LAST ROLL OF THE DICE
You’ve got to know when to walk away, know when to run – and Kenny Rogers is ready to pack up the card table after this final tour
There is one thing we should have learned about Kenny Rogers by now. If you ever think you had him pinned down as one kind of performer, or person, there is always something else to discover about him.
As a performer, there is the image of the soothing-voiced country star playing to mainstream audiences and selling 165 million records. Yet he started his professional career playing upright bass in a jazz band in the early ’60s.
Last year in the UK, he played the Glastonbury rock festival to 130,000 fans who were mostly one-third of his age or younger.
“Now that was a challenge,’’ Rogers, 76, says. “But surprisingly they knew every one of my songs. That shocked me.’’
And long before he became one of the biggest stars in country music with hits like The Gambler and his duet with Dolly Parton, Islands In the Stream, Rogers was serving the most diverse of musical apprenticeships.
His mother set him on the right path.
“She said, ‘Always be happy where you are. Don’t be content to be there but if you aren’t happy where you are you never will be happy’.’’
So Rogers learned to enjoy every step of the way.
In the mid-’60s, he worked as a producer, writer and session man for other artists before joining folk group the New Christy Minstrels.
When that line-up decided to go out on their own as The First Edition, he had to convince them to bring him along.
It was a good move for Rogers and the band.
Their self-titled 1966 debut is a folk-and-psych-rock gem, including Just Dropped In (To See What My Condition Was In). But it was another song, Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town), released in 1969, that would point the way to Rogers’ future career.
“In the New Christy Minstrels, I learned the value of a story song that has social significance,” Rogers says.
It took Rogers a while to warm to Islands In the Stream, which became one of the biggest of his 21 No. 1 hits. His 1983 album Eyes That See In the Dark was co-produced by Barry Gibb.
“I sang Islands In the Stream for four days and finally I looked at him and said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song any more.’ He said, ‘You know who we need? Dolly Parton.’ Once she was there the song was not the same.’’
Rogers has frequently toured Australia and loves the country and the people but he says this will be his last tour.
“I truly believe they are the warmest people I’ve ever played to. They have a warped sense of humour like I do, which helps us get along.”
Kenny Rogers loves Australia but says – at age 76 – this will be his last tour Down Under.