touch, which I did a little but I felt like he was just being nice so I haven't spoke to him in a while. The thing with celebrities is when they say "keep in touch", you really don't know if they're just being nice.
From there on with the interviews, I used an old sales technique of assumptive selling, I never called someone and asked if it would be possible to do an interview, I'd just asked when would be a good time to meet with them and do an interview. For the most part, it worked.
Having Merle Haggard as the first interview probably convinced me the most that I could interview anyone I set my mind to meet up with. And it helped when I told managers and publicists that I already interview Merle. I also knew Waylon Jennings a little and his crew from some shows I did so I knew I could meet up with them and a few others I had contact with like Marty Stuart and some of the Branson guys.
The lesser knowns came from me talking with the 'big names' - they'd tell me, you know who you should talk with is.... and I'd track them down.
Thanks for asking!
Well, I assuage my guilty conscience by telling myself that I'm introducing his music to a new generation. My 5&3 year olds know every word of England Swings and King of the Road...Although it's a little wierd to hear them singing about smoking Stogies and not having any cigarettes.
This thread has convinced me that I need to read your book. Thanks for dropping by here.
Perhaps my favorite is Kansas City Star. In those days, there was something mysterious about the voice and face that came over airways making the small town on air talent big stars. Roger captured that.
Plus, Roger was just a plain old ham.
Thanks for the comment.
I noticed someone mentioned Jim Ed Brown.
Here's a funny story we had to cut out of the book, from an afterword with Harold Bradley (his interview was actually cut down to a funny story). I had over 500 pages and had to cut it down to 300.
I think this is why Jim Ed Brown didn't have any Roger stories to share with me:
In October, 2002 I was in Nashville doing more interviews and it turned out there was a celebration of 100 years of the Nashville Musicians Union. I called Mr. Bradley the day of the show and he set me up with front row tickets. He really is a great guy. Theres not too many people in positions like he is that will take time to talk to you no matter who you are and be willing to help out any way he can.
After the star filled concert (Willie Nelson, Kitty Wells, Eddie Arnold, Ray Price, Bobby Bare, George Jones and many more), Keith -----, a buddy of mine from Memphis and I went backstage. I guess this was the first time he was around country music legends so he went around getting some of them to autograph his concert program. He went up to Ray Stevens and said Mr. Price, could I get your autograph?. Ray was not impressed and snapped back So I should sign that Ray PRICE?. He apologized for the mix-up and then he went straight to Jim Ed Brown and said Mr. Reeves could you sign my program?. Jim said BROWN, its Jim Ed Brown, Jim Reeves is dead!. So I left my friend on his own as I didnt want to get kicked out of there. He was a little nervous I guess I told him just to call people by their first name.
Obviously, if you've never encountered red beer, you're located more than fifty miles east of 81. It's a mixture of one part tomato juice to two (or three) parts draft beer -- often with a shot of Tobasco.
I'll be seeing Chickasha next weekend -- heading home for 50th high school reunion.
I think I originally had something in this review about positive thinking. And that concept may be why we admire Roger Miller so much. During certain times in his life, he was the epitome of the "positive thinker."
I said in the review that Roger was "resilient." I'm fascinated by how you can dissect Roger's lyrics, the content of many of his songs, and you begin to see several different 'themes.' (each one of them a study all by themselves). One of those themes that jumped out at me was Roger's ability to "see the good" in things. I think he must have developed that approach to life quite early, out of necessity if nothing else. Why dwell on the negatives? What point does it serve? Look at the good and just go from there. Build on it.
Walking In The Sunshine (1967?):
Walking In the Sunshine, sing a little sunshine song
Put a smile upon your face as if there's nothing wrong
Think about a good time had a long time ago
Think about forgetting about your worries and your woes
Walking In The Sunshine, sing a little sunshine song
La la la la la dee oh,
Whether the weather be rain or snow
Pretending can make it real
A snowy pasture, a green and grassy field
So what exactly does that mean? What's he saying here? You don't know exactly, that's the thing. You think you know, but you can't be sure. When taken by itself, it says nothing. Even after you add his "Can't Go Skating in a Buffalo Herd" song with it's "you can be happy if you've a mind to", you're still not sure if you could go deeper. Heck, words can mean anything. Maybe it was just a sunny day and he couldn't think of anything else to write. Maybe he just likes to roller skate, like George Lindsay said in the book.
This is why your book is so important. Yes, it's funny and it's fun to read, and all these characters are interesting people, but it also gives a new dimension to Roger Miller's entire discography. All these interviews that make up your book, when taken as a cumulative whole, truly serve as a living document. It gives the historian and other researchers an entirely new way to examine both his work and the culture in which he lived.
In your book, Sheb Wooley told how Roger would be out in the fields working with him, and every time a plane would fly over, Roger would get distracted. He would stand there gazing into the sky, daydreaming, and Sheb would have to bring him back down to earth. Sheb also said that after Sheb got his break and became a singer, Roger wanted to be like him; he wanted to be a songwriter/singer. ("He never wanted anything else in life.")
So, yes, Roger was a positive thinker. Otherwise, he never would have become the success he was. And yes, that song up there does have a deeper meaning.
I wouldn't be surprised if he wrote it on the cloudiest day in Nashville's history. ;-)
It's not the full tune, but here's a reminder of the signature song.
Good points, never thought of that. Maybe those lyrics hit people subconsciously, possibly it was hidden messages in Roger lyrics that actually helped make this book a reality. Makes me wish I asked a few more questions to some of the guys I met up with. I think every week I kick myself because I think of something else I should have asked them when I had the chance.
Merle Kilgore said he liked hanging out with Roger because he was a positive kind of guy, he told me Roger would say to him "Fu&& being negative" and he'd keep the jokes coming. It's a little ironic because at the same time Roger suffered with depression.
As you know, Roger would at times walk off stage angry half way through a show. Just a thought, wonder if he ever sang "Walking In The Sunshine" during one of those shows?
Also I wanted to mention, you keep saying the words "in your book" - I really don't consider it "my" book. For the most part, it's the interviewee's book. I consider them the true authors because they really provided the content of it, I just put it all together. I was more of a facilitator and 'project manager', I think anyway.
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