Forgotten Artists: Jody Miller
Jody Miller is best remembered for “Queen of The House,” an answer song to Roger Miller’s “King of The Road.” This is unfortunate since Miller was a top-notch talent with vocal chops equal or superior to any female singer performing today and does not deserve to be tagged as a novelty singer. Like her contemporary Connie Smith, family was more important to Miller than her career so she shut down her career at several points.
Born Myrna Joy Miller in Phoenix, AZ, on November 29, 1941, Miller grew up in Oklahoma, where at age 14, inspired by folk singer Joan Baez, she learned to play guitar. Soon after, she joined a folk trio and began performing at a local coffeehouse. Lou Gottlieb, a member of leading folk trio the Limelighters, heard her sing and offered to help her get a recording contract–provided she move to Los Angeles. Miller initially declined, as she had recently married, but eventually she and her husband moved to California, finding work at local venues and making television appearances. Her photogenic qualities and dynamic voice soon led to appearances on such shows as Shindig, Hullabaloo and American Bandstand. Television star Dale Robertson (Tales of Wells Fargo) arranged an audition with Capitol Records, which signed Miller while suggesting that she change her name from Myrna to the more modern sounding “Jody.”
Jody’s breakthrough arrived in 1965 in the form of “Queen of the House,” which reached #5 on the country charts and #12 on the pop charts. During this period (and despite recording a tribute album to Buck Owens), she was cast more as a pop singer than as a country singer and toured Hawaii with The Beach Boys, entertained the troops with Bob Hope, and performed shows with acts ranging from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to Don Rickles. Her follow up singles to “Queen of the House” were “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” and the protest song “Home of The Brave,” both minor pop hits in 1965 (neither charting country). During the latter half of the ’60s, she continued to release albums and singles on Capitol–all of them good–with minimal commercial success.
Toward the end of the 1960s Jody left California to return to her Oklahoma ranch to spend more time with her family. After a few years of semi-retirement, she began recording with Billy Sherrill at Epic Records in Nashville. This period produced her finest recordings, with songs and production that really allowed her to display her talents as a country songbird. During this period, Miller had her greatest success with country covers of pop hits from the decade prior. Possessed of a voice that was simultaneously sultry, sexy and country, she turned such pop fodder as “Look At Mine” (Petula Clark), “He’s So Fine” (Chiffons), “Baby I’m Yours” (Barbara Lewis), “Be My Baby” (Ronettes), “To Know Him Is To Love Him” (The Teddy Bears), “House of The Rising Son” (traditional blues song), “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin), and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Carol King/Shirelles) into country recordings. A deeply religious and patriotic person, she also lassoed Johnny Paycheck into a rousing duet version of gospel classic “Let’s All Go Down To The River,” which charted at #13.
Miller also had hits with new material. Particularly noteworthy was the Glenn Sutton-penned “There’s A Party Going On.” Since Sutton was, at the time, Lynn Anderson’s husband, it seems odd that Jody was given the song to record for single release. Anderson recorded the song on an album, but it is clear that the song was made for Jody Miller.
For whatever reason, Miller’s run of hits lasted only until 1974, at which point, her records, while still excellent, were lucky to reach the Top 40. Her last Top 40 hit came in 1977 with “Darling, You Can Always Come Back Home,” but by and large her career had stalled. In 1979 her contract with Epic expired and she chose to retire to Oklahoma to raise her family.
Jody Miller has been content to perform and record sporadically over the years–mostly gospel and patriotic tunes. She was inducted into the International Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Country Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1998. Her song “Supreme Decision” was a #1 Gospel hit as recently as 1999.
If I had to compare her to a current day singer in terms of vocal prowess it would be Martina McBride, although McBride’s voice does not have the depth and power that Miller possessed during her heyday. Although she won a Grammy in 1965 for Top Female Country Vocalist, since she did not actively self-promote her career she remains underappreciated by the country music press and community. It did not help that her peak coincided with the peak years of Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Connie Smith. Dolly Parton also emerged during this period, hitting her artistic peak, if not her commercial peak.
Jody Miller did not write her own material, but she was such an exceptional interpreter of songs that the songs she sang seem to have been written for her. Supremely talented, Jody Miller deserves to be remembered.
|1964||He Walks Like A Man||#66 pop||Capitol|
|1965||Queen Of The House||#5 (#12 pop)||Capitol|
|1965||Home of the Brave||#25 pop||Capitol|
|1965||Silver Threads and Golden Needles||#30 pop||Capitol|
|1968||Long Black Limousine||#73||Capitol|
|1970||Look At Mine||#21||Epic|
|1971||He’s So Fine||#5 (#53 pop)||Epic|
|1971||Baby, I’m Yours||#5 (#91 pop)||Epic|
|1971||Be My Baby||#15||Epic|
|1971||If You Think I Love You Now||#4||Epic|
|1972||There’s a Party Goin’ On||#13||Epic|
|1972||Let’s All Go Down to the River||#13||Epic|
|1972||To Know Him Is To Love Him||#18||Epic|
|1973||Darlin’, You Can Always Come Back Home||#5||Epic|
|1973||The House of the Rising Sun||#29||Epic|
|1975||Will You Love Me Tomorrow?||#69||Epic|
|1976||When the New Wears Off Our Love||#25||Epic|
|1976||Ashes of Love||#48||Epic|
|1978||(I Wanna) Love My Life Away||#67||Epic|
|1979||Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me||#97||Epic|
|1999||Supreme Decision||#1 (gospel)||MacroMusic|
Other than a long forgotten folk album in 1963 on RCA, Miller’s vinyl output is either on Capitol (1960s) or Epic (1970s). Most of these albums follow the Nashville formula of a hit or two, several covers and some filler. Her exceptional vocal prowess makes all of them worth obtaining.
- Queen of The House (Capitol -1965) contains her title hit (35 Country, #12 Pop) and a great recording of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles”
- Home of the Brave (Capitol – 1965)
- Great Hits of Buck Owens (Capitol – 1966) features lively covers of you-know-who’s biggest hits
Nashville Sound (Capitol – 1968) has Jody exploring some folk-country songs such as “Urge For Going,” “It’s My Time” and a killer verison of “The Long Black Limousine”
- Look At Mine (Epic – 1971)
- He’s So Fine (Epic – 1971)
- There’s A Party Goin’ On (Epic 1972)
- Good News (Epic – 1973)
- House of The Rising Sun (Epic – 1974)
- Country Girl (Epic – 1975)
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow (Epic – 1976)
- Here’s Jody (Epic – 1977)
Jody Miller charted a total of 29 songs (27 country and two pop) from 1965 to 79. Twenty-four of these songs are on Jody Miller Anthology, issued in 2000 on the now-defunct Renaissance label. This is the best set yet released. It may be available used.
The Belgian label Marginal Records issued a CD in 1998 titled Home of The Brave, which has 29 tracks taken from three Capitol albums (none from the Buck Owens salute, however).
Unfortunately, neither of the above CDs will be easy to find. Jody Miller does have an official website which has several CDs available for sale. While most of the available titles are either religious or patriotic material, she does have a disc titled Jody Miller’s Greatest Hits that contains remakes of her 10 biggest hits. It’s not bad, but the originals, of course, are better. The website itself is very nice and contains audio and video clips of Jody performing.
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