Story Behind the Song: Kenny Rogers, ‘Twenty Years Ago’
When Kenny Rogers released "Twenty Years Ago" in January of 1987, it had already been cut by a handful of other artists -- but none had a version that was as big a hit as Rogers'. The song hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. Below, Wood Newton, who penned "Twenty Years Ago" with Dan Tyler, C. Michael Spriggs and Michael Noble, tells The Boot about writing the tune.
At the time we wrote "Twenty Years Ago," it had been about 20 years since I had graduated from high school. The song was just the idea of going back to your hometown 20 years later and reminiscing, and all the memories and things that come up.
The last verse of that song talks about Joe, who joined the Army in 1964: "How could we know he'd never come back 20 years ago?" I think that line might have made some people hesitate about the song, because at that time, the country was trying to forget the war and get over it.
It took about six years for someone to record it. The great songwriter Fred Knobloch had a [record] deal, and I think he recorded it first. Then Juice Newton cut it. And Kenny Mims, who was a great guitar player and producer, was working with Van Stephenson before there was a group called BlackHawk, and they recorded it in a 16-track studio in an attic on 16th Avenue.
Kenny Rogers was looking for songs, and he heard it and decided to cut it before Van could get a record deal. In fact, the music tracks to his version of the song are the ones that were recorded for Van Stephenson. Kenny tried to record it and beat the tracks Van did, but he couldn't, so they were wise enough to say, "Let's just buy the tracks that have already been done." They did a few overdubs, but basically they used the tracks that had already been cut.
This story was originally written by Vernell Hackett, and revised by Angela Stefano.
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