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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

King of the Road

I know how to play exactly one song on the piano, and it’s “King of the Road” by the late Roger Miller. I learned it as a youngster, and haven’t forgotten it. I can play and sing about a thousand songs on the guitar, including some Roger Miller tunes, but on the piano I know only one song and it’s “King of the Road.”

Roger Miller was an absolute genius. If you’re not familiar with his work, I strongly encourage you to obtain, by whatever means necessary, a sizeable selection of his music. Be sure your selection includes “King of the Road” of course, but also, “Dang Me,” “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd,” and “My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died.” “Doo Whacka Doo” and “Burma Shave” should make your list if possible as well, and I would recommend “The Moon is High and So Am I” to round things out. He sang some serious songs as well, mostly sentimental ballads.

While visiting friends in Abilene, TX last year, we were treated to an absolutely wonderful steak dinner at Joe Allen’s, and then our friends gave us a tour of the new music department facilities at Abilene Christian University, where I had the singular opportunity to play “King of the Road” on a brand new $85,000 Steinway grand piano on the stage of their auditorium. Our host, a (former) music director at ACU, looked on nervously, but Roger Miller would have been proud.

My dad, probably inadvertently, turned me on to Roger Miller - he was closer to the Roger Miller era, and spun a Roger Miller LP once in a while on the living room turntable. He’s also a very good piano player - quite talented, has played for many years, does command performances, etc., even plays in public once in a while. I, on the other hand, know only one song on the piano, which we’ve already established, and it’s a darned good thing I at least know one:

20 some-odd years ago a friend of mine got married and your faithful editor was in the wedding party. At the rehearsal dinner, my friend’s mother, after having had maybe just half a drink more than she needed, requested that I play something on the piano. I declined, offering what seemed to me the plausible excuse that I was not a piano player. She persisted, thinking I was just being modest and needing a little more encouragement. I continued to insist that I could play the clarinet and guitar, neither of which was on hand, but not the piano. She wasn’t hearing any of it. I realized of course that she had me confused with my father (we were family friends from the old neighborhood), and I shared that with her. Her insistence unflagging, she just about physically pushed me up to the piano bench and I reluctantly complied. I sheepishly played part of the one song I knew, and not very well at that. I think she was finally convinced that I was telling the truth. I did redeem the situation somewhat by having the real piano player play the chords while I hollered out a stirring rendition of “Wild Thing.” If the Jackson, MI Holiday Inn lounge had had aisles, they’d have been dancing in ‘em!

Yes, it’s true, I’ve been playing the same song on the piano for well over 20 years. Consider it my personal tribute to the memory of the late, great Roger Miller.

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