There are only a few instances in the history of country music when a song and a songwriter came along and released something so revolutionary, it changed the possibilities of what country music could be, and the trajectory of the genre forevermore. Roger Miller was one of those songwriters, and “Dang Me” was one of those songs, recorded 60 years ago today, January 11th, 1964.
Roger Miller was a wildly successful songwriter before “Dang Me” came along, but he wasn’t a successful singer and performer. His quirky, silly, but deceptively intelligent and ultimately revolutionary song changed all of that.
Miller was born in Fort Worth, Texas, but grew up on a farm outside of Erick, Oklahoma in a very rural area. He went to school in a one-room schoolhouse. His family was so poor, they couldn’t afford to buy Roger Miller a guitar, so as he was growing up, he could only write songs in his mind. Out of desperation, Miller stole a guitar when he was 17 so he could write songs for real. He turned himself in the next day, and to avoid jail time, joined the army.
It was in the military when Roger Miller started performing for others. After leaving the army, he headed to Nashville. When he showed up to audition for legendary guitar player/producer Chet Atkins, Miller still didn’t have his own guitar. He had to borrow one of Chet’s. The producer wasn’t impressed, and told him to come back when he was better seasoned.
When Miller did get an instrument in his hands, he was skilled with it. To get his foot in the door in country music, he played fiddle for Minnie Pearl. He joined Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys as a side player too. This whole time he was also writing songs, eventually penning hits for Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, Faron Young, and more. Bill Anderson once famously said that Miller was “the most talented, and least disciplined, person that you could imagine.”
Miller would write amazing lines, but then lose his train of thought and not finish a song. Sometimes he would just give genius song lines away to other writers. It was said aspiring writers would sometimes follow him around town, to restaurants and bars sparking up conversations with him, just to see if he would say something they could turn into a hit song themselves.
Roger Miller did eventually sign with Decca Records as a performer, and worked with another aspiring performer named Donny Lytle, later known as Johnny Paycheck, but nothing much came of the singles. Chet Atkins even came around to Miller, seeing his potential, and signing him to RCA Victor. He had a couple of successful singles in “You Don’t Want My Love” (#14), and “When Two Worlds Collide” (#6), but it still didn’t result in any breakout success, while Roger’s party lifestyle got in the way of any gains. RCA eventually dropped him.
Bored with trying to “make it” in country music, Roger Miller quit briefly, and instead started appearing on late night comedy shows. He thought about pursuing a career in acting. But when he ran out of money, Miller singed to an up-and-coming label called Smash that paid him $1,600 to record 16 songs.
Then on January 10th and 11th, 1964, Roger Miller set up shop at the Quonset Hut Studio on Music Row in Nashville with Hall of Famer Harold Bradley on guitar, Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano, and a bunch of other A-team hot shots, and knocked out an entire album’s worth of songs in two days. “Dang Me” was recorded on day 2, along with another signature Roger Miller song “Chug-a-Lug.”
The genius of “Dang Me” was its wit and humor that masked a fresh and forward-thinking way to approach country songwriting, which had grown somewhat stale and cliché at the time.
Roses are red and violets are purple
Sugar is sweet and so is maple surple
Well I’m the seventh out of seven sons
My pappy’s a pistol, I’m a son-of-a-gun
In 1964, The Beatles were all the rage in music, country was quickly becoming uncool, and it couldn’t compete with rock songs on the radio. But “Dang Me” did. Not only did it surge to #1 in country, it went to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. It put country back into the popular music diet. “Chug-a-Lug” also did well, hitting #7 on the Hot 100.
“Dang Me” went on to win not one, not two, not three, but four Grammy Awards in 1964: Best Country Song, Best Country and Western Recording, Best Country and Western Performance, and Best Country and Western Album (with “Chug-a-Lug”). It also helped Roger Miller win the Grammy for Best New Country and Western Artist for a total of five Grammy Awards, all basically for one song.
Most importantly, “Dang Me” launched a performing career for Roger Miller, whose wit would go on to give country music a coolness and relevancy to withstand the onslaught of rock and roll. Many consider Miller’s “King of the Road” released the following year as his signature song. It won five Grammy Awards as well the next year. But “Dang Me” set the table for his success, while inspiring countless songwriters up to this day to think outside the box, instill a strong sense of poetry to their writing, and to not be afraid to have a little fun.
Johnn Cash, Buck Owens, Johnny Rivers, Sammy Davis Jr., The Hollies, Graham Nash, and many others went on to cover “Dang Me.” It was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1997.
“Dang Me” did a bunch for country music, and in only one minute and 42 seconds. Miller wrote it in four.