Kenneth Ray Rogers (August 21, 1938 March 20, 2020) was a very prominent Country Music singer known for his string of crossover pop ballads.
He 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, Sheena Easton, 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, MADtv, 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.
Kenny Rogers passed away on March 20, 2020, from natural causes.
Rogers and his music provide examples 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).
- And This Is for...: In Coward of the County, Tommy finishes the fight with the gang who attacked his beloved this way.
- Award-Bait Song: "Love Will Turn You Around," the theme to his star vehicle Six Pack.
- B-Side. Two examples from the Eyes That See in the Dark album:
- "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.
- "Evening Star" and "Midsummer Nights", also from 1984, were a double A-side, meaning that both sides received radio airplay.
- Bookends: In "Coward of the County", the line "Everyone considered him the coward of the county" is found at both ends of the song.
- The Cover Changes the Meaning: Although supposedly written as a loving homage to Waylon Jennings, "Sweet Music Man" is frequently covered by female artists. As a result, their interpretations envision the song as a woman feeling conflicted support toward her husband's musical career.
- Deadly Euphemism: In "The Gambler": "And somewhere in the darkness/The gambler he broke even." Unusual example in that the gambler died of natural causes.
- 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 A'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). Averted with "All I Ever Need Is You", also a duet with West, which instead used archival footage of her (she 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: One interpretation of the lead receiving the titular gambler's advice in "The Gambler".
- Know When to Fold 'Em: "The Gambler" is the Trope Namer.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "Sweet Music Man". Most covers omit the opener.
- Magic Realism: Some people believe The Gambler is an angel.
- Murder Ballad:
- "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" is about a paralyzed war veteran attempting to murder his wife.
- "Tomb of the Unknown Love" features a trucker murdering his wife after receiving a "Dear John" Letter from her... and after being warned of his fate by seeing a foreboding tombstone.
- He 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 this or Driven to Suicide. The song has the narrator berating his wife for infidelity and ends on the line "And if there's time before I pull this trigger / Then tell me what he's got that I ain't got", leaving open the possibility that the gun is pointed either at her, the other man, or himself.
- 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:And the more that he lives, the less that he tries
To show her the love that he hold inside
And the more that she gives, the more that he sees
This is a story of you and me
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Delivered to the Gatlin boys by Tommy in "Coward of the County", as none of them are standing when he leaves.Twenty years of crawlin'
Was bottled up inside him
He wasn't holding nothing back
He let 'em have it all
When Tommy left the barroom
Not a Gatlin boy was standing
He said "This one's for Becky"
As he watched the last one fall
- Oh, Crap!: In "Coward of the County", this sets in for the Gatlin boys when Tommy confronts them.When Tommy turned around, they said
"Hey, look, ol' Yellow's leavin'!"
But you could've heard a pin drop
When Tommy stopped and locked 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.
- Rage Breaking Point: In "Coward of the County", the Gatlin boys gang-raping Tommy's girlfriend is finally what causes him to snap and beat all three of them nearly to death.
- 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 eight miles high."
- 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" is about a group of cowboys who take the narrator on an intergalactic voyage. At the end, he asks the cowboys where they are from, and they respond with "the biggest place in Outer Space, the planet known as Texas."
- Take That!: Subverted 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. In addition, the Gatlins sang backing vocals on several of Rogers' later releases, so it's clear that they had no animosity.
- Tone Shift: Hee went from being a rock musician singing about tripping on psychedelic drugs to being a country singer.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change:
- "Just Dropped In" goes from D minor to E-flat minor to E minor.
- "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.
- "Tomb of the Unknown Love" shifts from G-flat to G at the second 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.
- And somewhere in the darkness
The Gambler, he broke even
And in his final words I found
An ace that I could keep.