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Rogers, Kenny (21st August 1938-20th March 2020)

Kenny Rogers’ career in music spanned five decades.  It started out when he was in high school with a band called The Scholars that landed a record deal and actually had a couple of hits.

He scored his first solo hit, “That Crazy Feeling”, in 1958, and played stand-up bass for The Bobby Doyle Trio, a jazz outfit that had a recording contract with Columbia.

In 1966, he joined The New Christy Minstrels, and a year later, he and fellow bandmates Thelma Camacho, Mike Settle and Terry Williams defected to found The First Edition.  Their first hit was “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”.  The condition was this:  Kenny Rogers was the star of the show.  It was his name that became affixed to the front of the band’s name.  Kenny Rogers & The First Edition scored a crossover hit with the Mel Tillis-penned “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” and soon had their own variety programme on television.  They broke up in 1974.

Rogers, torn between country and pop, but disenfranchised with the fickleness of the latter, signed with United Artists in 1976.  A year later, “Lucille” would have gone higher than #1 if it could have, selling over five million copies worldwide.  A string of hits would follow including Kenny’s personal favourite, “The Gambler”, which was so popular it spawned a TV movie and four sequels.

The biggest hit of his career was penned and produced by Lionel Richie, with whom he would become good friends.  ” Lady”, released in 1980, hit #1 the on the Billboard Country, Adult Contemporary, and Pop charts.  Three years later, “Islands in the Stream”, a Bee Gees song that he recorded with Dolly Parton, managed the same.  It would be the last country song to hit #1 on the pop charts for the next seventeen years.

There was a shift in pop music away from country and towards rock:  Likewise, there was a shift in country music away from pop and back to country.  This left in-betweeners like Rogers to fight it out amongst themselves on the Adult Contemporary charts.  Nevertheless, he continued to chart:  He hit the top forty twenty-three times between 1983 and 1990, including a few #1s.

As the hits became fewer and further between, Rogers began to pursue other interests besides music:  He took up photography and was so good at it he wound up selling several books, and was even invited to shoot a portrait of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.  He wrote an off-broadway musical entitled The Toy Shoppe and it proved to be a good touring vehicle for him.  In the meantime, he continued to record moreso for pleasure than aspirations of chart success, including an album of standards, Timepiece, in 1994, and Vote For Love, an unusual experiment in that it was an album of requests voted on by QVC viewers (and the first album to be released by QVC’s own label).

In 1999, he started his own record label, Dreamcatcher Entertainment, by virtue of which he would capture the brass ring on the country charts once again, when “Buy Me A Rose” went to #1, making Kenny Rogers the oldest singer to accomplish that feat, at 61, since Hank Snow.  (It was a record later to be shattered by Willie Nelson, at 70.)  Rogers continued to perform, and record:  His last album, Water and Bridges, was released in March 2006, and greatest-hits packages continue to sell worldwide.

He died at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia under hospice care in March 2020 when he was  81 years old.

Kenny Rogers recordings
The Gambler (D. Schlitz)
Momma’s Waiting (Kenny Rogers/T. Williams)