Published on October 7th, 2013 | by TLV News0
Legendary Country Crooner Kenny Rogers Playing at Ole Miss’ Ford Center Thursday, October 10
The Gambler Comes To Oxford!
By now, Kenny Rogers has become such an icon that it’s easy to forget how he got there. Just look at the hit titles he’s had over the years: “Lady,” “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” “The Gambler,” “She Believes in Me,” “Islands in the Stream,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” “Buy Me A Rose.” Not a ditty among them. Then listen. The sweetly raspy vocals are instantly identifiable as Kenny Rogers—he sounds like nobody else. More importantly, he inhabits each song, making it vivid and tangible. For more than five decades, Rogers has delivered memorable songs, drawing fans among rock, pop, soul, and country audiences.
When one singer makes such an indelible mark, that’s not mere luck or even simple talent. “I really, really love what I’m doing,” Rogers says. “People survive longer if they love what they’re doing. Because you just don’t quit.”
Houston-born Rogers formed his first band while in high school in 1956 and never quit making music from that point on. In 1966 he became a member of the New Christy Minstrels, the popular folk group, leaving a year later to form The First Edition with other members of the troupe.
In 1974, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition disbanded, leaving Rogers at a crossroads. Disillusioned with the fickleness of the pop world, but not with music itself, he searched for a direction to take his solo career. Impressed by the loyalty of country fans that supported their favorite artists long after they had disappeared from radio, Rogers looked to country. He’d already had some success among country fans with the First Edition and he was drawn to the type of story songs that populated the genre. It was the perfect transition for him. “Love Lifted Me,” went Top 20 in 1975, but it was the “Lucille” that shot him into the stratosphere. Tops at country, it also succeeded on the pop chart, was named the CMA’s Single of the Year and was certified Gold.
“Daytime Friends,” “Sweet Music Man,” and “Love or Something Like It” continued his run of success. Then came “The Gambler,” a story song so vivid it not only delighted country and pop fans, it also became a TV movie, starring Rogers himself in the title role. The movie spawned four follow-ups, making it the longest running miniseries franchise on television. It started Rogers on a second career as an actor on television and movies, including another TV movie based on one of his hit songs, “Coward of the County.”
Though theoretically a country singer, Rogers dominated the pop charts, consistently finding songs with universal appeal. “I’ve never considered myself a great singer, but I am a great storyteller,” Rogers told Billboard magazine, also noting that he feels his strength as an artist is in finding great songs. In the 1980s he came to embody the role of the sensitive male, singing such romantic hits as “Through The Years,” “She Believes In Me,” “You Decorated My Life,” and “Lady,” the biggest song of his career. Those songs are classics today, sung at countless weddings, and even engraved on tombstones.
As the 1980s wound down, so did Rogers’ chart success. Gone from the radio, Rogers kept busy in other ways. He would establish himself as a well-respected photographer, publishing several books, and being invited to the White House to shoot a portrait of First Lady Hillary Clinton. He authored several short stories, and appeared off-Broadway in his Christmas musical, The Toy Shoppe, which he subsequently toured. And he never stopped making music.
In 1999, after forming his own record company, Dreamcatcher Entertainment, Rogers found himself back on the country chart with a touching story song about a young boy playing baseball. When “The Greatest” got radio and video airplay, it was greeted as a sweet comeback from a favorite bygone singer. When the follow-up, “Buy Me a Rose,” hit number one, Rogers proved that his talent was just as vibrant and meaningful as it was when he first started out.
“I’ve always been like a boomerang.” Rogers says. “You can throw me away, but you can rest assured that I’m coming back. It’s not necessarily about success for me. It’s not about being the biggest star in the world. I think for all intents and purposes, if you go back to the peak of my career, I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish. To do that again doesn’t excite me. But to just be there and to be a force and have people care about what you’re recording, that’s the greatest gift you can have.”