Those five words became the opening line of what was to become Roger Miller’s signature song.
In those days, tramps and hobos were known as ‘knights of the road’ and when Miller found a small statuette of a hobo in an airport gift shop, he felt compelled to buy it and as he stared at it, the song continued to write itself.
The hobo in the song is a happy character. Even with few creature comforts, he remains to enjoy the freedom that his lifestyle allows him. Thus, in Miller’s song he is promoted from knight of the road, to ‘King of the Road’.
When Miller told his audiences the story of the song, it would change slightly depending on where he happened to be, and when he was telling it. If he was in Canada or the northern states, he would say he bought the statuette in a cigar shop in the small town of Kitchener, Ontario. But if he was further south, he knew Americans would not have heard of Kitchener and so the song would have then been created on a rainy night in Boise, Idaho.
When Miller, his wife and three children first moved from their home in Amarillo to Nashville, they lived in a trailer at Dunn’s Trailer Court. It was a popular place with aspiring country musicians who were on a tight budget. Hank Cochran and Willie Nelson both stayed there, before their careers took off. Given that Miller had some experience in trailer life, it’s not surprising that the subject turned up in one of his songs!
Miller’s scribbled lyrics now hang in a glass-fronted case at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Downtown Nashville.
In 1965, the song won Grammy awards for Best Contemporary Rock ‘n’ Roll Single, Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Best Country & Western Recording, Best Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song…WOW!
In the early 1970s, Roger Miller opened two motels. One was in Nashville, and the other in Valdosta, Georgia. He called them both, King of the Road.
Unlike the accommodation that he sings about in his song, his King of the Road motels boasted luxury accommodation. The Nashville location had a music club on the top floor which became a popular place for many musicians to play. Miller himself would often play there.
Roger Miller died in 1992, aged 56, from lung cancer. Three years after his death, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His songs remain popular but none more so than 'King of the Road', which is a karaoke favourite, too.