Dashboard Poet: Roger Miller

Image courtesy of the Roger Miller Museum.

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Dashboard Poet: Roger Miller

by Brian Carpenter
Southern Cultures, Vol. 20, No. 4: Winter 2014

"'I wouldn't let him drive,' said [Mel] Tillis. 'Hell, he couldn't keep his mind on what he was doing. He was either thinking of songs or [women].'"

Even before he became the “King of the Road,” Roger Miller reigned as the undisputed king of the dashboard poets. By his own recollection, he composed his first solo hit, “You Don’t Want My Love,” on the road from Fort Worth to Nashville. “Just driving along by myself,” Miller described the process, “sipping a little wine here and along the way [to] keep my spirits up.” His first top-ten hit, “When Two Worlds Collide,” came about in Miller’s Rambler station wagon during an all-night drive with Bill Anderson. “In those days we didn’t have these little tape recorders like you do now,” said Anderson, “so we had to stay up all night singing it to each other, all the way down there, so we wouldn’t forget it.” Miller’s classic ballad “Husbands and Wives” initially took shape, fittingly enough, while he and his wife were “driving down the freeway one night.” “I just started singing it,” said Miller, who wrote the rest of the song on a ride home from the Los Angeles airport with friend Don Bowman. “Thanksgiving Day, no traffic, it took thirty or thirty-five minutes, and he was humming and tapping on the dashboard,” said Bowman. “He didn’t say a word all the way there . . . [H]e got out and walked in the house, picked up his guitar and sang ‘Husbands and Wives.’” Then there was “King of the Road,” inspired by a sign (“Trailer for Sale or Rent”) that Miller saw hanging on the side of a barn one night on his way to Chicago. The song sold over one million copies and won him six Grammys in 1966.