Willie, Kris, and Merle Come Together on “Old Friends”

A new album honoring the late songwriter Roger Miller features three of country music’s finest

Roger Miller was one of Nashville’s first jokesters, a songwriter with a quick wit, a wink of the eye, and a penchant for puns. But it wasn’t all laughs—Miller paired lighter fare with songs of melancholy and sorrow that made for a catalog of unmatched breadth and influence. Several of his songs in the 1960s—including “Dang Me,” “Chug-a-Lug,” and the monster hit “King of the Road”—started out on the country charts but made their way to pop playlists, making Miller one of the few artists to cross over to other genres.

Photo: Courtesy of Shorefire Media

Roger Miller in 1965.

But for all his success, Miller, who passed away in 1992, never seemed to get the respect he was due. The upcoming tribute album King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller aims to put the spotlight back on one of country music’s legends. The album is loaded with hit-makers like Ringo Starr, Loretta Lynn, Brad Paisley, Eric Church, and Kacey Musgraves, as well as duets from Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss and Jamey Johnson paired with Emmylou Harris.

The album also brings together a trio of legends by the names of Willie, Merle, and Kris. They recorded a version of Miller’s “Old Friends” specifically for this album in April 2016—making it one of Haggard’s last recordings before his death. Nelson had previously recorded a full album of Roger Miller’s songs (1982’s Old Friends) including the title track with Miller (the two were close pals) and Ray Price. In the new version, Nelson takes Miller’s mournful lead vocal part and turns it into a weary, contemplative examination of lives lived to the fullest.

Old friends, pitching pennies in the park
Playing croquet ’til it’s dark, old friends
Mmm… old friends, swapping lies of lives and loves
Pitching popcorn to the doves, old friends

Roger Miller: King of the Road is out August 31 and Garden & Gun is thrilled to premiere “Old Friends” from Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristofferson.