How Roger Miller Legitimized Country Music + Set a Grammy Awards Bar With 11 Wins in Two Years
One of the more impressive sights in the Country Music Hall of Fame is the cluster of 11 Grammy Awards credited to Roger Miller, the first country act to shake up the awards show scene as a crossover star. The artist won all 11 in a mere two years (1965 and 1966), off the strength of his critical and commercial hits “Dang Me” and “King of the Road.”
Prior to Miller’s run of Grammy Awards success, country singers competed with popular folk artists for just one award: Best Country & Western Single. Winners of the lone country-specific trophy in the all-genre awards show’s first six years included legends (Johnny Horton, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Dean and Bobby Bare) and a couple of less likely selections (the Kingston Trio and Burl Ives). In 1965, however, the number of country-focused Grammy Awards categories broadened with the introduction of the short-lived Best New Country & Western Artist trophy, won that year by Miller and only handed out once more, to the Statler Brothers, in '66.
Other awards debuting in 1965 included the long-running Best Country & Western Vocal Performance -- Male category (the Recording Academy dropped the gender qualifier in 2012) and the still-active Best Country & Western Album and Best Country & Western Song categories. Miller swept the four new awards and the pre-existing prize with his single “Dang Me” and the album from which it comes, Dang Me / Chug a Lug, taking home a total of five trophies.
A year after Miller dominated the categories created with male country singers in mind, he set the standard for historic Grammy Awards hauls by compiling six wins off of an astounding nine nominations. Miller's crossover hit “King of the Road” won the artist his second consecutive trophies for Best Country & Western Vocal Performance -- Male, Best Country & Western Single and Best Country & Western Song. He also reclaimed the Best Country & Western Album trophy with The Return of Roger Miller.
For Miller, retaining the Recording Academy’s praise the same year in which Eddy Arnold cut his own version of Hank Cochran’s “Make the World Go Away” was a feat unto itself. Yet his historic accomplishment was more about setting a pop crossover precedent than winning awards earmarked for country stars. In fact, “King of the Road” beat out the Beatles’ “Yesterday” for Best Contemporary (R&R) Single and Best Contemporary (R&R) Vocal Performance -- Male. Before 1966, only Chet Atkins had come close to taking a Grammys trophy from these rock-dominated categories back to Nashville.
“King of the Road” received three additional nominations -- Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Vocal Performance -- Male -- further legitimizing Miller as a critically acclaimed and commercially viable artist. And if that's not enough proof that “King of the Road” dominated, the 1966 award for Best Country Vocal Performance -- Female went to “Queen of the House,” a Jody Miller (no relation) answer song that set new words by Mary Taylor to Roger Miller's familiar backing track.
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Miller’s historic two-year run of Grammy Awards wins set the stage for the more pop-friendly Glen Campbell to pick up four awards in 1968 and claim the coveted Album of the Year prize in ’69, for By the Time I Get to Phoenix. For country artists, only Campbell’s run of success and the Dixie Chicks' five-Grammys performance in 2008 came close to the mainstream accolades Miller earned with two simplistic story songs.
The cross-genre dominance of “King of the Road” at the Grammy Awards plays a bigger role in Grammys lore than simply lending more mainstream credibility to country music. Six wins in a year set the bar high for some of the biggest pop icons of the past 50 years; only Michael Jackson (eight in 1984) and Santana (eight in 2000) managed to win more in a single year. The short list of others to win six in one night is a cultural who’s-who: Paul Simon (1971), Quincy Jones (1991), Eric Clapton (1993), Beyonce (2010), Adele (2012) and Bruno Mars (2018).
Over 50 years after Miller’s big nights, his Grammy Awards tally seems like small beans compared to the absurd standards for album sales and world tour itineraries set back in the ‘90s. Yet no other country music game-changer, including Garth Brooks himself, swayed more Grammy voters over a two-year span.
The 2020 Grammy Awards will take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 26. The televised ceremony will begin at 8PM ET on CBS; the pre-telecast Premiere Ceremony will be available to stream online earlier in the evening.
The Boot will be staying up late covering the most buzzed-about country winners, fashion and moments at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Readers can watch along with us by checking back to TheBoot.com for the latest Grammys headlines, liking The Boot on Facebook and following The Boot on Twitter.
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