This year’s just-announced Grammy nominations include a handful of country artists in some of the top multi-genre categories, including Chris Stapleton, who’s up for Album of the Year. While it’s a common occurrence each year to see them sprinkled throughout the long list of nominees, no country act has reigned quite like quick-witted singer-songwriter Roger Miller did in 1964 and 1965.
In that two-year period Miller earned an astounding 11 Grammys, giving country music its best showing since 1958 when the first gramophone trophies were handed out. In 1964 — the year Beatlemania swept the U.S. — Miller won for Best Country Song, Single and Male Performance (“Dang Me”), as well as Best Country & Western Album (Dang Me/Chug-a-Lug) and Best New Country & Western Artist. The following year, on the strength of the huge crossover hit “King of the Road,” Miller took home six Grammys and won outside the country category with Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male, and Best Contemporary (Rock & Roll) Single.
Throughout the Sixties, Miller continued to chart with his own quirky, humor-filled songs with off-beat lyrics that seemed more inspired by Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll than Hank Williams or Johnny Cash. Far more than just mere throwaway novelty tunes, Miller’s songs were filled with memorable hooks and well-crafted lyrics. In 1973, he added another honor to his credits — membership in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The late Seventies also brought a platform to TV that perfectly suited Miller’s comic personality. The syndicated Muppet Show, which featured Jim Henson’s anthropomorphic puppet creations and placed them in a wide range of musical numbers and comedy sketches, also featured a special (human) guest each episode. During Season 3 of the show in 1979, performers included Loretta Lynn, Roy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and his then-wife Rita Coolidge, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Miller. The episode spotlighting Miller debuted in the U.S. that May and featured the Grammy winner performing “In the Summertime” with a group of singing watermelons. The show also included the above clip that’s set in a barn and features a medley of some of Miller’s best-known hits: “Do-Wacka-Do,” “Dang Me,” “My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died” and “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.”
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As Miller sings and plays guitar, a dozen or so chicken Muppets bounce along and chime in on the background vocals, even gleefully harmonizing on the line from “My Uncle…” that may have inspired the whole zany setting: “Chicken ain’t chicken ’til it’s lickin’ good and fried.” The bearded troubadour also appears to be so into the performance from his feathered pals that he flubs the lines of the final song in the medley.
Miller went on to compose the songs for the Tony-winning musical Big River in 1985. He died of lung and throat cancer in 1992 at age 52 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1995.