Music News

Happy Birthday, Kenny Rogers -- How the Gambler Hit the Jackpot

Turning 73, Kenny Rogers still looks every bit like the refined country gentleman he's portrayed since early on, with his perfectly coiffed hair, silvery beard and GQ three-piece apparel. But has the man whose ongoing list of hits famously included "The Gambler" really taken that much of a gamble with his career?

That might have been the case early on, when the risks brought

higher stakes and were needed in order to jumpstart his career. He

joined his first band, appropriately dubbed the Scholars, while he was

still in college, but then took his chances as a bass player and solo

artist and attained minor success. After that, he made a safer bet by

joining the long established New Christy Minstrels. He opted to gamble

when he and other members of the group broke away to form the First

Edition. Their wager paid off and they scored a run of hits, beginning

with the slightly psychedelic "I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition

My Condition Was In)." And from then on, Rogers was on a roll.

It seems though that at that point, Rogers hedged his bets. Knowing they had an able front man, the band tagged their brand to acknowledge him at the helm, transforming itself into Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. With country music becoming more than just a roll of the dice, they shifted their style accordingly and scored such chart toppers as "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love To Town)" and "Rube James." Rogers made one last wager, starting his own record company, which he called Jolly Rogers. This time though, he folded his cards and the label went bust. 

From that point on however, Lady Luck smiled on Rogers' endeavors and he was able to play his hand close to the vest. He signed to a major record label, United Artists, and gravitated to songs that provided him with sure bets - "Lucille" (a country music Single of the Year), "The Gambler," "She Believes In Me," "You Decorated My Life" and "Coward of the County." But then he hedged his bets again. While his crossover success on the pop charts was now well established, Rogers opted to guard the winnings by teaming with Dottie West for a further series of singles and reaped another windfall in the process. 

In the '80s, Rogers hit the jackpot once again by sharing a duet with Kim Carnes on the song "Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer," covering Lionel Richie's "Lady" and subsequently signing with RCA and hitting pay dirt when he covered the Bee Gee-penned "Islands in the Stream" with Dolly Parton. He also acted in a pair of TV movies that took their plots from the story lines of his songs. Suffice it to say the payout was sizeable. And with all those aforementioned assets in his till, that strategy amounted to an easy wager. 

Rogers' winning steak continued unabated even when the hits ran out. He made a very safe bet - and upped the ante all at the same time - when he went into the fast food business and put his name to Kenny Rogers Roasters. At very least, it allowed him to his bets. The fact that he bore more than a passing resemblance to Colonel Sanders certainly helped tip his hand. 

In the end, these lyrics extracted from his signature song perfectly sum up the tack Rogers has taken throughout his career:

"If you're gonna play the game,boy 
You gotta learn to play it right... "

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Lee Zimmerman