Kenny Rogers at Gold Strike in Tunica 

Kenny Rogers makes everybody else look frozen in time. He has accomplished so many things with music that it's hard to keep up with him. Rogers assumed the mantle of American storytelling in the late 1970s with the albums The Gambler (quintuple platinum) and Kenny (triple platinum). The songs "The Gambler" and "Coward of the County" work within a tradition that links Mark Twain and Johnny Cash. Rogers turned both tracks — neither of which he wrote — into made-for-TV movies in the days when that was a very big deal. The scale of Rogers' success is inconceivable in today's terms, as if he were a Titan from another epoch. And he is. The scope of his success is staggering.

click to enlarge Kenny Rogers - PIPER FERGUSON
  • Piper Ferguson
  • Kenny Rogers

Rogers was in the mix of hits for two decades before his massive narrative successes. His first chart activity dates to 1958 with a rockabilly act. In the next decade, he played a stint on doghouse bass with the New Christy Minstrels. But it was in his burly hippie years in the late 1960s that he began making the big time. It's pretty well known that his band First Edition hit with the impossibly titled "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" in 1967. But Jerry Lee Lewis cut it first. Rogers' hippie phase was productive, but nothing compared to the work he did with producer Larry Butler in the late '70s and '80s. Working on songs from Lionel Richie ("Lady"), and duets with fellow New Christy Minstrel Kim Carnes ("Don't fall in Love with a Dreamer"), Sheena Easton ("We've Got Tonight"), and Dolly Parton ("Islands in the Stream," written by Barry Gibb), Rogers blew the doors off of Reagan-era country music.

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