My wife and I were catching up on Fox’s surprisingly amusing comedy offering, “Raising Hope,” when I had an urgent, sudden need to Google an artist. It was Roger Miller’s “Do-Whacka-Do” which caught my ear and demanded my attention, and the YouTube rabbit-hole I soon wandered down took some surprising turns. Seems there was a reason the song jumped out at me … though Miller made a long career out of traditional honky-tonk music, his career-makers were of the novelty variety, including one of my father’s favorite guitar stompers when I was growing up: “Dang Me” — which never ceased to anger my mother, who claimed to have too much good taste to listen to such caterwauling — but I digress.
Whatever you may think of Miller, his songwriting talents beyond the world of novelty hits had a profound effect on the honky tonk country genre, leading to interpretations by Alan Jackson of “Tall Tall Trees” and by Brooks and Dunn of “Husbands and Wives,” both of which were #1s after his death in the mid-90s. And “King of the Road” is one of those songs which remains so ubiquitous, it’s impossible to completely miss.
But I was most surprised to learn that his voice was the one which lent one of Disney’s most underrated 70′s animation offerings a touch of honky-tonk gold. That’s right … Miller was the voice of the grizzled rooster character in “Robin Hood,” which led to classics like these ones:
Often imitated, Roger Miller remains a hallmark example of that quality which made honky tonk country so successful during the fifties and sixties. Here’s hoping today’s young crop of traditional-country inspired artists choose to take a non pop-country risk and dig into his catalog in the coming years.
My nephew finally got himself an mp3 player for Christmas. And already the adventurous music listener (and a voracious one too!) he asked me to play “cool uncle” and fill it up with music for him for New Years.
Yes, he wants the usual stuff everyone his age is listening to on the radio … or as his mother puts it: “anything that sounds rebellious.” But he’s also a huge Lindsey Buckingham junkie. He’s memorized most of the libretto to Anais Mitchell’s Americana opera Hadestown (my top pick for album of the year in 2010). And he helped pick out The White Album by the Beatles and the BBC Sessions from Led Zeppelin for my father for Christmas along with his parents.
Did I mention he’s in first grade?
I’ve noticed people tend to have low opinions of young people and their musical taste. Disney markets Hannah Montana to kids and they lap it up because it’s what they hear — and their parents buy it for them because the music’s safe and inoffensive (just don’t let the kiddies watch “Can’t Be Tamed” if that’s your theory!) But kids aren’t stupid. They want to hear music that sounds good, and if they could hear bands like Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Regina Spektor or Only Son playing on top 40 radio, they’d lap those bands’ albums up too.
[It'd be nice if the music industry could pick up that kind of idea and run with it, the idea of getting kids when they're young and teaching them to love music, to want to explore it. These are our children, they're not just another marketing tool.]
Anyway, I just had a ton of fun filling his mp3 player up with both the music I know he already enjoys, along with the music I think he will enjoy when he gets a chance to hear it on shuffle. And I’m not going to make assumptions about what might or might not be over his head … aside from keeping things clean (he’s seven, so no major profanity) I think it’s best to let him set the limits of what works.
I can’t wait to hear what he winds up latching onto …