I think Kenny Rogers stumbled into country music.I read his autobiography, and as a musician he was many things, but primarily he was a jazz artist. His career soared when he became a member of the New Christy Minstrels in the sixties and then accidentally became the First Edition's lead singer. His "Just Dropped In" will live forever, thanks to the Coen Brothers and The Big Lebowski. Maybe it was when the group decided to record Mel Tillis's "Ruby" that the thought of a country music career pinged in Kenny's mind.
I don't remember when I became aware of Kenny Rogers as a country artist, perhaps in 1977 when Lucille hit the charts. He didn't exactly sound "country", but Lucille was a damn good song.
By the time "The Gambler" came around in '78, Kenny was firmly ensconced in the folds of country music. Is there a bigger earworm than "you gotta know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em"?
Through no fault of his own, or perhaps because of my country proclivities, I came to disdain subsequent Rogers singles. He was exactly what was wrong with country in the late seventies/early eighties.I didn't stop listening to country because of Kenny Rogers - he was simply a symptom of a widespread virus infecting Nashville.Nevertheless, while on vacation in Duluth, Minnesota with my tiny kids and my parents, when my mom learned that Kenny was set to appear in concert, we scooped up the last remaining tickets. We ensconced ourselves in the nosebleed seats and aimed our binoculars. Frankly my only memory of the concert was that Kenny definitely had a command of the stage. I wasn't impressed with Lionel Richie's "Lady" or "You Decorated My Life". This was hardly country.
It was but a year later that Kenny released my all-time favorite Rogers single:
I remember steering my Chevy Malibu up Divide Avenue in 1983 when this next song came on the radio. It sounded eerily like The Bee Gees (duh). Little did I know that I would hear it ten thousand, five hundred and eighty-eight more times. Regardless of its repetitiveness, you gotta give it credit.
I didn't necessarily love Kenny Rogers, but I respected him. Respect is good. He understood the music business like few others.
He has left a legacy. And he never shied away from embracing it:
Rest in peace, Kenny.