Kenny Rogers - Biography

By J Poet

Kenny Rogers is a country superstar with a large fan base that includes lovers of rock, pop, soul, and briefly, disco mavens as well, when he worked with the Bee Gees on Eyes That See in the Dark (1983 RCA). His sweet, gruff voice is masculine without being threatening, making him a favorite with women. Since he came on the scene with The New Christy Minstrels in 1966 he’s gone from strength to strength winning three Country Music Grammys, starring in TV movies and film, and winning dozens of CMT, CMA,  ASCAP, and American Music Awards. At his peak in the late 70s and early 80s, he took home 11 platinum and 18 gold albums and charted 42 hits. In 1999, the Recording Industry Association of America awarded Rogers a Diamond Album for the 10 million albums his Greatest Hits (1980 Liberty). Since 1998, he’s run his own label Dreamcatcher Entertainment and still tours regularly.


Rogers grew up in Houston, Texas, in a poor family the lived in a federal housing project. He had seven brothers and sisters and a father with a drinking problem, but his love of music trumped all. He taught himself guitar, fiddle and bass and worked his was through high school, starting a band called The Scholars when he was in 9th grade. They actually got to make a few singles; the fact that his brother Lelan worked for a local record distributor probably helped.


When he was 19 he started a solo career and cut several singles for the Carlton label. One of them, “That Crazy Feeling”, became a hit. Rogers appeared on American Bandstand but with no backing band he was soon back in college. He worked nights singing in a jazz trio and they landed an opening gig with The Kirby Stone Four, a popular singing group at the time. Stone helped Rogers land a spot in touring band of the New Christy Minstrels.


Rogers and future singer/songwriter Mike Settle dropped out of The Minstrels in 1967 and started a folk/rock band called The First Edition. Their first single, “I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”, a Mickey Newbury tune, was a smash. The band changed its name to Kenny Rogers and The First Edition and made four albums including The First Edition (1967 Reprise) and Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town (1969 Reprise) named after their second big hit.


When First Edition splintered, Rogers moved to Nashville. Reprise signed him as a solo act, He made about a dozen albums for the label blending country, pop and singer/songwriter fare including Something's Burning (1970 Reprise), Transition (1971 Reprise) and The Ballad of Calico (1972 Reprise). They were solid, but didn’t prepare anyone, including Rogers himself for what was to come. In 1977 he signed to United Artists and cut Love Lifted Me (1976 United Artists, 1988 EMI) with the title track becoming a minor hit. Next up was Kenny Rogers (1977 United Artists) and he took off. The album’s first single “Lucille” crossed over to pop and went gold, as did the album. “Lucile” won him a Best Country Vocal Performance Male Grammy too. The Gambler (1978 United Artists, 2001 Dreamcatcher) was the blockbuster Rogers had dreamed about. It went platinum, spawned a series of TV movies based on Rogers’ gambler character and nabbed a Grammy for the title track. After The Gambler, everything Rogers cut went gold or platinum for the next few years. His albums included Kenny (1979 United Artists), Gideon (1980 United Artists), Christmas (1981 United Artists), Lady (1981 Liberty), which included “Coward of the County” another song Rogers turned into a TV movie, Share Your Love (1981 Liberty) Love Will Turn You Around (1982 Liberty) Eyes That See in the Dark (1983 RCA) produced by the Bee Gees, and featuring the crossover duet with Dolly Parton “Islands in the Stream”, We've Got Tonight (1983 Liberty), and Once Upon a Christmas (1984 RCA).


In the mid 1980s, Rogers was a much pop as country, but his albums stopped crossing over. They still sold well, and What About Me? (1984 RCA), Heart of the Matter (1985 RCA) and They Don't Make Them Like They Used To (1986 RCA) all did well. I Prefer the Moonlight (1987 RCA) included the Grammy winning duet with Ronnie Milsap “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine”. In 1985, Rogers sang on “We Are The World.” In 1986 he co-chaired the Hands Across America benefit. He created the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, which opened in 1990.


Until he launched his own Dreamcatcher logo in 1999, Rogers recorded for Warner/Reprise, MCA, Atlantic and other labels. Look for Something Inside So Strong (1989 Reprise), Love Is Strange (1990 Reprise), Back Home Again (1991 Reprise), Some Prisons Don't Have Bars (1991 Warner), Timepiece (1994 Atlantic), Country Songs (1995 MCA) and The Gift (1996 Magnatone) which went gold and was nominated for a Dove Award. One of his first Dreamcatcher albums, She Rides Wild Horses (1999 Dreamcatcher) returned him to the charts with a #1 hit “Buy Me a Rose”. His work on There You Go Again (1999 Dreamcatcher), A&E Live by Request (2000 Dreamcatcher) and Back to the Well (2003 Dreamcatcher) prove he’s still a viable artist, as do the nearly 50 Greatest Hit compilations put out by his old labels. In 2006 he released another fine major label effort, Water and Bridges (Capital Nashville). 2011 saw him release The Love Of God, followed in 2012 with Amazing Grace.


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