Roger Miller is a bit like Pete Rose. He has parlayed persistence and a bubbling wit into a long career. And in Miller's world of country music the hits just keep on coming.
Miller, who last night opened the Smithsonian's Country Music Series (this year focusing on "The Great Songwriters"), has written more than 800 songs. "King of the Road" his biggest hit, has been recorded by more than 500 artists. That's a lot of Miller, and if some of it is light, well, as Roger sings, "the name of the game is pleasin' the crown."
Miller's appeal lies in his well-turned phrases, many of which turn cliches upside down and stretch rhymes hilariously. His set last night at Baird auditorium was a bit short: too much fiffle, too much gab, too little of hits like "Dang Me," "Engine, Engine No. 9," "Husbands and Wives," "Kansas City Star" and "Little Green Apples," among others.
What came through when Miller concentrated on "Leasin' the crown" was a jovial, occasionally iconoclastic figure in country music. Miller's certainly not in a league with Hank Williams, Merle Haggard or Tom T. Hall, but he's a sharp cut above many others.