King of the Road ~ Roger Miller

Roger Miller, the youngest of three boys, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, to Laudene Holt Miller (mother) and father Jean Miller. Jean died when Roger was only a year old, and he was subsequently sent to live with his aunt and uncle, Elmer and Armelia Miller, in Erick, Oklahoma.

Miller had a lonely and unhappy childhood. Heavily influenced by the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights and the Light Crust Doughboys on Fort Worth radio, he desperately wanted to be a singer-songwriter. When he was seventeen, he stole a guitar, but turned himself in and chose to join the Army rather than go to jail. He later quipped, “My education was Korea, Clash of ’52.”[cite this quote] Upon leaving the Army, he went to Nashville to work on his music career. In 1959 he wrote his first number-one song, “Billy Bayou” recorded by Jim Reeves.

Although usually grouped with country music singers, Miller’s unique style defies easy classification. He had a string of pop hits in the 1960s, and also his own TV show in 1966. Many of his recordings were humorous novelty songs with whimsical lyrics, coupled with scat singing or vocalese riffs filled with nonsense syllables. Others were sincere ballads, which also caught the public’s fancy, none more so than his signature song, “King of the Road”, a major 1965 hit, about a presumed hobo who relishes his life and freedom, riding the rails.

King of the Road

King of the Road” is a 1964 song written and originally recorded by country singer Roger Miller. The lyrics tell of a hobo who despite being poor (a “man of means by no means”) revels in his freedom, describing himself humorously as the “king of the road”.

Belgian recording artist Helmut Lotti states that the song was written at the Idanha Hotel in Boise, Idaho. In an interview with disk jockey Robert W. Morgan in the early 1970s, Miller mentioned writing it while in the Chicago area.However, in an introduction to the song on the 1981 live recording “Roger Miller Live! Silver Eagle Cross Country,” Miller said the song was written in Boise.

The King Family Show was a TV variety show broadcast from 1965 to 1969. Each week, the King Family would run through a medley of the popular tunes of the week. The family-oriented show producers were uncomfortable with the line “I ain’t got no cigarettes“, and replaced it with “no regrets”. The kids music compilation Sugar Beats changes the line to “I don’t want what I can’t get”. It also changes “worn out suits and shoes” to “clothes and shoes”.

The song has been covered by many other artists, including George Jones, Dean Martin, King (an Elvis Presley impersonation), Jack Jones, The Fabulous Echoes, Boney M., R.E.M. (a shambolic, drunken offhand cover about which guitarist Peter Buck later commented, “If there was any justice in the world, Roger Miller should be able to sue for what we did to this song.”), Johnny Paycheck, The Chipmunks, Boxcar Willie, Randy Travis, Rangers, James Kilbane, John Stevens, the Statler Brothers, Rufus Wainwright & Teddy Thompson, Giant Sand, Peligro, The Proclaimers, Ray Conniff Singers and The Reverend Horton Heat, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Joe Strummer during live performances.

King of the Road – Miller
Trailer for sale or rent
Rooms to let… fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but… two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means
King of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train
Destination… Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out suit and shoes,
I don’t pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found
Short, but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means
King of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain’t locked
When no one’s around.

I sing,
Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but… two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means
King of the road.

  • Audio from the 1965 album, The Return of Roger Miller:
Play King of the Road - by Roger Miller

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