Remembering Kenny Rogers
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2020 - 12:00am

Long before the likes of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber were exhibiting marketing acumen, there was Kenny Rogers. The Texas-born pop and country music star had a hard climb to stardom but he attained fame beyond his wildest dreams. His talent for music played a big role in his success but he also had the knack for packaging himself and the daring to do the unexpected.

Rogers started singing after he fell in love with the guitar as a boy.  He had a difficult childhood with parents taking on all types of jobs to provide for the family of eight children. This, however, did not stop him from pursuing his dreams. He formed groups while still in school and although college beckoned to him, he went off to Los Angeles where he found gigs, s­inging or playing bass guitar.

His first big break was becoming part of the New Christy Minstrels, a famous large folk and country ensemble back in the ‘60s. It was a great opportunity with members like Kim Carnes and Roger McQuinn of The Byrds. But Rogers found the music too “minstrelsy” for his taste. So he went off and formed his own rock band called The First Edition. It was then that the hits started coming and the group was soon rechristened Kenny Rogers and The First Edition.

The first big seller was the psychedelic tune with the long title, Just Dropped in to See What Condition was in My Condition, which is now sometimes called simply Condition. This was followed by the narrative tune Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town about a cuckolded paralyzed war veteran. It was in that song that Rogers’ flair for story telling was discovered. As with what usually happens, the gigs and the hits soon thinned for The First Edition. Not one to stay around waiting for the end, Rogers left and decided to go solo in 1978.

He was not only going solo. He was going to be a country music star who tells stories. And tell stories he did all the way to the top. With a grizzled country vibe taking over his rock star persona, Rogers parlayed his raspy tenor into one chart-topping narrative ballad after another. Among these were Lucille, his first No. 1 seller about a woman who left her husband and four kids but is rejected by a new lover, and Coward of the Country, about a man who finally gets the guts to exact revenge for his girlfriend who was raped.

The biggest of them all was the Platinum hit The Gambler, which with its infectious beat, clear sing-song lyrics and solid plot became a cultural landmark. The recording is now preserved in the United States Library of Congress. To this day, The Gambler’s advice still continues to resonate. “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em/ know when to fold ‘em/ know when to walk away/ know when to run/ you never count your money/ when you’re sittin’ at the table/ there’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

The Gambler turned Rogers into a major crossover artist. That means success in both the pop and country genres. It gave him his first Performance Grammy. It introduced him to acting when he starred in a series of three TV movies inspired by the song. By that time, his name was being mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and Lionel Richie. It was not long before he would transition to a total pop idol.

In 1980, Rogers had a big hit with Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer, a duet with Kim Carnes. It was followed by the album Share Your Love, which was produced by Richie. The album includes the Rogers standards, Through the Years and Lady. These were followed by You Decorated My Life, She Believes in Me, Islands in the Stream with Dolly Parton and others. With his new image of impeccably coiffed white hair and beard, expensive well-fitted suits and mellow raspy singing, Rogers became one of the biggest stars of popular music.

Two years ago, Rogers went on a farewell tour billed as The Gambler’s Last Deal. He stopped by Manila, where he is a huge favorite. He later cut short his tour giving health issues and a desire to spend time with his family as the reasons. Last Friday, March 20, he peacefully breathed his last. He was 81 years old. The Gambler’s last deal is done.

KENNY ROGERS
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