Ned Miller: The Shy Man Behind “From a Jack to a King”

From a Jack to a King

In the first week of May 2016, it was announced that singer-songwriter Ned Miller had passed away at the age of 90 in Medford, Oregon. Miller had written such songs as “Dark Moon,” “Do What You Do Well,” and “Invisible Tears.” But his best-known song was “From a Jack to a King,” which in 1963 went to number six on the Billboard pop chart (and number two on the country chart). The song also was covered by artists like Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley.

Miller’s version of “From a Jack to a King” was initially released in 1957 and it initially did not do well. But a record company rereleased it in 1962, and for some reason the song about a man’s happiness at finding the right woman caught on the second time.

But Miller — who was born in Utah as Henry Ned Miller on April 12, 1925 — never enjoyed the limelight. He did little touring to support “From a Jack to a King,” and he often suffered stage fright. He would sometimes ask friends to perform under his name, and he eventually stopped performing altogether because of his shyness. He stopped recording in 1970, relieved to be out of the music business.

Another popular song that Miller wrote was “Dark Moon,” which has been recorded by Gale Storm, Chris Isaak, and Bing Crosby. Below is Isaac’s version of “Dark Moon,” which he released in 1993 as a single. The song later appeared on the album Best of Chris Isaak (2006).

Because of Miller’s preference for avoiding the spotlight, it seems fitting that his death was announced to the public nearly two months after he passed away on March 18, 2016. But we are lucky that for a period this shy man shared a little of himself with us.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Merle Haggard: “Kern River”

    Kern River

    On April 6, 2016, Merle Haggard passed away from complications from pneumonia on his 79th birthday in the state where he was born, California. Along with the likes of Johnny Cash and George Jones, Haggard was one of real legends of country music.

    In my younger years, I learned of Haggard’s music through songs like 1969’s “Okie from Muskogee” and 1970’s “Fightin’ Side of Me,” which may have made me resistant at first due to the apparent political nature of those songs. But eventually as an adult, I fell in love with his music, his voice, and his Bakersfield influence. I found fondness for the above songs and fell in love with many others, like “Tulare Dust” and “They’re Tearing the Labor Camps Down.”

    Heck, the man not only did a tribute album to Jimmy Rodgers, he learned the fiddle just so he could do a tribute album to Bob Wills, The Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (1970). He was the real deal, both as a singer and as a songwriter.

    One of my favorite Merle Haggard songs is “Kern River.” The lyrics written by Haggard tell a mysterious and haunting tale about loss and regret. In it, the singer is an old man in the mountains looking back on his life and a river from his youth, Kern River, which he will never swim again. He recalls that “It was there I first met her / It was there that I lost my best friend.” And it is only later in the song where you realize that the “her” was also his best friend who got swept away by the river.

    The most beautiful line in the song, for me, is in the chorus. The singer now lives on a lake, and he laments, “And I may drown in still water / But I’ll never swim Kern River again.” Something about that line breaks my heart every time, just the way my heart is breaking today at the loss of the country great.

    In this video, Merle Haggard performs “Kern River” on a country talk show in 1984 before the song was even released the following year. Check it out.

    What is your favorite Merle Haggard song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog

    Cory Wells

    One of the highlights of my childhood was when my family would get to go shopping at the hometown G.C. Murphy variety store in Ohio. It was there that I bought my first records, 45-rpm singles that I would play on a small portable record player over and over again. One of the early records I bought was “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night. So, I was saddened to learn when Cory Wells passed away in October 2015 at the age of 74 in Dunkirk, New York.

    I would later discover and love other Three Dog Night songs, but I suppose it is not surprising that a kid would first be attracted to a song with the opening line, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.”

    According to Wikipedia, some band members felt that the song written by Hoyt Axton was a silly kid’s song.  But either way the song topped the charts when it was released in 1971. Although Wells sang backing vocals on “Joy to the World” while Chuck Negron sang lead, the voices of the whole band rose to make the song memorable.

    Cory Wells did sing lead on other songs for the band, like another song written by Hoyt Axton, “Never Been to Spain.” When Wells hits the high notes, it sends shivers down your spine.

    Cory Wells also hits the big notes in Three Dog Night’s version of “Try a Little Tenderness,” which was made famous by Otis Redding. This performance is from a local Philadelphia show in the band’s earlier years.

    Finally, in the video below, Cory Wells answers questions from audience members.  One question leads to an explanation about how Three Dog Night got its name. The video is taken from a Continuing Education program entitled “Woodstock: The Music of the First Amendment” hosted by the Robert H. Jackson Center on April 26, 2011.

    Cory Wells and Three Dog Night will long be remembered for great songs like Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” “Shambala,” “Eli’s Coming,” and “Never Been to Spain.” But for me, it all began with a 45 rpm on a portable record player, listening to a song about a bullfrog who had some mighty fine wine.

    What is your favorite Three Dog Night song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    B.B. King: “Why I Sing the Blues”

    kingbb

    The legendary B.B. King passed away last night (May 14) in Las Vegas, Nevada at age 89. As King’s website notes, “the thrill is gone.”

    Much will continue to be written about King’s guitar playing and his influence on music. For me, he has always been there since I first discovered the blues, and he helped introduce me to many other blues musicians from the past and present. He left us many great songs and albums, such as one of the great live albums of all time, Live at the Regal (1965).

    When I first picked up an electric guitar, I did not want to play “Stairway to Heaven,” I wanted to play B.B. King’s great opening riff of “The Thrill is Gone.” And when I think of the way that the blues is a music of comfort that brings joy through troubled times, I cannot help thinking of B.B. King’s performances of “Why I Sing the Blues.” As the singer recounts his troubles but keeps on singing, it somehow never fails to make me smile. Below he performs “Why I Sing the Blues” live in Africa.

    RIP B.B.

    What is your favorite B.B. King performance? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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  • Ned Miller: The Shy Man Behind “From a Jack to a King”
  • Merle Haggard: “Kern River”
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  • Ronny Spears: “North of Mexico”
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    RIP Percy Sledge: “When a Man Loves a Woman”

    Percy Sledge, best known for his performance of the great song “When a Man Loves a Woman,” has passed away at the age of 74. Although there is some difference of opinion about who deserves the most credit for writing the song, Sledge’s performance is what made the song one of the greatest recordings of all time. RIP.

    Not surprisingly, the song often appeared in films, including The Big Chill (1983), The Crying Game (1992), When a Man Loves a Woman (1994), and Platoon (1987). But Percy Sledge also recorded other outstanding songs. One of my favorites is “Take Time to Know Her.”

    RIP Mr. Sledge.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Ned Miller: The Shy Man Behind “From a Jack to a King”
  • Merle Haggard: “Kern River”
  • Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog
  • B.B. King: “Why I Sing the Blues”
  • Ronny Spears: “North of Mexico”
  • Mork and Happier Days
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)