A man constantly seeking new challenges
By now, Kenny Rogers has become such an icon that it’s easy to forget how he got there. Having recorded more than 65 albums which have sold over 100 million records worldwide Rogers is an American Icon who is in the same league as The Beatles, Elton John and Elvis Presley.
Rogers has won three Grammy awards, 11 People’s Choice Awards, 18 American Music Awards, eight Academy of Country Music awards and five Country Music Association awards and he still loves touring, and recording new music.
Just look at the titles: “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 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. The rockabilly group, called The Scholars, got a record deal and released two singles that had local success, and led to a performance spot on American Bandstand. Soon afterward, Rogers joined the Bobby Doyle Trio, playing stand-up bass in the jazz band, and appearing on their album. 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.
The spotlight started focusing on Rogers when the group got their first hit, “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” Within a year the band was called Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, and his distinctive voice led the group to both pop and country chart success with “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” written by Mel Tillis. The double-genre success struck again with “Reuben James,” and the group landed their own TV variety show.
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. The five Gambler mini-series have attracted over 100 million viewers nationwide. 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.
“There are a lot of songs that may have initial success but don’t linger the period of time those songs have,” Rogers says. “They do take a different value in your heart when they have that kind of staying power that represents your success and represents a feeling and a thought. A song like that becomes a part of your soul.”
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 1985, Kenny participated in the historical recording of “We Are The World,” the multi-celebrity performance which raised millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa. A year later, he co-chaired the audacious, “Hands Across America” fund-raiser for America’s hungry.
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 #1 Rogers proved that his talent was just as vibrant and meaningful as it was when he first started out. That same year, the Recording Industry Association of America awarded Kenny the prestigious Diamond Award celebrating sales of more than 10 million albums for his “Greatest Hits” album. He is currently the 8th Best Selling Male Artist of all time according to the RIAA, with 20 Platinum® albums.
In 2006 Rogers, released yet another hit single “I Can’t Unlove You” from the album “Water & Bridges” Produced by the award-winning Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Faith Hill), the album yet again put Kenny Rogers back on the charts and continued to further solidify his significance and continued viability in the music world.
“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.”
Kenny Rogers is a man constantly seeking new challenges, new ways to maintain excitement both for himself and his fans. Most of all, he is exactly as he seems; a proud man, but also a sincere, honest one, unfazed by his success and largely unimpressed by his own accomplishments. And with 2008 marking his 50th Anniversary in show business, Kenny’s fans around the world can expect some announcements and surprises later this year.
KENNY ROGERS Fast Facts:
. • The only artist to chart a record in each of the last six decades (50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s).
. • At the height of his late ‘70s-early ‘80s success, Kenny Rogers sold more than one million records every month for a whopping 26 straight months.
. • His big resurgence in music was in 1999 with the hit single “The Greatest” and again with the #1 chart-topping hit “Buy Me A Rose” – thus making him the oldest artist to reach #1 in the history of the country charts.
• He started out in a folk music trio, has been in a jazz group which led to him joining the New Christy Minstrels and then formed the First Edition (a pop group) before going solo and earning multiple successes, accolades and accomplishments
• Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits has sold over 12 million copies in the U.S. and 12 million copies internationally – solidifying his worldwide appeal
. • He has won the prestigious Horatio Alger Award in 1990 given to those who have distinguished themselves despite humble beginnings
. • He has 3 published photography books - having photographed 5 U.S. Presidents, numerous celebrities and gorgeous landscapes - several photographs were the last photos taken of some of the celebrities before they passed away (ie George Burns, Cary Grant, John Houston to name a few)
. • Rogers studied under the assistant of photography great Ansel Adams.
. • He is the Chairman of Dreamcatcher Entertainment, for which he came up with the name and designed the logo and has gone on to make history as an independent label with #1 records and platinum success
. • He is an author - penning one of four books “The Toy Shoppe” based on the tour and hit musical which he also wrote.
. • After the death of his friend Harry Chapin, Rogers assumed his position at the forefront of the movement to aid the hungry – leading to the World Hunger Media Awards. He was also a participant in the “We Are the World” performance which raised millions for famine relief in Africa
. • “The Gambler,” one of Kenny Rogers biggest hits of his career spawned no fewer than 5 movies and was turned in to a five-episode mini-series, the longest running mini-series in the history of US television seen by 100 million people. Rogers starred as Brady Hawks.
. • He is a father to three-year old twin boys Justin and Jordan. He also has a daughter and sons Kenny, Jr. and Christopher. Christopher co-stars with Rogers in his video for “I Can’t Unlove You”
Through the Years
Coward of the Country