Country fans will recognize this vintage tune by Roger Miller. You have to go way back, say 1964, when Miller, who wrote it, sang about a “man of means by no means” who proclaims himself with humor and a bit of cynicism “King of the Road.” And if The Sacred Dog, my next book out, had a soundtrack, this song would be at the top of the list.
Certainly King of the Road is a favorite for one of the characters, Monk Stevens who plays it on the jukebox at The Sacred Dog — a bar situated in a hilltown that’s a gathering place for locals.
Monk likes to drop the coins in the slot (the story is set in 1984) and sing along typically after he’s had a few beers.
Truthfully, The Sacred Dog is a dark book about a bad feud between two men. One is Frank Hooker, the owner of The Sacred Dog. The other is Al Kitchen, a local with a rather feral upbringing. Frank blames Al for his brother’s death and won’t believe it’s not true. Of course, Al resents it. There’s a whole lot more to this story, but I will let you know about it in future posts. By the way, this book is not part of my Isabel Long Mystery Series although the setting is familiar — the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts.
While The Sacred Dog may be dark, I also wanted to portray the bar, its patrons, and owner realistically. Of course, there is humor, whether it’s the antics of the regulars or what comes out of their mouths. I believe this helps to heighten the book’s drama.
When I began this novel, I bought a CD of Best of Roger Miller — His Greatest Hits. Well that was 22 years ago. Now I could hear it on Spotify. But I listened to that song, plus the others like Chug-A-Lugand Do-Wacka-Do. But King of the Road did it for me. It described a carefree life the people at Frank’s bar only imagined.
There is also something serious to consider here. In 1964, the man singing the song was considered a “hobo,” a wandering person who picked up work, often menial, wherever it could be found. Today, those people are called homeless, who live that way for a variety of reasons. I doubt if many feel the same way as Miller’s King of the Road.
I wanted to quote lines from the song in my book, but there are copyright issues. So, I try to give readers a feeling for the song which plays more than a few times at The Dog, which is what the locals call Frank’s bar. Here, I found a video on YouTube that will give you an idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4c7D0YsgnrE
And here is an excerpt from The Sacred Dog in which King of the Road is featured:
The jukebox played King of the Road by Roger Miller. Monk Stevens, who sat on one side of his Uncle Early, got going when he heard the finger-snapping, fiddle-strumming start. He mouthed the words he knew by heart, half-singing the lyrics along with Roger, but his voice got louder. Early tapped the beat with the bottom edge of his lighter and grinned at his nephew, Monk, who used his fingertips to mimic the sound. Frank enjoyed the show. It was an easy song to sing, and though none of them led as carefree a life as Roger Miller described in his lyrics, they fancied they understood its true grit.
“Hey, Monk. Sing next to the window, and I’ll help you out,” Early joked as he lifted his bottle.
Conversations stopped with each clap of thunder, and when they resumed, many talked about the storm and compared it to others they experienced.
“I remember the time I was out in the middle of my cornfield when the storm hit,” one drinker said. “I thought for sure I was a gonna. I tried to make myself as low to the ground I could.”
“That must’ve taken some doin’,” his buddy said.
“Aw, shut up.”
Frank had a theory that every drunk in a bar was either an authority or a sad sack.
“Which one are you?” Frank once asked Early.
“I’d say a little of both,” Early replied. “Why don’t you get me another beer and a shot.”
The lights went out, and Roger Miller’s voice from the jukebox slowed unnaturally. The racket from the pinball machines petered out. Frank, who had already put a large flashlight on the counter, snapped it on. There were a few wisecracks, but most people were quiet as Frank went into the backroom to collect candles and a kerosene lantern that had belonged to his dad.
“It’s okay. Calm down, girl,” he told the dog, who whimpered beneath the counter.
Frank arranged candle stubs on Budweiser bottles and raised the globe of the lantern to light its wick.
“Those aren’t gonna last long if this storm keeps up,” Early said.
But Frank didn’t answer. He and everybody else in the place turned when a truck stopped in The Dog’s parking lot, and a man moved across its headlights toward the bar’s front door. Hippie Joe, his long hair plastered to his head and neck, stood drenched as lightning lit the space behind him.
“Accident,” he shouted. “Call it in. A car hit that large maple on the curve near Cole Road. Tree was down, and the driver didn’t see it. His car’s wedged under. Some people stopped to help him. He’s hurt, but I dunno how much. Big mess. Tree took a couple of poles with it.”
Frank, who was on the phone to the power company, relayed quickly what Joe said before he called the emergency dispatch. The volunteer firefighters in the bar drained their beers and were out the door before their beepers sounded. Frank handed the phone to Joe, who gave dispatch more information about the accident before he followed the others outside.
Early shook a finger.
“The tree warden wanted to take that maple ’cause it was leaning a little more each year,” he said. “The selectmen were ready. They even held one of those tree hearings, but old lady Smith who owns the property next to it raised a fuss. So they all agreed to let it be.” He looked about ready to spit. “And then this happens.”
Frank half-listened to Early. His mind was elsewhere, on his brother’s open casket, Wes, only in his twenties, lying there in the suit he wore to his high school graduation. Frank’s ex-wife was a month away from giving birth to their daughter, but even that joyous event didn’t help his parents recover from their younger son’s death. Their grief was like a dry wind that drew life from them, and though they were only middle-aged, they died within months of each other a few years later.
He recalled how his brother’s buddies who came to the wake seemed scared, as if his death could be contagious. Wes was a little foolish, but he would have turned out okay, Frank was certain. He watched Al joke with one of the ballplayer’s girlfriends, a well-built blonde whose head rocked forward as she laughed. It should’ve been somebody else who died that night. It should’ve been Al.
LINK: The Sacred Dog will be released by darkstroke books on Dec. 27, but it’s ready for Kindle readers to pre-order. Please do as it helps a great deal with ratings. Thank you. Here I will make it easy with the link: https://mybook.to/thesacreddog
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, that’s my CD of Best of Roger Miller — His Greatest Songs.