Wednesday, July 31, 2013

England swings like a pendulum do, bobbies on bicycles, two by two.

On The Writer’s Almanac website a couple of weeks ago I read that in 1940 Woody Guthrie wrote the folk classic “This Land is Your Land” because he was growing sick of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Mr. Guthrie must have had an extremely low tolerance level, because the rest of the world has been listening to “God Bless America” for 75 years now. Woody had been listening to it for only two.

Moving right along, yesterday my son-in-law called me to ask
“a very important question that we knew you would know the answer to.” It turned out that he and my daughter wanted to know who sang “King of the Road.”

Naturally, I told him that it was Roger Miller (who composed it and was the first to sing it and had an enormous hit with it, although many people recorded it later) and my son-in-law said, “Your daughter thought it was Arlo Guthrie and I didn’t have any idea who it was.” Well, it wasn’t Arlo Guthrie. As I just explained, it was Roger Miller.

My daughter and son-in-law didn’t know this either, but I have a sort of six-degrees-of-separation relationship (although it’s really only three) with Roger Miller. His sister married Vernon Hornell, a neighbor of mine in Texas. Vernon was the older brother of Bruce and Mary Grace and little Erick (whom we called “Putt-Putt”), and almost every Sunday from 1948 until 1958 I rode with the Hornell family to Sunday School at the local Methodist Church. We rode in a dark blue 1938 Buick until it fell apart, and then we rode in a 1957 two-tone Oldsmobile.

Arlo Guthrie, in case you were wondering, was Woody Guthrie’s son. You can read all about them here (Arlo) and here (Woody), if you like.

If you’d rather read about Roger Miller, be my guest. Wikipedia calls him “an American singer, songwriter, musician and actor, best known for his honky-tonk-influenced novelty songs.” Wikipedia says about his early life, “Roger Miller was born in Fort Worth, Texas, the third son of Jean and Laudene (Holt) Miller. Jean Miller died from spinal meningitis when Roger was only a year old. Unable to support the family during the Great Depression, Laudene sent each of her three sons to live with a different one of Jean’s brothers. Thus, Roger grew up on a farm outside Erick, Oklahoma with Elmer and Armelia Miller.”

Note that there is no mention of a sister, just Roger and two brothers, from which I gather that either (a) Laudene continued to raise a daughter herself or (b) the “sister” of Roger’s that Vernon Hornell married was actually Elmer’s and Armelia’s daughter, Roger’s first cousin, with whom he was raised in (of all places) Erick, Oklahoma. All things considered, though, I think it was foreordained that Roger Miller’s sister or first cousin or whoever she was would marry Vernon Hornell if she was raised in Erick, Oklahoma, because you will recall that Vernon had a little brother named Erick (whom, as I told you earlier, we called “Putt-Putt”).

Don’t look at me that way. Stranger things have happened.

But if you’d rather just listen to Roger Miller sing, here’s
“Dang Me” (4:13) complete with an interview by Dick Clark on American Bandstand, a commercial for Clearasil, and Roger’s imitation of a dial telephone. And here’s Roger’s signature song “King of the Road” (2:26). And here’s the shortest but perhaps the sweetest, “England Swings Like a Pendulum Do” (1:55). When you hear Roger talk, you are not listening to a Texas accent. You are listening to an Oklahoma accent.

I do regret to inform you that early in their marriage Vernon Hornell’s wife, whoever she was and wherever she was raised, was killed in an automobile accident.

In doing research for this post, I learned that Roger Miller died in 1992 at the age of 56, and I also found the obituary of his mother, Laudene Holt Miller Burdine. She died on October 10, 2001, in Scott County, Arkansas, at the age of 87 years, 9 months, and 4 days. The obituary notice said she was the widow of both Jean Miller and C.B. Burdine, and that one son, Roger Dean Miller of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and one daughter, Joni Claudene Sims Hornell of Forth Worth, Texas, [emphasis mine] preceded her in death. She was survived by two sons, Harold Duane Miller of Ridge Crest, California, and Wendell Jean Miller of Hanford, California; one daughter, Elizabeth Ann Sims of Denton, Texas; 16 grandchildren; 25 great-grandchildren; one great-great-granddaughter and a host of nieces, nephews and friends.

So it turns out that Vernon Hornell’s wife probably wasn’t raised in Erick, Oklahoma, after all. I mean, her last name wasn’t Miller, it was Sims, so she probably wasn’t raised by Elmer and Armelia Miller, unless Armelia had a child from a previous marriage, plus there’s the fact that Laudene had still another daughter whose surname was also Sims who survived her.

Roger Miller is the only Country & Western artist ever to win a Tony award (for Big River, a 1985 Broadway adaptation of Mark Twain’s literary classic, Huckleberry Finn, for which Roger penned the 20-song score). He also won more Grammys than any other recording artist, and the record remained unbroken until Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously around 1995.

There’s more, lots more, in an article entitled “Thirty or More Things You Should Know About Roger Miller.”

What any of this has to do with either Woody Guthrie or Arlo Guthrie is anybody’s guess.

Oh, I do want to say one other thing.

God bless America.


Carol in Cairns said...

Now this is how mis-associations start ~ an Aussie blogger throws in a bit of useless trivia to a comment box that has nothing to do with Roger Miller. Australian country singer Kasey Chamber named one of her sons Arlo after Arlo Guthrie, and as far as I know has never been to Barcelona, but has been to Cairns (that is in Far North Queensland). BTW, I think you should ask Lady RWP to write a guest blog post for you :)

Marion said...

Thank you so much for your comment on my blog. I have read some of your posts and even this early in the morning, I chuckled and laughed my way through.

I look forward to reading more of your exceedingly well-written posts...

Mary Z said...

We lived in the Nashville area at the time Roger Miller was in his prime. Big River has got some of the greatest music ever. We've been fortunate enough to see two live performances of it.

rhymeswithplague said...

Carol (in Cairns, which is in Far North Queensland, which is in...oh, forget it, I have never known of any other person besides Arlo Guthrie named Arlo until now. There is a woman in the U.S. (on one of the Christian television networks) whose name is Arthlene Rippy. Does that count?

Marion, thank you for your comment and welcome to my blog! I did (and do) love the city of Victoria. I have another reader in BC, A Lady's Life, who has just posted about Bungee Jumping in Whistler.

rhymeswithplague said...

Mary Z, I never saw Big River but I do recall seeing the Tony awards telecast when Roger won. Do I have a phenomenal memory or what?

rhymeswithplague said...

P.S. to Carol in Cairns: When I told Mrs. RWP that you thought I should ask her to write a guest blog post for me, she said, "Yeah, sure" -- and just in case I didn't catch the irony of her remark, she also said, "I don't think so," which is American for "when pigs fly."

A Lady's Life said...

I love the songs but I never know who the singers and writers of the songs are unless they are the Beetles or something. lol Sometimes I too begin to do some research and become amazed at all the singers I loved and never knew what they looked like. lol
Today it's easy to find things out as opposed to before.

Carol in Cairns said...

Sir RWP, I knew you would appreciate that bit of trivia and add it to your vast memory bank. Sad about Mrs RWP, I am sure she has a story or two :)

rhymeswithplague said...

A Lady's Life, I remember listening to Art Linkletter's House Party on the radio when I was a kid, and being surprised at what he looked like when I finally saw him on television.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

That post rambles around like an old Texan staggering back from Fat Daddy's Inn in Mansfield. Note that Roger Miller sang "Now if you huff and puff and you fin'ly save enough" - to travel to England. I have been talking about it with Shirley and I'll be happy to pick you up from Manchester airport. You can sleep in Frances's room. I'll take you to Chatsworth and York and you can see the bobbies on bicycles two by two. All you need to do is book your ticket and remember a bowler hat and umbrella.