A very prominent Country Music singer known for his string of crossover pop ballads. Kenneth Ray Rogers (born August 21, 1938) got his start in the 1960s folk group The New Christy Minstrels. By 1967, he was part of the rock group The First Edition, which had major pop hits with "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town". Rogers broke off in 1975 to start his own career, launching it with a cover of the gospel standard "Love Lifted Me". It wasn't until two years later that he broke through, sending a string of singles to the top of the charts and achieving consistent pop and adult contemporary airplay for each. Among his hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s were "Lucille", "The Gambler", "She Believes in Me", "Coward of the County", "Lady", and "Islands in the Stream", a duet with Dolly Parton. The last two have the distinction of being among the only songs to top the country, pop, and AC charts.
Rogers' success declined in the 1980s after "Islands in the Stream", although he managed a semi-regular chart presence until 1991. After an eight-year stretch in which he recorded albums but did not issue very many singles, he launched the single "The Greatest" in 1999 off his own label, Dreamcatcher Records. Although it had only modest success, the album's second single, "Buy Me a Rose" (with guest vocals from Alison Krauss and Billy Dean), returned him to the top of the charts in 2000. None of his other singles matched the success of that song, however, although 2006's Water & Bridges on Capitol Records gave him a little bit more commercial success.
Rogers is also known for being prolific in the duet field, having cut several duets with Parton, as well as Dottie West, Kim Carnes, and James Ingram. He is also one of the highest-selling male country artists.
He also founded the Kenny Rogers Roasters chain of restaurants, which was frequently satirized in episodes of Seinfeld, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Mad TV, and Jackass. No Roasters restaurants remain in the U.S.A., but they can be found in such countries as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Brunei, and Bangladesh.
In 2013, it was announced that Rogers was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. For his millions of fans, his induction is considered long overdue.
Rogers and his music provide example of:
- Advertised Extra: Although Alison Krauss and Billy Dean are credited as featured artists on "Buy Me a Rose", their contributions are merely backing vocals that may not be all that easy to pick out (except when Dean echoes the line "rest of your life" on the last chorus).
- Award-Bait Song: "Love Will Turn You Around," the theme to his star vehicle Six Pack.
- B-Side: "Buried Treasure", the B-side of "This Woman", made #3 on the country charts in 1984. The A-side did not make the country charts, but got to #23 pop and #2 AC.
- Book Ends: In "Coward of the County", the line "Everyone considered him the coward of the county" is found at both ends of the song.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Most of the First Edition's material was more psychedelic rock, most notably "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)". Kenny also played bass guitar in the band; he started as a jazz upright bassist before switching to electric in the Fifth Edition.
- Fake Shemp: He did his retirement tour in 2017 with longtime friend Linda Davis (best known for her duet vocals on Reba McEntire's "Does He Love You", and as the mother of Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott) singing the female vocals on "We've Got Tonight", "Islands in the Stream", and "Anyone Who Isn't Me Tonight" (which originally featured Sheena Easton, Dolly Parton, and Dottie West respectively). He also sang "All I Ever Need Is You" with archival video footage of Dottie West, who died in 1991.
- The Film of the Song:
- "The Gambler" spawned five TV movies.
- "Coward of the County" spawned one as well.
- The Gambling Addict and Professional Gambler: One of the leads in "The Gambler".
- Heavy Meta: "Sweet Music Man".
- Know When to Fold 'Em: "The Gambler" is the Trope Namer.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "Sweet Music Man". Most covers omit the opener.
- Murder Ballad: "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" and "Tomb of the Unknown Love". He also covered Leon Ashley's "Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got)", which is written ambiguously enough that it can be about either a murder or a suicide.
- Narrator All Along: "Buy Me a Rose". The song is about a man who doesn't pay enough attention to his wife. It's set in third person until the last verse, when it changes to first person for The Reveal.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Implied to have been delivered to the Gatlin boys by Tommy in "Coward of the County", as none of them are standing when he leaves.Twenty years of brawl
Was bottled up inside him
He wasn't holding nothing back
He let 'em have it all
- Oh, Crap!: In "Coward of the County", this sets in for the people in the bar after Tommy confronts the Gatlins.When Tommy turned around, they said
"Hey, look, ol' Yellow's leavin'!"
But you could've heard a pin drop
When Tommy stopped to lock the door.
- Passed in Their Sleep: In "The Gambler," the titular character informs the narrator that the best a gambler can hope for is to die in his sleep before slipping away himself, or as the singer put it, "The Gambler, he broke even".
- The Pollyanna: The kid in "The Greatest" tosses up a ball three times, and tries to hit it, and fails all three times. His response? "Even I didn't know I could pitch that good!"
- Professional Gambler: The other lead in "The Gambler", who gives advice on being a smart gambler to the subject.
- Rape as Drama: The Gatlin boys' gang-rape of Tommy's girlfriend in "Coward of the County" is what finally drives him to break his vow to his father.
- Shout-Out: To The Byrds' "Eight Miles High" in "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)":I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high...Eight miles outta Memphis and I got no spare,
Eight miles straight up downtown somewhere...
- The So-Called Coward: "Coward of the County" encapsulates the trope. Tommy lives by an oath to his dying father to turn the other cheek and avoid trouble, but is labeled a coward by everyone for his behavior. It takes an act of horrible violence on his girlfriend to cause him to break his vow.
- Space Western: "Planet Texas".
- Take That!: A debatable example in "Coward of the County". The antagonists are named the "Gatlin boys", which many have seen as a reference to Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers (the group best known for "All the Gold in California"). However, one of the writers denied that this was the case, and Larry himself enjoyed the song.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change:
- "Coward of the County" goes by half-steps, from C to C-sharp to D.
- "Lucille" goes from A to B-flat at the second verse.
- "The Gambler" shifts up from D to E halfway through.
- "Islands in the Stream" shifts down from C to A-flat for Dolly Parton's verse.
- "He Will, She Knows" goes from D to E at the chorus, then back down. The last chorus goes up even further to F-sharp.
- Wedding Ring Removal: "Lucille" is about a wife and mother who'd given up on her marriage. Its first two lines are:In a bar in Toledo across from the depot
On a barstool, she took off her ring.
- Your Cheating Heart: "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" is about a paralyzed veteran lamenting that his woman is going out to party and cheat on him rather than be there for him.