The trademark silver beard and husky, gravelly voice are gone forever. Kenneth Ray Rogers, known the world over as Kenny Rogers has left a void for all music lovers.
Like most in my generation, who grew on a staple music diet of pop, country, ballad, jazz & soft rock, Kenny Rogers was that cross over artist who did country, pop & ballad in such an effortless manner. A Houston boy, Kenny was the fourth of eight children in the Rogers household and took an interest in singing while quite young and as a teenager joined a doo-wop recording group who called themselves “The Scholars”. At age 19, Kenny recorded “That Crazy Feeling” for a small Houston label, Carlton Records, and, he played bass with the jazz groups of Bobby Doyle and Kirby Stone.
His music career began to take shape. His early professional years were stylistically eclectic. After moving to Los Angeles in 1966, he joined the folk-pop unit the New Christy Minstrels and then splintered off with others in the group to form “The First Edition”. Their first big soft-rock hit, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” hit #6 on the US charts, (Mel Tillis’ downbeat song about the faithless wife of a handicapped Vietnam vet), while later successes included “Something’s Burning”, “Just Dropped In”, “Tell It All Brother” and “Reuben James”. The husky-framed singer’s ingratiating personality and sensual gravel tones soon took center stage and the group eventually renamed themselves “Kenny Rogers and the First Edition”.
The band’s fortunes began to wane in the early ’70s, and Rogers signed a solo deal with UA in 1976. He struck pay dirt immediately with “Lucille,” an absorbing vignette about a barroom encounter with a disillusioned woman and her estranged husband. The number became Rogers’ first No. 1 country hit and reached No. 5 on the national pop chart. It also scored Rogers his first Grammy, for best male country vocal performance. Incidentally, his mother’s name was Lucille, though the song was no reflection of her life.
By the end of the ’70s, he notched five more No. 1 solo country singles. The two most famous ones were The Gambler & The Coward of The County. Each inspired a popular TV movie; Rogers would portray Brady Hawkes, the protagonist of “The Gambler,” in a series of telepics that ran through 1994. At the dawn of the ‘80s, as outlaws and urban cowboys staked their turf on either side of the country and pop fence, Kenny Rogers bridged the divide and focussed on romantic balladry. “Lady” and “Islands in the Stream” (the latter one of many duets with frequent singing partner Dolly Parton) consolidated his standing as country’s biggest crossover attraction. With Sheena Easton, he sang Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” and it went on to become No. 6 on the pop chart & ruled the country charts. Kenny Rogers had 23 top 10 country hits during the decade, five of which crossed to the pop side.
AS the younger generation of country musicians flexing a less countrypolitan style supplanted him, Kenny made his last toplining appearance in a pair of telepics as reformed gambler Jack MacShayne in 1994. In 1999, he notched a final No. 1 country hit, “Buy Me a Rose,” with Billy Dean and Alison Krauss.
From the mid-’90s, he maintained an active touring schedule, till his health failed him in 2015. Kenny Rogers was a multi-faceted personality and increasingly turned his attention to various entrepreneurial enterprises, opening a chain of fast-food chicken outlets, Kenny Rogers Roasters, and a Sprint car manufacturing firm, Gamblers Chassis.
Here are some Kenny Rogers trivia that will interest his fans:
- He was a well-respected photographer & was invited to the White House to create a portrait of First Lady Hillary Clinton for the 1993 CBS-TV special, A Day in the Life of Country Music (1993).
- Named “Favorite Singer of All Time” in a 1986 “PM Magazine/USA Today” poll.
- Voted “Favorite Male Vocalist” in 1989 by “People” magazine readers.
- In March 1999 was awarded the Recording Industry Association of America’s prestigious Diamond Award, celebrating sales of more than 10 million albums for his “Greatest Hits” album.
- His high school vocal group’s original song “That Crazy Feeling” landed them a spot on television’s American Bandstand (1952).
Co-host, with Lorianne Crook, of an infomercial for TimeLife’s “Superstars of Country” collection of country music .
His duet “Islands in the Stream”, with fellow country singer Dolly Parton was ranked the #1 on CMT 100 greatest country duets of all time.
Sang “Lady” with Lionel Richie playing the piano.
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6666 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
On Oct. 27, 2013, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Kenny Rogers always said, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great”, which is exactly what he has done now. You will be missed by generations. Rest in peace my favourite Gambler.