Along with Billy Hill and Carson Robison, Bob Miller was among the pioneering
professional songwriters who specialized in what was then called hillbilly
music. Miller wrote some of the biggest hits of the 1930s and '40s and was also
a prolific recording artist.
Born and raised in Memphis, Miller was a formally trained musician who was
working professionally as a pianist at age 10. In his early twenties, he
performed in the dance band that sailed on the Mississippi River aboard the
showboat Idlewild. He also worked in the Memphis nightclub Dreamland and
opened his own Beale Street Music Shop.
Miller moved to New York in 1922. He initially worked as a copyist and arranger
for Irving Berlin Music. He formed his own publishing company in 1933, and also
worked as an A&R man and record producer for the Columbia and Okeh
Bob Miller has more than a thousand registered song copyrights, although many
of these are public-domain folk songs, Christmas carols and nineteenth-century
Stephen Foster chestnuts that he arranged, rather than wrote. But he did truly
compose a number of songs that became enormous country favorites.
His biggest early hit was the prison song "Twenty-One Years." During the
Depression, this song was so popular and was sung by so many artists that
Miller wrote a number of follow-up songs to it, including "Twenty-One Years,
Part Two," "New Twenty-One Years," "Answer to Twenty-One Years," "Woman's
Answer to Twenty-One Years," "After Twenty-One Years," "The End of Twenty-One
Years" and "The Last of the Twenty-One Year Prisoner."
Similarly, "Seven Years with the Wrong Woman" was so omnipresent in
Depression-era country music that it also spawned sequels. These included,
inevitably, "Seven Years with the Wrong Man" and, humorously, "Seven Beers with
the Wrong Woman" and "Seven Beers with the Wrong Man."
Perhaps his most enduring song from the Depression was the sentimental "Rocking
Alone in an Old Rocking Chair." It is still sung by folk and country performers
Miller's activity in the 1940s was no less impressive. His million-selling
"There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere," recorded by Elton Britt, was
one of the biggest hits of World War II, and "Chime Bells," also by Britt,
became a yodeling standard.
Bob Miller wrote and recorded under a number of pseudonyms, including Shelby
Darnell, Bob Kackley, Lawrence Wilson, Dinny Dimes and Trebor Rellim—which was
his name spelled backwards.