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The Gambler Dead at 81
The “Gambler” departed us today and the world mourns and says goodbye the death of a great musical celebrity. For those of us who are old enough to remember, Kenny Rogers was not always a country music superstar. He had spent a significant amount of time in the late 1960s and the 1970s headlining a country/rock and roll group called “The First Edition.” It later became known as Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. Some of the work they did was also called Psychedelic Rock.
While Some of their early songs started as folk music ballads, such as their first single “I Found a Reason,” they were not really a country band. Part of the reason for the Psychedelic Rock Label was their use of fuzzy guitars. It was the fuzzy guitar and the voice of Rogers in “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” that started the group on their climb. The record made No. 5 on Billboard Hot 100. Glen Campbell played the guitar intro on that single.
During this time, Rogers grew his long brown hair and wore sunglasses as part of his persona. He was firmly entrenched in the 1960s culture. The First Edition was part of a musical genre that blurred the lines between country music and rock and roll. With a sound similar to the music of Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, Kenny Rogers was in very elite company.
He became one of the early individuals who crossed over from Rock and Roll to Country Music. This move cemented his legacy in the future. By the 1970s, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition had charted seven top 40 hits. Soon afterward they split for good, and Rogers looked to the future.
Kenny Rogers: The Gambler Was Born
After the end of the First Edition, Rogers was at a low point in his career. He was approached to do early infomercials. He sold the “Quick Picking Fun Strumming Home Guitar Course.” For $6.96, you could learn how to play; “all you need is the desire, and the course will do the rest.”
By the end of the 1970s, Rogers signed with United Artists and changed his style to Country music. His first hit was “Lucille,” selling over 5 million copies. His Album titled “Kenny Rogers” solidified his position among country artists. The album contained the song “The Gambler,” which would define him for the rest of his career.
Rogers teamed up with the legendary Country singer Dottie West and the two traveled the nation as barnstorming singers. The results were significant for both of them, as they ultimately began recording duets. Together they created songs that would become country standards, including “Every Time Two Fools Collide” (No.1) and “Anyone Who Isn’t Me Tonight” (No.2).
Big Dreams and Broken Hearts
In 1991, just hours after leaving Rogers, Dottie West sustained fatal injuries in a car accident. Rogers was heartbroken at the loss of his friend and partner. Her death was documented in his 2012 biography “Luck Or Something Like It.” There was also a 1995 CBS TV movie, Big Dreams and Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story, with Michelle Lee as West and Rogers playing himself.
Rogers continued his string of hits with Kim Carnes in 1980, with “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer.” He paired with Lynda Carter for the hit song “You and Me.” Also in 1980, he began producing and collaborating with Lionel Richie on hits such as “Lady.” Richie went on to produce Rogers’s 1981 album “Share Your Love,” which was a popular hit.
The Album featured chart-toppers such as “I Don’t Need You” (Pop No. 3), “Through the Years” (Pop No. 13), and “Share Your Love with Me” (Pop No. 14). By 1981, Kenny Rogers had become a country and western powerhouse, producing hit after hit. He paired up with Barry Gibb of Bee Gees fame in 1983 to produce his next album.
A New Partner Found in Dolly
It was his first partnership with Dolly Parton, and they would sing many duets over the years. The song “Islands in the Stream,” charted to number one – not only on the Country charts but on the Pop Charts as well. It was not only a commercial success, but it put Rogers and Parton in a world among themselves as it catapulted them to the top of the charts across the world. They toured worldwide to acclaim and success, joining forces to create a Christmas Album that also had commercial success.
As the Millenium rang in the 2000s, Rogers’s popularity did not wane. While he did not record much in the early 2000’s, re-releases of his songs on compilations and reunions concerts with the First Edition and others were a tribute to his greatness. In 2008, Rogers began his 50th Anniversary tour. He toured singing his hits to fans around the world. His friends Lionel Richie, Dolly Parton, and others joined with him in a 2012 tribute show. Together they celebrated his 50 years in show business. His last album, released in 2013, was “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” It included a duet with Dolly Parton. In the same year, The Country Music Association (CMA) officially inducted him in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Rogers Enters into a New Chapter of Life
In 2017, Rogers officially retired from touring due to health reasons. His final concert in Nashville took place on October 25, 2017. There was an array of pop and country artists including Lionel Richie, Lady Antebellum, Oak Ridge Boys, Crystal Gayle, and a list of stars that went on and on. He also sang two songs with Dolly Parton for the final time that night “Islands in the Stream” and “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”
Rogers passed away at age 81 on Friday, March 20, 2020 in Sandy Springs, GA. He left behind a legacy few others could ever hope to accomplish. Rogers recorded 65 albums and sold over 165 million records.
Godspeed Gambler! Your voice was distinguishable and always a fun listen. You made your fans smile and cry throughout career of over 50 years of entertainment. This writer is included. You will be sorely missed.