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Slow down at 75? Kenny Rogers will have none of that

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KENNY ROGERS CC (by Piper Ferguson)

Kenny Rogers. (Photo by Piper Ferguson)

Kenny Rogers has had the kind of year that the 75-year-old country crooner thought was long behind him.

• He and Dolly Parton reunited for “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” the title track off his latest album, and landed a Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance (eventually losing out to The Civil Wars). They had previously been nominated for “Islands in the Stream” (1984) and “Real Love” (1986). Meanwhile, “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” released on Oct. 8, became his 22nd Top 10 country album.

• He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October, alongside Bobby Bare and the late Cowboy Jack Clement.

• He received the CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the 47th annual CMA Awards in November.

• A real thrill for him: He was given an Honorary Masters of Photography from the Professional Photographers of America at their national convention in Phoenix last month.

• That’s not all: He co-wrote a novel, “What Are the Chances,” and a play, “The Toy Shoppe,” which had a two-month run at the Starlite Theatre in Branson, Mo.

He’s slowing down long enough to play a hits-laden show Saturday night (Feb. 8) at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

“My mom told me something as a kid that has always stuck with me: ‘Be happy where you are,’” he said. “If you’re not happy where you are, you’ll never be happy, and that’s so true.

“I’m always looking to do new things and challenge myself, whether it’s writing or photography or going out on tour. I’m what you would call ‘impulsive obsessive’ ... I never do things halfway. Like tennis, I never played until I was 35, so when I decided to take it up, I hired a coach and ended up playing professionally for a little while.”

It’s been a long, fruitful career for the former New Christy Minstrels member.

He formed The First Edition in 1967 and had a Top 5 hit right out of the gate: 1968’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” More hits followed, until Rogers went solo in 1973. Times were lean until along came “Lucille” in 1977. It sold more than a million copies and earned him the first of several Grammy and CMA Awards.

From there, it was a career full of hits (he was one of the biggest-selling artists of the 1980s), plus several successful “Gambler” TV movies.

He touches on some of the biggest hits of his career:

“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” (1968)

“That was a weird one for us, because it was kind of psychedelic. But it was exciting for me because I went to high school with Mickey Newbury, who wrote it, and we played together in New Christy Minstrels. He played it for me and I told him I thought it’d be a great song to do, but he said he had already promised it for Sammy Davis Jr., of all people. For some reason, that didn’t work out, so we ended up doing it.”

“Lucille” (1977)

“We were in the middle of recording songs for that album and (producer) Larry Butler found ‘Lucille,’ which was written by Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum. We wanted to do songs with value to them, and this had a classic story to it. This guy loved his wife but he knew something was going on and he was angry she left him ‘with four hungry children and a crop in the field.’ It still gets a strong reaction today because it’s a universal theme.”

“The Gambler” (1978)

“That was a career-building song. Don Schlitz wrote it, and what’s funny is that he’s never been a gambler. In fact, the song’s not about gambling, really, it’s a metaphor for life and picking yourself up. He just happened to hear that line when he was walking down the street one day and it stuck with him. It was brilliant.”

“Islands in the Stream,” with Dolly Parton (1983)

“Barry Gibb, who was producing my first album for RCA, wrote it with his brothers and originally planned it for Marvin Gaye but later offered it to me. I sang it by myself around the house for like four days, and I told Barry, ‘You know, I don’t like it. It’s missing something.’ He said, ‘We need Dolly.’ Someone in the studio said, ‘I just saw Dolly downstairs in a coffee shop,’ so he went down and got her. The rest is history. It began a 30-year friendship with Dolly, and I’m so thrilled with the success of the song.”

“We Are the World,” USA For Africa (1985)

“It was a great opportunity to be around so many great artists and getting together for a great cause. Lionel Richie and I shared the same manager, Ken Kragen. When I heard about the project, I offered them my recording studio for the pre- and post-recording sessions, but I never expected to be invited to sing on it. I was just so flattered they asked ... I walked in there and there were so many big names, I’m wondering, ‘Do I belong in here?’ I ended up getting everyone’s autographs that night. I couldn’t help myself.”

KENNY ROGERS
8 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 8). Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets: $65-$85. (800) 826-9303; vanwezel.org. For more on Kenny Rogers, visit kennyrogers.com.
Last modified: February 21, 2014
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