An American Odyssey in Song: Maine – Roger Miller and King of the Road

Welcome to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

First of all thanks to everyone who helped out with suggestions for getting this trip started. It may not happen in real life now (although never say never and all that), but I’m going to try and make sure it happens on these pages. I have planned a route map that means we take in all 50 states but never enter and leave the same one more than once. I won’t share the map with you until the end however as best to retain an element of surprise as to where we are going to end up next (although sometimes of course there will be only one contender).

After a bit of thought I have decided to start in Maine and end up in Florida as opposed to doing it the other way round. North to South makes more sense from a geographical point of view and we will build up to all those great songs from the Southern States gradually.

maine 3

So, we have just flown across the Atlantic from Scotland and are about to explore the State of Maine. This is not going to be a travelogue style series of posts so I will just include a few pictures and links, but suffice to say, Maine is the most northernmost state in New England, it has an awful lot of forests and coastline, its climate is warm and humid in summer but cold and snowy in winter, and it’s famous for its seafood cuisine, especially lobster and clams. The musical Carousel is set in Maine (songs from which I have written about twice on these pages here and here) and of course a certain amateur lady detective also resides there, in the fictitious Cabot Cove (the American equivalent of our Midsomer it seems). The prolific author Stephen King comes from Maine and many of his books, in turn made into films, are set in that State (Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption and the film that forever gave clowns a bad rap, It).

When I first considered this series, I was a bit troubled that I might sometimes get stuck, and be unable to find songs that I could write about for certain states, but of course you didn’t let me down. A fair few suggestions came in from Marie, CC, Lynchie, Rol, Neil and Chris (links to their blogs on my sidebar) but the song I hadn’t realised even mentioned Maine before, was King Of The Road by Roger Miller (credit for that one goes to both Lynchie and Rol). This song is all about the day-to-day life of a hobo, who, despite being poor (a man of means by no means) revels in his freedom, describing himself as the “king of the road”. The first line in the second verse goes as follows, “Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine” which is why it becomes my first featured song in this series.

Roger himself of course didn’t come from Maine but from Texas. He wrote mainly country songs, and was very successful at doing so, but King Of The Road was a major crossover hit into mainstream pop and was No.1 in the UK Singles Chart in 1965.

King Of The Road by Roger Miller:

As is often the case I would be lying if I said that I remembered this song from first time around, but someone who would have done, was my Uncle Keith. This is where it gets a bit personal as is often wont to happen on these pages. Keith was a lad who grew up in our village in Scotland and followed the usual path for young men in those days – Went to school, completed an apprenticeship, met a girl, got married and had a family. The opportunity came along for him to move to the city and start driving lorries long distances. With a large family to support he took it on. Soon he was travelling all over the UK and the Continent, gone from home for long periods at a time. He loved it and whenever anyone was going on holiday by car, he could always be relied upon to come with the best route.

(Uncle Keith is the tall dark-haired one and didn’t his best man look like Richard Widmark?)

This life on the road was not of course conducive to family life and in due course his marriage failed and we didn’t see much of him for long stretches of time. Every now and again he would turn up at my grandparents house in a massive articulated lorry, stay the night, then head off again. He was very unlike my own very stable, home-loving dad and was a bit of a mythical creature as I was growing up. As I got older I was busy getting on with my own life so didn’t see him often at all, but a few years ago now we heard he was ill, so my mum headed off to see him in his little flat. It wasn’t good and he died soon after at the age of 76 with, ironically, his ex-wife and his children at his bedside – He may not have been a great family man but they had stayed close over the years and loved him to the end.

When it came to organising the funeral it turned out he wanted to be buried along with his parents (my grandparents) in the village where he had grown up. A bit of a surprise but it made sense. The important thing was that he wanted King Of The Road to be played as his coffin was carried out of the church. My mum (his sister), who finds it very important to always “do the right thing”, was a bit concerned – In her experience people always chose very sombre hymns – What would people think? But no, his family stood firm and King Of The Road it was. When the time came there wasn’t a dry eye in the church and even my mum had to admit it was the right choice.

thBAXMCE2D

Before I go, it might be an idea to include the version by those very Scottish Proclaimers from 1990. If he was still driving lorries at that time maybe Uncle Keith liked that one too. Whatever, I am pretty sure if the chance had come up, he would have loved driving across the highways and byways of America in one of those very large trucks, maybe even up as far as Maine. This post therefore is for him. (Look out for The Proclaimers’ homage to Roger Miller at 2:20)

“What’s It All About?” – I have often seen talk on the blogosphere of the music people would like to have played at their funeral (morbid I know but true) and I too have chosen my particular song. We may not be there in person but we will be leaving a little bit of ourselves behind in our choices. Those left will feel a surge of emotion, but it will be much appreciated, as was the case with Uncle Keith.

So, we have now visited Maine in song (very tenuously I know but I think that’s how it will often go) and the next state we will cross into is New Hampshire. I will always have a standby song but would very much appreciate some more suggestions that I have no doubt (if this post is anything to go by), will be better than mine. You know where the comments boxes are.

Until next time….

King Of The Road Lyrics
(Song by Roger Miller)

Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out clothes and shoes,
I don’t pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found short, but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain’t locked, when no one’s around.

I sing, trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

20 thoughts on “An American Odyssey in Song: Maine – Roger Miller and King of the Road”

  1. Great post, and a very appropriate story and song to begin your journey with.

    New Hampshire poses problems, not least because the only songs I know with that state in the title are by Sonic Youth and Matt Pond pa, neither suitable suggestions for WIAA. I found a few other songs that reference the state, but none were quite you.

    Second problem: some of NH’s biggest cities share their names with other famous world destinations… Manchester, Portsmouth, Derry, Lebanon… I can think of songs featuring at least three of those, but not about NH.

    All I keep coming back to is Weekend In New England by Barry Manilow, but that’s too generic. I may have to admie defeat on this one…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks but you’ve got me worried – If you have to admit defeat on NH where does that leave me? Getting to love the music of Sonic Youth over the next week it seems!

      Fortunately there are a few generic New England songs as standbys for these trickier states and if all else fails there will always be a jaunty folk song from back in the day, or music from a film set there, or something by someone born in NH or ……….

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  2. I love this concept and you’re off to a great start. I’ve loved this song since I was a kid, and became more of a Roger Miller fan when I bought a well-selected compilation of his best songs about 10 years ago. He may not be one of the all-time greats but he’s had a solid career with many unforgettable recordings. I really appreciate the story about your Uncle Keith. The personal stuff puts the music in a unique context, so well done there. I’m also pleased (but not surprised) that you highlighted The Proclaimers’ version of “King Of The Road.” I’ve always enjoyed their take on it, which was pretty reverential but still distinctly them.

    Not sure what song I want to have played at my funeral. I’ve considered “Where The Rose Is Sown” by my beloved Big Country, but I think that’s reserved for military personnel and I don’t think I’m worthy. “Stairway To Heaven” has been my favorite song for as long as I can remember, but is it too obvious? Perhaps “At My Funeral” by Crash Test Dummies. The title seems obvious but most people probably wouldn’t know it and it’s a damn cool song.

    Looking forward to following your travelogue. Welcome to the USA. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hoped you’d like the idea for this series and I’m looking to you guys across the pond for assistance if I get stuck. Bizarre that you have this affinity for music from Scotland and here I am travelling around the US in song!

      Bit morbid I know to mention funeral songs but we’ve probably all thought about it. We won’t be there but, like Uncle Keith, we want to get it right.

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    1. Not naff at all, quite sweet, but could be your chance for payback after all the naff choices I’ve given you over the months for The Chain!

      With states like these I think it will have to be a song that is “associated” with the state rather than one that namechecks place names, otherwise I will truly get stuck. I have a possible contender for NH up my sleeve at the moment but if something better comes in will go with it. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  3. Ah, a great start to this big trip – loved hearing about Uncle Keith’s life and his very apt funeral song. Actually hadn’t heard King Of The Road in ages then just last night was watching back Rich Hall’s ‘Countrier Than You’ which we’d recorded (very good, did you see it?) and it was included in that and now your post – songs have a habit of doing that it seems, there’ll probably be a third now!
    Haven’t a clue about New Hampshire I’m afraid – so it will be quite a revelation.
    The funeral song choice is one of those topics I believe we all think about now as there is so much to choose from and no worries about having to have hymns for the non-religious amongst us. (And, just if you’re interested, a variety of suggestions from people came up in a post a few years ago… http://sundriedsparrows.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/the-final-curtain.html )

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    1. Thanks – Just had a look at your Final Curtain post. This is an added pressure in life that never used to be there. On top of everything else we have to come up with the perfect send off song that sums up our entire persona – from beyond the grave there is pressure to get it right! And, although I think Uncle Keith did get it right there was a fair bit of “discussion” about it beforehand amongst family members so can lead to disharmony.

      As for my journey, as CC said, only 49 states to go and I am starting to think I have maybe taken on something a bit bigger than I had anticpitated. It will involve a lot of research and around 50,000 words – What if I get bored half-way round? Funny that King Of The Road came up on that show last night (not seen it yet but will seek it out) – Whenever that happens we hum the Twilight Zone theme and as you say there will be a third hearing of it soon. Just seen our old friend Al Stewart on telly at the folk awards – He was singing On The Border which was one of the songs of his I featured the other week. Pointed out the enunciation to Mr WIAA that you had mentioned after I wrote that post and noticed it’s just the same although he is now in his 70s – It’s not water, it’s watter!

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  4. I’ve been largely absent of late due to ongoing real life tribulations, but thoroughly enjoyed this post and, by extension, the prospect of a further 49 similarly enjoyable entries in the series. Keith’s story is a bittersweet one and the photos are a delight – I hope he had a generally happy life on the road. As for funeral tunes, I’ve had one in mind for many years, but fairly recently another has popped up in contention. It would probably be useful if I told my nearest and dearest the title(s) in question – only I know them at the moment and when the time comes I won’t be available for consultation!

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    1. Thanks – Sorry to hear of the tribulations but all will be well soon hopefully. As for the further 49 it’s just started to sink in what a mammoth task I’ve taken on but hopefully will be fun too. Yes you’ve spotted the bittersweet element in the story but on the whole I think he had a good life although tough at the end. All this talk of funeral tunes is very morbid but now that non-religious services are much more the order of the day it becomes something to have to consider. Important to tell those who will have to do the organising however beforehand or that planned funeral tune will go to the grave with you. Just had a bizarre thought the other day however – Important to leave your blog password with your nearest and dearest also as if something happened suddenly, none of the blogging buddies would know. A 21st century dilemma!

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      1. Not such a a bizarre thought about the blogging password, Alyson – I’ve thought the same and have already told Mr SDS where he can find all my online passwords. It was something that came up in connection with both my friends who died last year. In fact one of them is still showing as one of my blog followers, although weirdly I find that quite comforting. I guess we just have to think very differently these days, don’t we?! We leave traces of ourselves everywhere in cyberspace.

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        1. Yes, I’ve noticed that with Facebook sites as well – They can’t be deleted easily so pages of the dear departed are still sitting there in cyberspace, accessible by all. Can be comforting to revisit but a bit strange too. The blogosphere is something different again though – I communicate almost on a daily basis with many of you but as “virtual blogging friends” we could disappear out of each others lives at the drop of a hat but would never know what had happened. Yes, I’ll leave Mr WIAA the passwords, just in case (although doubt if he’d have any idea of how to post something). This is all getting a bit morbid – For the record I have no intention of going anywhere any time soon but hey, you just never know.

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        2. Jumping in on this conversation (apologies if my comment is out of synch, wp won’t let me place it after your most recent comment, Alyson)… Leaving my passwords has never been something I’ve thought about, and I doubt my next of kin would consider posting an announcement of my passing to the blogosphere to be a priority in the days following my eventual departure…. HOWEVER, it does make me think. A couple of years back, there was a regular commenter on my blog (and on other blogs I read) who simply disappeared. I always wonder if he just got fed up with the blogosphere, if I specifically wrote something that pissed him off, or if something happened to him in the real world. I have no way of knowing, and that does trouble me from time to time. But I’m not sure there is an easy solution to this quandary.

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  5. A great story Alyson – and I’m looking forward to the rest of your musical trip. Your Uncle Keith sounds like a man I’d liked to have had a pint with and I’m glad your family stood firm over playing the song he wanted. I’d loved to have heard his thoughts on some truckin’ songs.

    When I shuffle off, I’d like a gloomy love unrequited song (probably I Can’t Win – Ry Cooder with the sublime vocal duo of Bobby King & Terry Evans) so that everybody would be sad about me being gone. Then on their way out, I’d have Van The Man’s “Bright Side Of The Road” to cheer them up and think happy thoughts.

    You know – this could be the start of a series of blog posts….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know what, Uncle Keith was a very sociable chap, so I have a feeling you may well have had a pint with him at some point over the years in one of The Granite City’s many hostelries!

      That’s maybe the way to go – Something gloomy to inspire sadness at the fact you’d gone but then something cheerful at the end so they head off to the wake in a happy frame of mind, remembering all the good stuff.

      You may have noticed that I haven’t admitted what my song is and I won’t because it is something that regularly pops up on Steve Wright’s Sunday Lovesongs – Say no more!

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  6. Great idea for a series, and a bit of a challenge but I’m sure you’re up to it. “King of the Road” was one of my earliest fave songs, loved it on the radio as a pre-schooler. May I suggest Tom Rush’s “Merrimack County” for a New Hampshire song? It was bit of a regional hit where I come from (just south in Massachusetts).

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    1. Yes King Of The Road was a really big hit in the UK in 1965 but like you a bit before my time so know it better from hearing it on the the radio over the years. Thanks for the suggestion – Not one I’d heard of before but obviously local to you. Will check it out but am realising it will have to be a song associated with the state rather than namechecking it as the “tracks of my years” just don’t have many New England state songs contained within! We’ll be heading through your home state soon – a lot more choice in terms of mainstream familiar songs for that one.

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