Positives: Interesting original artifacts, entertaining hostesses, nominal cost
Negatives: Depressed surroundings, inside photography not allowed
A Star is Made -
The 1960's were a time of great upheaval in America. Crowds marched through cities for social change while space-age technologies began to revolutionize the way people lived and worked.
Musical styles changed tremendously during this period. New sounds from young artists surged to the forefront. Even staid, old country music split into different camps, including crossover styles that appealed to a wider audience.
Roger Miller was one of the artists responsible for moving country music from bar rooms to living rooms. An unassuming everyman from a hardscrabble farm south of Erick, Oklahoma, Miller used his quick wit and disarming style to promote a melancholy-yet-happy sound in studios, stages and across the airwaves.
Miller was master storyteller who learned to sing and play guitar. His cleverly-crafted lyrics accompanied by jaunty tunes appealed to many mid-century Americans.
At first glance, rural Erick, Oklahoma seems an unlikely incubator for a great entertainer. It certainly doesn't seem like the kind of place that would produce a media star, let alone two. But it did. (Sheb Wooley, a popular "singing cowboy" from Erick preceded Miller onto the movie and music scene.)
Ironically, Erick was probably an ideal place to grow of Miller's talent. The town's relative isolation provided experiences cities and suburbs could not, and gave him time to reflect on the nature of "things."
These days, only people of a certain age are familiar with Roger Miller's music. Almost 50 years have passed since his heyday. At the height of Miller's career, it was not uncommon to hear one of his tunes on the radio every hour...but that was a long time ago.
Day at the Museum -
Erick has seen better days. Much better days, in fact. But it's typical of a lot of communities along "the Mother Road." Unused buildings and empty lots characterize the commercial district. Residential neighborhoods seem to have fared a bit better, but only a bit.
Prominently located at the focal point of "downtown Erick," the long, narrow museum building sits on the southeast corner of the junction of Highways 66 and 30...aka Roger Miller Boulevard and Sheb Wooley Avenue. Externally, the structure is clean, intact and in good repair, which is more than can be said about some buildings in the area.
A combination of parallel and head-in parking is available at no charge immediately outside the front door. Don't be surprised if someone parks the wrong direction. During our visit, local residents observed very casual parking guidelines.
The museum's interior is even cleaner than the outside. It's spacious, bright, and the day we visited, cool...despite temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I did notice one cracked window pane, but overall the place seemed in good condition.
The curators, both delightful and knowledgeable ladies, met us at the front door. They provided a bit of background information, invited us to watch a feature-length documentary video already playing in the back room, then left us alone to view exhibits around the room.
Occasionally one of them would return to interject a few fun facts about a display and to ask if we had questions, but they were never a nuisance. When we did ask question, one would provide a complete and expert answer.
We learned the museum only contains a part of Miller's complete collection. His widow regularly brings different Items to exhibit. Artifacts on display during our visit included original manuscripts, guitars, costumes, album covers, even gold records.
There were many photos of Miller with notable celebrities of the era and a sizable poster proclaiming his involvement with "Big River", a stage production based on Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
My favorite pieces were an original scribbling which became Miller's hallmark song, "King of the Road" and the statue of a hobo that inspired the lyrics. Miller saw the statue in an airport gift shop in Boise, Idaho while awaiting departure. He immediately bought it and wrote the song's first stanza on an airline credit card application.
After a lengthy periods we eventually reached the back room and watched the last part of the video documentary. It was well produced, and featured several clips recorded immediately prior to his untimely death from lung cancer in 1992 (at the age of 56.) Amazingly, I remembered a few clips from my childhood, including one from the Bobby Goldsboro show about 45 years ago.
The Bottom Line -
Roger Miller was quirky, witty, charming, talented...and a musical genius. In one sense he was independent, spontaneously creating music in his own style. In another, he was very dependent, as he loved the attention lavished by his audiences.
Different facets of this complex entertainer can easily seen through exhibits inside this museum. It's too bad this attraction is located in such a remote and unkempt community. But Erick, by virtue of the environment it afforded both Miller and Wooley during their formative years is probably the best spot for it.
We knew before traveling to Erick pictures could not be taken inside the museum. Although not sure of the reason...it could be a combination of factors...that restriction diminished our experience. Even a wide view of the interior would be a nice way to remember the visit and share memories with friends.
You don't have to be middle-aged or a country music fan to enjoy this attraction. It's neat to see bonafide gold records and photos of other entertainers of the twentieth century.
Although some references in his music are outdated...one line from "King of the Road" says "rooms to let, fifty cents"...the humanity his songs convey is timeless. This museum reveals much about a master who blazed a trail for others who followed. It's certainly worth an hour or two out of a long trip, and qualifies as a destination attraction for folks within a 300 mile radius.
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