Kenny Rogers Celebrates New Project of Old Classics
He has recorded 65 albums, won practically every award there is to win, and with more than 100 million records sold, he's the No. 8 best selling artist of all time. With an unmistakable voice and a career that also stretches to the small and silver screens, Kenny Rogers is more than just a music legend -- he's an American treasure.
Still going strong at age 70, the 'Gambler' has no plans to fold 'em anytime soon. He's out with a new album of greatest hits and three new songs, 'Kenny Rogers: 50 Years,' sold exclusively at Cracker Barrel. Rogers talked to The Boot about the new project, the old classics and the gambles he has taken along the way.
Looking at your entire catalog of music, what song would you say is the most personal?
Probably 'The Gambler.' It's a song about literally gambling, but figuratively it's about a lifestyle. It's about not taking things for granted and knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. I think it's a beautiful song. Don Schlitz, who also wrote 'The Greatest' -- the song I recorded about the little kid who plays baseball -- has this incredible gift for taking a moment in my life or a moment in your life and putting it to music. So I just think that's a great philosophy that comes with that song.
Think back to when you first cut 'The Gambler,' did you have any idea how special it would be?
It really was a great piece of music. Actually, I think it was Willie Nelson -- I played it for him along with something else, and we were going to release something else first, hoping to set up this song. And he said, "Kenny, I'll give you a piece of advice. Never set up a hit." So that's what we did. We released it -- thanks to Willie.
You worked with Barry Gibb on 'Islands in the Stream.' Is it true that you almost hesitated to cut it?
No, it wasn't that I was hesitant to cut it. I just sang it for four days straight, and I finally said, 'Barry, I don't even like this song anymore.' So he said, 'You know what we need on this? We need Dolly Parton.' But I didn't know Dolly. I'd met her, but I didn't really know her. My manager said, 'Well, I have her phone number.' And about 40 minutes later, she walked into the room, and it was like the room just lit up. It was a totally different piece of music when she started singing it with me.
What would you say is the biggest risk you ever took in your career?
When I was with Larry Butler, who produced 'Coward of the County,' 'Lucille,' 'The Gambler' and all those songs, we had such phenomenal success. But I just felt like we were doing the same songs over and over, just with different lyrics. So literally, at the drop of a hat, I told Larry, 'I really want to step out and do something different.' And I went to a different producer. I went to Lionel Richie, who was really an R&B producer, but I always thought country music was the white man's R&B. It was about the pain. We all have true fears. None of us want to grow old and be alone, and we all fear rejection. That's what R&B is about, and that's what country's about. And I just loved his music. He wrote 'Still' and 'Three Time a Lady' -- those to me were really country songs.
You just celebrated 50 years in the music business. If you could go back to 1958, knowing what you know now, and give yourself some advice, what would you say?
'Hang on!' [laughs] I had no idea, I had no clue. It wasn't really what I expected. I just kind of wanted to go out and sing some songs. My first 10 years in the music business, interestingly enough, I was in jazz. I played the upright bass in an avant-garde jazz group. I've come a long way, and I'm so excited about this new project, the Cracker Barrel thing. It's unique. It's a marketing strategy that's really ... other people are doing it, but I think they put a group of songs on this album that really will be attractive to people who come to Cracker Barrel. I know, because I eat there! You know, I won't really go anymore, because now that the album's there, all I'll do is sit and sign autographs. [laughs]
The new project, along with some old favorites, has three new songs on it.
All three are totally different. One of them is called 'She'll Believe You.' I had trouble doing this one, because it sounds a little bit chauvinistic to me, but it's about a guy who's had an affair, and he hasn't told his wife about it. He's debating whether to tell her. And the song is: "She'll believe you because she wants to, because she loves you more than you do." It's just a wonderful piece of music. And then there's one called 'Something's Wrong in Vegas,' and I just has this vision of this guy in Kansas -- his girlfriend has gone to Vegas and she's supposed to write and call, and she never does ... and she's now pole dancing in Vegas. It's a diverse group of songs.
You had a fairly easy time crossing genres from jazz to pop to country. Do you think that other crossover acts are having an easier or tougher time being accepted in today's country music industry?
It's interesting, because at the peak of my career, country music was what country people would buy. They played 'Lady,' and country people said, 'I like that,' and they bought it. But now country music is what country radio will play. If they don't play it, then you don't get a chance. It's not wrong --it's just different. I think that's the difference in today's music and when I was really at the peak of my career.
You obviously know the secret to longevity in this business. What is it?
I think we're all three people: we're who we think we are, we're who the audience thinks we are, and we're who we really are. I think the closer those three people are together, the longer your career can last. If you look at Dolly, she is what she is and she's what she thinks she is. Look at Willie -- he's that way too. Johnny Cash was that way. Audiences don't like to be tricked. They don't like to think you're something and find out you're something else. I think that's really the key to longevity -- plus good music and good songs.
Do you ever miss your anonymity?
Well, yeah. It's interesting for me. I've always been very approachable, and I try to give people a moment of their time. If they cross the line, I tell them. I told someone the other day, 'I sign enough autographs to satisfy my ego, but not so much that they invade my privacy.' And I think that's a great place to be in your life.
What's one thing about you that your fans may not know?
I'm an interior decorator, and I think everybody thinks I'd do wagon wheels and hay ba
les, and I don't. I have Italian and African [influences] ... I buy pieces of property that are distressed, and I make them beautiful and I sell them. I've been lucky and made a lot of money at it.
Happy belated birthday! What did you do to celebrate turning 70 last month?
You will not believe this. General Hayden from the C.I.A. called my office, and he knew I was going to be in Vienna, Va., so he invited me to come to the C.I.A. offices for the day. I've never had so much fun in my life. It was so nice -- they had a big coconut birthday cake for me, and I met three other people who work at the C.I.A., and they took me to this room where you can see all the TV shows from around the world, and it's just fascinating to see how that place works. I was shocked at the things they couldn't tell me. I asked, 'Well how many employees do you have?' He said, 'Well, I can't tell you that.' I said, 'Well, it should be a real informative day!' [laughs] But it was great fun. Not many people get to do that.
'Kenny Rogers: 50 Years' Track Listing:
1. 'Love Lifted Me'
2. 'Coward of The County'
3. 'She'll Believe You'
4. 'Islands In The Stream'
5. 'The Gambler'
6. 'Love Will Turn You Around'
8. 'Something's Wrong In Vegas'
10. 'Only Time Will Tell''
11. 'Every Time Two Fools Collide'
12. 'Through The Years'