This song was written by Don Schlitz in 1976 and tells the story of a meeting on a train “bound for nowhere” by a gambler and the narrator of the song. The gambler is down on his luck and offered advice in exchange for a drink which he accepts. He then gives his own advice before going to sleep and presumably dying.
It was a couple of years before it was first recorded by Bobby Bare for his album Bare. It was never released as a single so Don Schlitz took the bull by the horns and recorded it himself. It made a minor dent in the charts when it reached No. 65.
Other musicians had started to take note of it though and Johnny Cash decided to record it for his album Gone Girl, but its success was finally sealed when Kenny Rogers took it to the No. 1 spot in the country chart as well as giving it a No. 16 entry on the pop chart and a No. 3 entry on the Easy Listening chart. and being the title track of his accompanying album. The following year it won the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
In 2006 the documentary The Journey about Kenny Rogers’ career saw Don Schlitz praising the contributions that had been made to the song and as of 2013 it had racked up digital sales of 798,000.
“The Gambler” was also made into a series of made-for-television movies.
Kenny Rogers recordings
United Artists UA-X1250Y (UAST-20122) (US 45)