Jack White (drummer) and Randy Hart (MD of the band) called me up and asked me if I wanted to audition for Roger. The catch was I would be taking the place of guitar player extraordinaire, Danny Gatton due to one reason or another. On May 26, 2010, Gibson.com ranked Gatton as the 27th best guitarist of all time. NO PRESSURE! HA!
When I heard the show and listened to Danny play Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Orange Blossom Special, I thought… NO WAY!! BUT… a banjo friend of mine, who played in Rogers band for a while, said he could teach me how to play (I say fake!) it. I only had 2 days before the audition and NOT MUCH SLEEP! So, went to the gig about as humble as I could be and after playing the only 2 songs I knew in that style! After finishing, Roger came over to me and said “Jeff, you got yourself a gig!”
We toured off and on for around a year, playing anything from Vegas, to large concert venues to County Fairs. A Great experience and with AWESOME musicians. Roger was a great one himself, so that made hearing “Dang Me” every night a bit more tolerable HA!!
I think the highlight of touring with Roger was actually meeting Danny Gatton at the D.C. Smithsonian Institute gig. Danny lived just outside of DC on his farm in Maryland. When I saw him after the show, I asked him if he would mind if I came out to visit and maybe do a bit of jamming with him. He was THE most incredible, humble and soft-spoken guy I have ever met. He said, “ABSOLUTELY! I’d love to make that happen.” So, I went to his place the next day and we sat around having a blast trading out licks / jamming while 8 or so of his students were sitting around watching. I’ll never forget that.
Sad ending to this story. On October 4, 1994, Gatton locked himself in his garage in Newburg, Maryland and shot himself. He left behind no explanation. Looking at his suicide in retrospect, people around him have suggested that he may have gone in and out of depression for many years.
I have to say, Roger was a STELLAR performer. He had a way to make an audience laugh, cry, sing along and then Rock out with some high energy jamming bluegrass My version of FMB / OBS was a bit more “ROCK” then Danny’s but Roger and the audience seemed to like it. Who am I to argue! ?
About Roger Miller:
Roger Dean Miller (January 2, 1936 – October 25, 1992) was an American singer, songwriter, musician and actor, best known for his honky tonk-influenced novelty songs. His most recognized tunes included the chart-topping country/pop hits “King of the Road”, “Dang Me” and “England Swings”, all from the mid-1960s Nashville sound era.
After growing up in Oklahoma and serving in the United States Army, Miller began his musical career as a songwriter in the late 1950s, penning such hits as “Billy Bayou” and “Home” for Jim Reeves and “Invitation to the Blues” for Ray Price. He later started a recording career and reached the peak of his fame in the late 1960s, but continued to record and tour into the 1990s, charting his final top 20 country hit “Old Friends” with Willie Nelson in 1982. Later in his life, he wrote the music and lyrics for the 1985 Tony-award winning Broadway musical Big River, in which he also acted.
Miller died from lung cancer in 1992, and was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame three years later. His songs continued to be recorded by younger artists, with covers of “Tall, Tall Trees” by Alan Jackson and “Husbands and Wives” by Brooks & Dunn, each reaching the number one spot on country charts in the 1990s. The Roger Miller Museum in his home town serves as a tribute to Miller.