John Harrold pays tribute to one of the world’s most popular country singers who died on March 20th.
The Coward of the County and The Gambler were huge hits for Kenny Rogers but it was a lady called Lucille who brought him fame and fortune. The Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum-penned song about the disenchanted lady in the bar in Toledo was a country and pop hit both in his native country, and worldwide, for Kenny. It catapulted him to superstardom as a solo artist.
Having tried rockabilly, jazz, folk and pop, Kenny Rogers settled on country music as his vehicle to fame and fortune. After paying his musical dues in these genres, Kenny embraced country music, a decision which made him one of the world’s biggest stars.
Kenneth Donald Rogers was born in Houston, Texas, on August 21st, 1938, the fourth of eight children of Edward and Lucille Rogers.
Edward Rogers was a carpenter and shipyard worker, and the family lived in a poor part of the city. He also played the fiddle. Kenny sang in the local church choir and learned to play piano and guitar. Times were hard in post depression Houston and making ends meet was difficult. However, Kenny managed to go to high school where he started his music career.
He started a doo-wop and rockabilly group called The Scholars, who played at local dances and events. They also had a couple of minor local hits in 1958.
After going to Houston University for a short while, Kenny left to play double bass in a jazz band, The Bobby Doyle Three, with whom he toured the country for five years.
After leaving this group, he joined another jazz band before becoming a member of the New Christy Minstrels, in 1966. As well as singing with the Minstrels, he was the group’s double bass and bass guitar player.
After a year, Kenny left to form The First Edition with former Minstrels members, Mike Settle and Terry Williams. It was here that the name and the voice of Kenny Rogers came to the fore. The First Edition became a popular rock/pop band which had a couple of chart singles.
Within a year the group was billed as Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Their first chart hit was Just Called In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) which was a top five pop hit in 1968.
The band’s sound was becoming more country and that first hit was followed by Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town which was Kenny’s first entry in the country charts, as well as being a pop hit.
Their next release, Reuben James, was a minor hit as was their 1970 release, Something’s Burning.
For a while the band had their own television show but that was as good as it got for the band’s recording careers.
The band signed to the Jolly Rogers record label, which Kenny had set up, but failed to make any great impression on the charts. Kenny left the band in 1974 to pursue a solo career.