The title of this song is an allusion to hoboes and tramps, who were known as "knights of the road." The song tells of the happy hobo lifestyle, with few creature comforts but plenty of freedom.
On Roger Miller's website, it explains that Miller wrote this song over a 6-week span, beginning on a 1964 Midwest TV tour. He wrote the first verse when he saw a "Trailers for Sale or Rent" sign on the road outside Chicago. A few weeks later, he bought a statuette of a hobo in Boise, Idaho airport gift shop and stared at it until he had completed the song.
Miller has given at least one other explanation for how he came up with the song, however. When he was the co-host on the Mike Douglas Show August 11, 1969, he revealed that the idea for "King Of The Road" came when he was driving in Indiana and saw a sign offering trailers for sale or rent, and it stuck in his mind. Said Miller, "I was doing a show in a place you have probably never heard of called Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and I saw a statue of a hobo in a cigar shop were I was staying. I purchased it and took it to my room and wrote the song."
So we know there was a sign and a hobo statue, but where they came from is unclear. Miller would sometimes introduce the song by saying, "Here's a song I wrote on a rainy night in Boise, Idaho," which is much more identifiable for American listeners (especially in Nashville) than Kitchener, Ontario. Miller's widow says that she's not sure, and the Kitchener story could very well be true.
To further complicate matters, Nashville lore has it that Miller drew inspiration from the "Trailers for sale or rent" sign at Dunn's Trailer Court, where he lived when he moved from Amarillo to Nashville with his wife and three kids. This was a popular place for aspiring Country singers on tight budgets: Hank Cochran and Willie Nelson both stayed there as well.
MIller's scribbling of King of the Road now hangs in a shadowbox at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The song won 1965 Grammy awards for Best Contemporary Rock 'N Roll Single, Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Best Country & Western Recording, Best Country Vocal Performance, and Best Country Song.
Roger Miller opened two "King of the Road" Motor Inns in the early '70s - one in Nashville, and another in Valdosta, Georgia. Unlike the cheap digs Miller sings about in his song, however, these Motels were billed as "luxury accommodations" and had a very modern motif. At the Nashville location, a music club on the top floor became a popular spot for many local musicians to perform. Ronnie Milsap played there many times, and Miller would often play as well.
This is the most popular song to mention the state of Maine in the lyric ("destination Bangor, Maine"). A contender for #2 is the 2009 hit "Out Last Night
" by Kenny Chesney, where he sings:There were girls from Argentina and Arkansas
Maine, Alabama, and Panama