Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Missing: Roger Miller


One of the best things about modern technology is the fact that untold masses of old albums have found their way to CD. Without question, one big "thank you" goes to Richard Weize, founder of Bear Family Records, for the proliferation of classic country music available on CD. Without his influence, we might be stuck with the same ten Jim Reeves songs repackaged under a new album title and cover art every three years.

One of the biggest omissions from the CD catalog is the works of Roger Miller. To date, only one extensive compliation, King of the Road - The Genius of Roger Miller - has been issued. The three-CD box set is outstanding, make no mistake. It encompasses Miller's entire career, from his RCA and Starday days through the megahit era to his Tony Award-winning material from Big River.
The problem is that this is pretty much the singular good representative of Roger Miller on CD. Several "greatest hits" packages are currently available (CD Universe lists a dozen different CDs); however, they are either the same songs with a different cover or re-recorded versions (not the "original hit" rendition). Only two packages -- both of which share the title King of the Road -- stand out: the aforementioned box set and a Bear Family single CD that chronicles Miller's stint on RCA shortly before he rose to superstardom.
The worst problem is that the albums that caused Roger Miller to become a household name -- 1964's Roger and Out, 1965's The Return of Roger Miller, and 1966's The Third Time Around -- are nowhere to be found on CD. And the question must be asked: WHY? These albums are vital to the history of country music. Miller's tally of Grammy awards (five in 1964, six in 1965) was a record that wasn't broken until Michael Jackson. "Dang Me" and "King of the Road" are far beyond country songs, they are part of Americana. These are albums that need to be issued on CD.
The only reason I can think of regarding why none of the Smash Records albums of Miller's have been released on CD is the possibility that the original masters are missing or in poor condition. I base my opinion (which is strictly that at this point) on the horrible sound quality of some of the tracks on the Mercury box set 50 Years of Country Music from Mercury. It is apparent by casual listening that some songs in the box set (which seemed to be Mercury's attempt to mimic Decca's superlative From the Vaults box set) were transferred from vinyl, not from original studio tapes (James O'Gwynn's "My Name is Mud," for instance). It could well be that the masters, like some of the songs that were included in the Mercury box set, do not exist any longer.
Even if that is the case, Mercury Records (or someone) should find quality copies of the albums and transfer them to CD. This music is too good and too important to the career of Roger Miller and the history of country music to not be available.

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