I often say that you will discover the best people you will ever meet down a red dirt road. Last weekend I found out you will also find the best music down those same roads.
I had the chance to sit down with Jody Miller. She invited me over to her home to sit down and talk about her career and life. As I walked up to the door of this country house, I felt right at home in the middle of a pasture with the red dirt still in the wind from my tires.
I received a hint from a friend of Jody’s, that she was quite fond of Vanilla Sonic Milkshakes. On my way to her home, I stopped by Sonic and purchased her a milkshake and myself a Vanilla Dr. Pepper.
As I walked to the front door, I had my hands full of records, my notebook, and these two drinks. Jody’s dog greeted me with nothing but charm. I later learned he was nearly 14! I then knocked on the door and was greeted with one of the friendliest smiles I had ever seen.
“How did you know I liked those shakes?” said Jody.
It’s easy to say it was love at first sight.
She ushered me in and as she went to the kitchen to grab a spoon, she told me to go look at her records and memorabilia. On the wall hung every album she had made under the Capitol and Epic labels. Then as my eyes slowly looked down, I saw one of the most coveted awards every singer longs for.
After I was finished gawking at her albums and her Grammy, we went and sat down at her dining room table. That’s where our conversation began. I started out with a question I wonder about every singer.
As a singer myself, I know what makes me tick. So I wanted to ask, why singing? When you were little, what possessed you to start singing?
“Well I came from a family of music people. My dad played the fiddle and my mother sang real good. I had four sisters. We would get together and harmonize and dad would play the fiddle. We would dance and sing every Saturday night. It was a lot of fun, but I knew the rest of them couldn’t sing the way I could [she said this through laughter]. So I had that feeling that I was really good.
As we cracked a few more jokes, I had to learn about her other musical talents and what instruments she played. The answer surprised me.
Now you play the fiddle, correct?
“No, I make it look good for two songs. If you notice [in a “Thank God I’m a Country Girl” Youtube video] I don’t crack a smile. I was so serious, thinking I was going to mess this up. I do play guitar. I have a four string tenor that I bought back in 1962. It was 8 years old when I bought it!”
We then jumped into the beginning of her music career. We briefly discussed her time with singing in a local folk act, until she and her husband started making their way to LA to begin her singing career. Along this path is where she met up with fellow Okie, Dale Robertson in 1963.
“He is really a brilliant artiste. He has a lot of taste in the music world, acting, and everything else. He’s gone now, but boy he was smart. I went to visit him unannounced. I had no invitation, but he heard me. When he heard me, he contacted Capital Records. He was doing an animated feature at the time. He was using all of Walt Disney’s artists and then he contacted the people at Capital for some one to do the music.”
From there, she went on to try out for the Capital records. They were immediately smitten with her as a folk singer.
As Jody admits humbly, “At least I could carry a tune, they thought.”
Capital was attempting to jump on the successful folk band wagon of the early and mid 1960’s with the likes of Joan Baez and The Kingston Trio. She said that they wanted somebody who presented themselves like the former, but that didn’t bother her at all. At the time, she had no direction in where she wanted to go with her music.
Jody also really enjoyed the men who backed her during her audition, Glen Campbell and Billy Strange.
“I got my foot in the door and they weren’t going to get it out,” Jody quipped.
What was it like being a Oklahoma girl and walking into a Capital recording studio?
“I was overwhelmed really. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I couldn’t believe it.”
I then pulled out her first album, Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe. This album is beautifully arranged and folk to its core. Yet, as Miller pointed out, it wasn’t a hit. The majority of the songs on this album were story songs and she explained how at the time she knew 200 folk songs and the stories that went behind them. That’s where she found her conviction, which is one of her ultimate strengths to this day.
Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe did not garner any hits and didn’t make it on to the
charts, but that did not detour Miller’s dream and determination to cut a hit record.
“I have always believed in my talent and knew that I could sing better than anybody else. I hate to say that, but I really felt that and I believe we have to feel that way or we can’t push ourselves into doing the job. If you keep on going with what you have, you’re going to make it. I don’t care what anybody says.”
After her first album, Miller was then teamed up with a young Joe Allison. He placed her with 42 musicians, which quite intimated Miller, and they cut her first hit single “He Walks Like A Man.” She then had a brief stint in the Italian music world, where she debuted “Io Che Non Vivo,” which later became “You Don’t Have to Say you Love Me” in English. The Italian version was written especially for Miller.
She then began work on her next recordings in 1966. It just so happened that Mary Taylor had written a song, which she wanted to record, but she already had a hit song on the charts. In those days an artist did not have multiple songs on the chart at a single time.That song was “Queen of The House.”
Miller recorded this song in just one day. This was another one of her strong suites as an artist.
How long did it take you to record an album?
“Well not too long. I was a one take wonder. I could go in and learn a song just like that and go into the studio and cut it. It was one of the things that made me good.”
Once the single “Queen of The House” was released, the pressing plant for Capital could not press the single fast enough for it’s demand was so high. This all happened right before she was to deliver her daughter.
We then went on to discuss whether it was an answer record to “King of The Road” by Roger Miller. Jody then stated that this wasn’t an answer record, but it was a stand alone tune that used the same melody.
There was a Scopitone “music video” made to “Queen of The House.” Scopitones were jukeboxes that featured a screen which projected three-minutes of what we would now call music videos. Although the Scopitone quickly faded, many of its originally videos have been recovered, which include 3 starring Miller.
These videos were often thought to be risqué which took Miller by surprise.
When I was watching the “Queen of The House” video I found that it was pretty risqué for the time period?
“I didn’t know they were going to do all that. People don’t believe me, but I didn’t know.”
Now you weren’t risqué though. You were classy.
“Yeah, I was dressed.”
In 1967, is when Miller won the Grammy for best female country vocal performance at the 8th annual Grammy awards. She was up against some of the most iconic country singers including Skeeter Davis and Dottie West.
Who did you thank?
I didn’t have a speech prepared. I said ‘I’d like to thank everybody that knows who they are.’ [laughs] Jerry Lewis cracked up and said can I use that? I meant those people who helped me, but it came out like there was a psychological thing people were going through [thanking those who KNEW who they were].
After the overwhelming success of “Queen of The House,” Miller’s next hit came in the shroud of the Vietnam war. She sang a song entitled “Home of the Brave,” that many country music disc jockeys were weary to play due to its content. Her producer, Joe Allison, grabbed this song from his friend Ronnie Spector, because he knew it was a hit.
She then recorded The Nashville Sound. This album contains her hit “Long Black Limousine.” Miller was again teamed up with Joe Allison. She stated that this was her favorite album and that she loved how glamorous the cover was. She fondly took my album and looked over the songs and cover in admiration, silently reminiscing over her work.
At the beginning of the 1970’s, Miller slightly fell off the radar. She said it was due to a change in record labels and a fuss between her and legendary producer Billy Sherrill, who passed away on August 4th. She thought he was supposed to bring songs and he expected her to bring songs. After the confusion came the “Look at Mine” album. The title track proved to be a smash on the charts along with “If You Think I Love You.”
Miller then said how her and Sherrill became wonderful friends. They cut many songs knowing they could find a hit. He went on to produce her album, He’s So Fine and There’s A Party Goin’ On. Both title songs were hits. These albums also contained her well-known version of “Baby I’m Yours” and “Darling You Can Always Come Back Home.” By the end of the 1970’s, Sherrill and Miller had worked on 8 studio albums.
“He was such a wonderful musician to work with. I just had a ball working with him.”
Although Miller was achieving success any singer would die for, she stated that the 1970’s were not a very good time for her.
“I was working a lot. The 70’s was not a very happy decade. I didn’t get any joy out of them and what I was doing. I had a family back here [Oklahoma], my daughter and my husband, and I missed them so much. I was on the road all the time. So I said ‘Hey, life is too short for this, I’m going home.'”
You’d rather have your family then your music career?
Then Miller returned home to Oklahoma to continue raising her daughter and spend time with her husband, Monty. She had achieved musical success, but she was ready to head back down the red dirt road. Her and her husband went into the horse business, raising more than 90 head of horses at one point. They reared many championship horses and her house is adorned with these trophies.
At this point, Miller became the most proud during the interview. She loved talking about her husband’s love of horses and how he raised and trained them. I told her about how I had read she was a family woman. I loved her response.
“Well why not? They are just gorgeous kids and my husband was one in a million.”
Yet Miller’s carreer still was not over. She went on to record a patriotic album in the 1980’s. She was always told that wouldn’t sell, but she really wanted to make one and it did catch the attention of then presidential hopeful, George H.W. Bush. She went on to sing at many of his campaign stops and at one of his inaugural balls. She then had huge success in the gospel world, being inducted into various gospel hall of fames and working with Dove award-winning producers.
To this day, Jody still performs with the act she is most proud of. It’s called Three Generations and it consists of herself, her grandson Montana, and daughter Robin. They play all the instruments, including piano, bass, drums, and guitar. You could tell by the smile that shinned across Jody’s face, that this was her pride and joy. Those hit records and million sellers are a by-product of what she is doing with her family today.
“We haven’t missed a standing ovation yet,” stated Miller with pride.
After around nearly two hours, Jody and I concluded our interview. She ended our time together by taking a genuine interest in what I wanted to do with my life. I told her about my dreams to be a performer myself and start my own record label here in Oklahoma. She was ecstatic to hear of my dreams, and provided encouragement. She even showed me a book to read to learn more about the industry and how to start my label.
This further set in cement what I thought of Jody after our time spent together. Yes she is an extremely succesful performer, having numerous million sellers and winning numerous awards, but she is still that girl from the plains of Oklahoma. She is a family lady who places God first in her life and is genuinely concerned about others above herself. She is a superstar, but by more than musical means.
I can honestly say, that I will never forget that gracious afternoon that Jody granted me a seat at her dinning room table to just chat. I had asked for an interview, but it became so much more about life, her interest in myself, and just down home country chatter.
Although Jody should be exclaiming “Look At Mine!” with all her accolades, she is doing “just fine” down the country roads of Blanchard. She doesn’t look at her music as her ultimate success, but yet a by-product of her family and faith. Being a musician is a way of life, and she is a true musician who doesn’t strive for money or fame, but to make a difference.
Humility and love were the undertones of this conversation. She taught me confidence is
key, but humility is golden.
I told Jody during our interview that she is a true artist who sings with so much conviction, that she literally paints a picture with her voice.
Jody felt like she didn’t deserve this compliment. In a humble laugh she answered, “I think I’m going to have to use that one.”
She is the true essence of a daughter of the red dirt
Thank God she’s a country girl.