The Borrowings of Bob Miller, Hillbilly Music’s Premier Event Songwriter


Joel Roberts


Bob Miller is known as one of the most prolific early country songwriters, but it is not as widely known that he was a blues composer in the 1920s whose songs were recorded by several of the classic female blues singers from the early part of that decade—Clara Smith, Viola McCoy, Lizzie Miles, and others. He is also thought to have written leftist political material, but these political songs spoke more to common sentiments during the Great Depression than any true political position. Miller’s diverse songwriting career resulted from his creative output being influenced by the direction of commercial music. His first “hillbilly” song, “Eleven Cent Cotton, Forty Cent Meat,” became a Depression-era hit that was recorded by multiple artists, including himself. While he did not write more than seven thousand songs as he claimed, he did write a high number. Part of what contributed to his large catalog was that he was adept at tweaking preexisting songs, and much of his output was modeled after other songs. This study analyzes and discusses the commercially influenced direction of his career as well as his possibly misascribed political leanings.

Publication Title

Journal of Popular Music Studies