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Was the most popular song in country-western music history inspired by a walk on Boise's wild side?

Lots of fans of Nashville star Roger Miller think so. "King of the Road," by legend, was mostly written while Miller was staying at the Idanha Hotel in Boise in the summer of 1964.

Boise was a pretty staid place in the early 1960s, so if you wanted nightlife you went to Garden City, an enclave nearly surrounded by Boise. It's not much of a stretch to suppose that the 28-year-old Miller ventured down then-seedy Chinden Boulevard - Garden City's main drag - and saw a sign that read, "Room to let: 50 cents. No phone, no pool, no pets."

"King of the Road," which Smash Records released as a single in early 1965, sold 2.5 million copies. But what set it apart from other country classics like Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart" and Willie Nelson's "Crazy" was the number of other artists who recorded the song: 300, according to "Country Music: the Encyclopedia." They included Dean Martin, Jack Jones, Boney M., R.E.M., Johnny Paycheck, Lawrence Welk, The Chipmunks, Boxcar Willie, Randy Travis, Rangers, James Kilbane, John Stevens, the Statler Brothers, Giant Sand, Peligro, The Proclaimers, Ray Conniff Singers and The Reverend Horton Heat.

All told, the song may have sold well more than 10 million records.

Miller, who died in 1992, said the first line of "King of the Road," "Trailers for sale or rent," was inspired by a sign he saw near Chicago.

According to his official website, rogermiller.com, Miller wrote the first verse but got no further. In Boise to "induce labor," as he put it, Miller saw a hobo statuette in a gift shop at the Boise airport. It was the inspiration for the rest of the song.

"King of the Road" took him six weeks to write, as opposed to the four minutes he spent on "Dang Me," his previous hit. "King of the Road" earned Miller five Grammy Awards including Song of the Year, beating out Paul McCartney's "Yesterday."

Like Nelson, Miller was an A-list Nashville songwriter long before he became a recording star, composing hits for George Jones, Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, Faron Young and Jim Reeves. Bill Anderson would later remark that "Roger was the most talented and least disciplined person that you could imagine," according to rogermiller.com. He was also known to give away lines, prompting many Nashville songwriters to follow him around since everything he said was a potential song.

According to Miller's biographer, Lyle E. Style, Johnny Cash called Miller a "sparkplug" because he fostered creativity in others. But during the 1960s and '70s he was known to walk offstage halfway through a show, get into fights and go days without sleep. He had a serious drug problem, which cost him two marriages and a network television show.

Miller never quite became a Nashville superstar, but it hardly matters somehow. Idaho-inspired "King of the Road" became the granddaddy of all country hits.

Steve Crump is the Times-News Opinion editor.

 

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