Rod Miller, Disneyland’s Main Street Ragtime Pianist retires

RodcdRod Miller started his career as the Main Street Ragtime Pianist in 1969, the year I was born. Since that time his magical high speed tickling of the ivories have entertained, and this is no exaggeration, hundreds of millions of guests to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. 99.99% of those guests left happy and one of those guests was me.

I remember dancing to his Ragtime music as a child. I only knew one song then, The Entertainer. He didn’t groan when asked to play it but instead launched into a roaring version of the song like it was the only one he would play that day. As an adult who spent a lot of time listening to Rod’s music, I knew that The Entertainer was the number one request. And he still played it with a smile and with style every time (ask him to play the wrong note version!).

Rod doesn’t read sheet music, but instead plays by ear (although using his fingers is easier). He learned to play by slowing down the piano rolls and rehearsing two or three measures at
a time until he mastered the music. Practicing two to six hours a day,
it took him three months to learn his first piece, "I Can’t Give You
Anything But Love." Rod developed a unique style that was part Jo Anne Castle and part Liberace.

He has recorded LP records, including one in the 70s, a very popular CD "Rod Miller Ragtime" recorded in 1995, and an absolutely out of the world CD of "Four-Hand Piano" in 1999 (hard to find unfortunately). He also has a few songs on various Disney Theme Park Soundtracks.

Rod’s expertise extended beyond the piano as well. He was a collector and cultivator of Plumeria plants. At one time he owned over 2000 of them. When they were in bloom he’d bring a baggy of blooms in and set them on the tables. The tropical aroma filled the air and if you closed your eyes you could imagine yourself on the Hawaiian beach with a ragtime piano playing near by. He also took special requests for Lei’s and many of my friends have celebrated special occasions with Rod’s fresh flowers around their necks and heads.

What makes all this even more amazing was that Rod broke his back as a child and had his spine fused. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, but he defeated that prophecy. He shouldn’t have been able to sit and play piano either, but Rod figured out how to do that too. In the end, the 30 plus years of playing 8 hours aday, plus outside gigs and practice, took its toll on Rod’s body and tortured spine. He is retiring now, but not because he wants to, I can assure you.

There is no way for me to sum up in one post what Rod Miller means to me, to Disneyland, and to the world of Ragtime music. He has been Ragtime music’s greatest ambassador, churning out the tunes a breakneck speed to guests at Disneyland. He was always learning new songs right up until the end of his career. He tutored students of Ragtime Piano with whatever time he could spare (a few have followed in his footsteps working at Disney Theme Parks). He has been a great friend to many and could always be counted on to cheer you up when you were down, play that special song of memories for you, or just to make you laugh and feel good with a song.

So all that’s left to say is "Thank you for the beautiful music Rod. You would have made Walt proud."

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21 Responses to Rod Miller, Disneyland’s Main Street Ragtime Pianist retires

  1. John Frost says:

    Sorry for the horrendous grammar in that piece. It was late at night and I’m sad to see Rod retire. There will be more than a few tears shed over his departure.

  2. Jen says:

    Never been to Disneyland or heard of Ron, but I absolutely love the piano player at the Magic Kingdom. 99.9% of the time I’ve been there (and that’s quite a bit), the same guy is there–he’s awesome.

  3. Brian says:

    Wow… I don’t know what to say. Too bad I don’t live in Anaheim anymore and I can’t afford to go half-way across the country on a moments notice… He will be VERY missed. He (and Alan) are one of the few things that would get me to miss “Fantasmic” during summer evenings in the late 90′s…

  4. mice says:

    Noooooooooo! I had not seen him there the last couple times I was there and I wondered what was up. Good for him. Bad for us.

  5. last_writer says:

    This is terribly saddening news to hear, not only because of the effect it will have on Disneyland’s music scene, but that a piece of its history is retiring. We will all miss Rod and his piano skills very much. And I for one hopes that he keeps playing on.

    I only met him once, two years ago. My choir was on a trip to California, and of course we had a day at Disneyland. I don’t recall what he was playing when my sister and I wandered in. All I remember is that he was a very kind, very friendly man who could carry on a conversation and play at the same time. I was learning piano at the time, so seeing such a talented man was a bit stunning.

    Thank you so very much for your music, Mister Miller. We will never forget you. And we won’t let the music ever die.

  6. Drew says:

    Rod was there when I proposed to my wife. Many many hours have been spent with him tapping quarters on his piano’s hinges, cracking wise during many of his greatest hits and performing the closing ceremonies with him. I ALMOST helped with the cover design for four-hand piano at one point and I think I actually have Rod’s home phone number still in my cell. During one of my calls to him he said “Anyhoo!” and I picked it up instantly hehe. Now everyone makes fun of me for it.

    I’m quite a bit more teary now than I’ve been in years. What a man to have known.

    When does he leave Disneyland for good? Has it already happened?

  7. Mark Walsh says:

    I grew up listening to Rod Miller at Disneyland. While studying animation in college, I would fill sketchbooks with people at Disneyland– always sure to run them by Rod for his encouragement. It was so nice of him to support this random kid.

    After relocating north to Pixar, I would often fly down to Anaheim for the sole purpose of seeing Rod. I was always greeted with a smile and an “Everyone, this is Mark. He’s an animator at Pixar and plays like me”. How did he remember everyone’s name??

    Rod inspired me to play ragtime as he has many others. I learned several of his songs by ear (they took a month each) and had a dream of one day quitting animation and devoting my life to ragtime. Which of us havn’t spent hours out there at that beat-up piano, watching Rod run his fingers up and down the ivories whilst directing a tourist to the bathroom! The man was the greatest entertainer I’ve ever seen.

    I’ve kept making the trips to find Rod, wondering if he was ill or worse. Retirement is a relief on one hand but a devastation on the other. I think we all feel a sense of loss. Deep loss. I’m so grateful to that man.

  8. whit says:

    In all due defense, the guy there now, Johnny, is no slouch.

  9. Neil says:

    I too have wondered, hoping Rod was okay after his recent operations. It is a relief and a pleasure to know that he has retired, a very well deserved retirement. It is also a sense of loss, he will definitely be missed. I hope he stops by the Corner once in a while to say hi to his fans.

  10. Greg says:

    I first heard “Ragtime Rod” play in 1972 while I was in high school. I bought his album and wore it out. He had great arrangements of Maple Leaf Rag, How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm and many others. He let me sit in on piano a couple times over the years at Coke Corner. He was a great entertainer and he encouraged my playing. I appreciate what he has done to inspire many of us who love that syncopated music.

  11. Gerald says:

    I just came home from watching the new guy, Johnny, perform on mainstreet tonight. He is great and easy on the eyes ;-) i was looking to see if there was a CD out so i could get it

  12. Stan Long says:

    The CDS are still available at the website. (I am the webmaster)
    Rod still shows up at the park on occasion but I haven’t convinced him to play … Yet
    PS. Johnny is now also retired.. So the mainstreet piano is now split about 6 ways…

    I hope it settles down to 2 or 3
    Stan

  13. Michael Darden says:

    Rod you will be sorely missed. We wish you godspeed during retirement. Rod your playing and personality brought us much joy. Thank you so very much.
    Best to you.

    Michael Darden and Family
    West Hills, California
    (San Fernando Valley)

  14. scott says:

    I remember watching Rod when I was a young child. The rags flowed from Rod’s fingers.
    What a great introduction to ragtime music.

    Why do we consider that music to be “inferior” to classical pieces?
    It’s not.

  15. Rolfe Dennis Barbata says:

    AT HIS SPOT IN DISNEYLAND

    Ragtime was his Forte
    By ear he learned to play
    An just inside a Kingdom
    One could watch his fingers flay
    Rod was at his Upright
    Stroking keys, count Eighty-Eight
    At his spot outside Coke-Corner
    Playing old tunes until quite late
    His fingers touched the Ivory’s
    His hands in constant blur
    His Smile always Beaming
    His Demeanor always Sure
    Ragtime’s still his Forte
    Born an Era long ago
    When time it was uncertain
    And roads uphill did go
    Rod’s kept up his playing
    For nearly Forty years
    Thirty-six I’m thinkin’
    With Applause from all his peers
    A crisp white shirt with stripin’
    A Garter on each sleeve
    A Captivating Talent
    To see you would believe
    In the year before a Seventy
    He began at Disneyland
    And with Magical Evolution
    His playing became Grand
    Rod’s filled our Souls with Memories
    And with Sounds that still return
    To Linger Deep within our minds
    And causing us to Yearn
    Millions have heard his Music
    On perhaps one evening or a day
    Just outside Coke-Corner
    On Main Street U.S.A.
    He was a Master of his Music
    In his Signature Up-Tempo Style
    And when you Heard him Playing
    You just had to stay awhile
    Rod gave all that was within him
    Each day and into night
    With a speed Beyond Believing
    And when he slowed down all was right
    He has a Unique and Life-Long Talent
    In an Era oh so Grand
    And we, his Fans, will Miss him
    At His Spot in Disneyland
    …11172006…
    Dedicated to Mr. Rod Miller
    Ragtime Piano Player of Disneyland
    1969 thru 2006
    By
    Rolfe Dennis Barbata
    The Wizard of Words

  16. john says:

    Great Player. I’m 17, and have been to disneyland only twice. I never did talk to him, but I’m sure he saw me there sitting at a table, eating a hot dog, and listening to him play. As of now I working on my rag skills, and I consider him to be an influence to my career.

    Thanks

  17. Mark Schneider says:

    This is the Son of a woman of worth who found him to be “beconing” her with his wonderful piano playing…but alas, her everlasting soul has found eternal solace in the Lord after being unable to be there with him. Her name was Bonnie Jean McPheeters Schneider and her Husband of 50+ years will profoundly miss her until the inevitable takes place in my lifetime.

  18. jorge says:

    I use to work at the Plaza Pavilion back in 1977-1979, which is right next door to Coke Corner were Rod use to play the piano and it was a blast to listen to him everyday.We would be working and shouting out request for him and he would always smile and play our request, we would stand around and listen and horse play with him even though we were suppose to be working. I remember one time he had one us still in costume and “on stage” sit next to him and play a duet it was great. I think it was against policy but he didn’t care. I left the company but everytime I came back to the park I would look him up just to listen and say Hi, years later I took my daughter to see the “piano player” and he told her he still remeber me and how I would stand around and listen and not work. He was the best

  19. Jun says:

    Wow really? Man, it’s been a while since I last saw him play. Whenever I was there I always made a point to see him…I four times a year. I am a disney kid. what can I say. I was five when I first went to Disney and had been going ever since. In college, I shared a house with friends and we all got an annual pass three years in a row. Whenever we were bored, we went there, even if it just meant a couple of hours to go to downtown disney. I think i was twenty-four when I last went. I really will miss him. Is anyone playing in his place though?

    Here’s a thought: I believe that him playing was a part of the magic of Disney.

  20. Andy Fielding says:

    I was one of the young musicians Rod inspired. A year later, I was playing at pizza parlors (this was back when they had live music!). A couple of years after that, I was fortunate enough to be playing piano not only at Disneyland, but Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland too.

    Though I’ve branched out into other styles since, I’ll never forget the electric effect Rod and his ragtime had on me. It’s fun to think about the hundreds (thousands?) of other young people Rod inspired to play, just by showing them what was possible.

    It’s also important to mention that Rod was, and no doubt still is, a complete NUT—witty, wacky, flirtatious, baffling, the whole bit. He probably could’ve entertained people by just sitting there at the piano, not playing a note, and making some of his hilarious faces. He’s unique.

    Thanks, Rod.

  21. Dave Butler says:

    What an amazing guy!! My first trip to Disneyland was in 1955 and I’ve been there hundreds of times since. Ever since Rod started at the park, his playing and personality has been part of the intrigue. He always made us feel like “old friends”. Truly someone who can’t be replaced…too bad the people at Disney didn’t recognize how much a part of Disneyland Rod was – when he “retired” part of Disneyland was retired with him. If Rod is performing anywhere, I would certainly like to know – it would be worth a trip to see him.

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