If you assembled a list of the best songs ever written, Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” would have to be on it.
It’s a great character song that reflects Roger Miller’s songwriting skill. It’s all about the freedom of a happy hobo. He might not have much, but he feels like the king of the road. The message of happiness over wealth struck a chord with listeners of all walks of life.
Roger Miller’s classic hobo song went gold 56 years ago today. Let’s get a little deeper into the myth-shrouded history of the song.
There are a few things about “King of the Road” that we know for sure. Firstly, it’s an incredible song. Second, it won a slew of awards. We’ll circle back to that later, though. We also know that Roger Miller recorded it in November of 1964 and released it the following January. It was certified gold on this day that same year.
Roger Miller Might Have Taken Six Weeks to Write “King of the Road”
What we don’t know, however, is how Roger Miller came up with the song. There are three competing stories, according to Songfacts. Miller himself told two of those stories.
One story says that the late great singer-songwriter penned the tune over six weeks. He started working on it in early 1964. Roger Miller was on a tour in the Midwest United States, doing TV appearances. He saw a sign on the side of the road just outside Chicago that said, “Trailers for sale or rent.” That inspired the first few lines of the song. A few weeks later, he bought a small statue of a hobo at the Boise airport gift shot. He used that statue to inspire him to finish the rest of the song.
Roger Miller later gave a similar account. However, the locations were changed. Instead of a Midwestern TV tour, he was headed to a show in Canada. Instead of an airport gift shop, he found the hobo in a Canadian cigar shop. The big difference here is that, in this version, he wrote the song over the course of a couple of days.
The story that gets passed around Nashville and the story many country music fans are familiar with is a little different. That story says that the sign offering trailers was attached to Dunn’s Trailer Court. Dunn’s had long been the home of struggling musicians and songwriters. For instance, Willie Nelson lived there for a time before he started making real money from his songwriting. The Nashville version is a little more romantic.
We know one thing for certain, though. Roger Miller saw a sign and it inspired him to write “King of the Road.”
The Legacy of “King of the Road”
Roger Miller won five Grammy Awards for “King of the Road,” in 1965.
- Country Song
- Country Vocal Performance
- Best Country and Western Recording, Single
- Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male
- Contemporary (Rock ‘N Roll) Single
Since Roger Miller originally released the song, several artists have covered it. George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Glen Campbell, Randy Travis, and even Alvin and the Chipmunks have all taken their turn at the hobo ballad.
One of the coolest covers comes from Roger Miller’s posthumous Country Music Hall of Fame induction in 1995. Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Mary Stuart, and Dwight Yoakam took the stage together to perform the song.