Kenny Rogers says farewell

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - David Car­roll News and Notes

Kenny Rogers is call­ing it a ca­reer. For more than fifty years, he’s been a con­sis­tent hit maker and a pop­u­lar con­cert draw, and he’s played Chat­tanooga area shows many times. Dur­ing a dry spell, he would play small clubs like the Hitch­ing Post. At his peak, he was fill­ing up the UTC Arena.

He turned 79 last week, and he says his mo­bil­ity isn’t what it once was, so he wants to re­tire while he is still phys­i­cally able to per­form. At his farewell con­cert in Nashville on Oc­to­ber 25, he’ll be ac­com­pa­nied by Dolly Par­ton. You’ll re­call they made beau­ti­ful mu­sic to­gether, like “Is­lands in the Stream.” Al­li­son Krauss and Lit­tle Big Town are also on the bill, and pro­mot­ers are pre­dict­ing an easy sell­out.

Re­cently I heard one of his songs on the ra­dio, and then I read a won­der­ful story about him in a new book. “The Time of My Life” is by Bill Med­ley, the deep-voiced half of the Right­eous Brothers (with tenor Bobby Hat­field). Back in 1964, they recorded the most-played song in the history of ra­dio. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feel­ing” sounds like no other song. Dee­jays wouldn’t play it when it came out, be­cause when Bill sang those open­ing words, “You never close your eyes any more, when I kiss your lips…” they thought it was recorded on the wrong speed!

Even­tu­ally they fig­ured it out, lis­ten­ers loved it, and it sold mil­lions. The Right­eous Brothers be­came one of the hottest acts in the na­tion. They be­friended a new­comer named Kenny Rogers, and helped him in the early days of his ca­reer.

A few years later, it was Kenny hav­ing all the hits, while the Right­eous duo faded from the charts. In Bill’s book, he writes about fall­ing on lean fi­nan­cial times, af­ter mak­ing some poor in­vest­ments. By this time, Kenny was pump­ing out gold records like “Lu­cille,” “Cow­ard of the County,” and “The Gam­bler.” Bill asked Kenny for a $20,000 loan. “I prom­ise to pay you back as soon as I can,” he said. Kenny pulled out his check­book, and wrote him a check for $20,000. “This is not a loan, it’s a gift,” he said. Bill protested, but Kenny said in a non-boast­ful way, “Do you know how much money I’m mak­ing? You would do the same thing for me.” A few weeks later, Bill tried to pay him back. Kenny handed back the en­ve­lope. “What’s this?” he asked. Bill said, “I’m pay­ing you back, you loaned me 20 grand.” Kenny re­peated, “No I didn’t. I refuse to take this.” What a guy.

That re­minded me of an­other first-hand re­port of Kenny’s kind­ness. In the WFLI “Jet-Fli Spec­tac­u­lar” days of all-star con­certs at Memo­rial Au­di­to­rium in Chat­tanooga, ra­dio sta­tion man­ager Johnny Ea­gle re­called how dif­fi­cult it was to get some­one to open the show. They all wanted to be the head­line act, and close the show. Johnny said, “Kenny Rogers made it easy for me. He was among the nicest stars. He even car­ried his own equip­ment. I’d go up to Kenny, kind of em­bar­rassed, and ask him if he would be nice enough to open the show, and he’d say ab­so­lutely, what­ever you need. He had more hits than any­body, but he didn’t act like it. It was no sur­prise to me that he went on to be more suc­cess­ful than any of them.”

Many years later, Kenny per­formed at the UTC Arena, and the record pro­moter ar­ranged for my wife and I to meet Kenny back­stage. Cindy, by then a sea­soned news re­porter, started think­ing about what she would ask him. “What will your next record be?” “Tell us about your new baby boy.” “What do all those Grammy nom­i­na­tions mean to you?” She was pre­pared, as al­ways.

Af­ter the show, we were es­corted back­stage, and there stood Kenny Rogers. Tall, trim, tanned and hand­some in his white suit. We ex­changed pleas­antries, and he thanked me for play­ing his songs. I nod­ded to Cindy, as if to say, “Your turn.” She was so taken aback by his good looks, she could not speak. A few words came out, but not in the right or­der. She was starstruck. Kenny smiled and said, “Well, it sure was nice to meet you.” Cindy turned three shades of red, and said, “Ker­fuf­fle per­dunkin,” or some­thing like that. I’d never seen her speech­less, be­fore or since. (“I didn’t ex­pect him to be so hand­some,” she would say later.)

Kenny Rogers then walked away, sport­ing a big smile. It prob­a­bly wasn’t the first time he’d made a pretty girl blush.

Happy re­tire­ment Kenny. Thank you for the mu­sic, and your kind­ness.

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the author of the new book “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best sto­ries, avail­able at Chat­tanoogaRa­, or by send­ing $23 to David Car­roll Book, 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, TN 37405. You may con­tact David at

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