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Kenny Rogers is known worldwide as an award-winning pop and country singer. But many fans don’t know he began his career 50 years ago singing in a doo-wop group at his Texas high school. He played stand-up bass in a jazz trio before joining a rock band in the late 1960s. It was with the band First Edition that Kenny Rogers found fame with the song, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” In 1977, he launched a solo career in country music with the hit “Lucille.” He soon became known for his story songs like “The Gambler.” Diane talks with Kenny Rogers about his journey from a Houston housing project to becoming one of the best-selling artists of all time.
- Kenny Rogers Three-time Grammy Award winner and recipient of 18 American Music Awards, eight Academy of Country Music Awards and five Country Music Association Awards.
Video: From The Studio
Grammy Award-winning musician Kenny Rogers broke into song while in studio as he described his mother’s reaction to his 1977 ballad, “Lucille.”
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir” by Kenny Rogers. Copyright 2012 by Kenny Rogers. Reprinted here by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Kenny Rogers has sold close to 200 million records. That's pretty impressive for one of seven children raised by Floyd and Lucille Rogers in a Houston housing project. Kenny Rogers joins me here in the studio to talk about his new memoir. It details his life and a five-decade music career. It's titled "Luck or Something Like It." And you can join us. I know many of you are Kenny Rogers' fans. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Kenny Rogers, it's so good to meet you.
MR. KENNY ROGERSThank you so much. First of all, I'm one of eight children.
ROGERSUnless you're leaving one of them out. One of them didn't deserve to be mentioned anyway.
REHMI'm glad you're here.
ROGERSI am too, and I appreciate you're having me here.
REHMThank you. I want to know that, before the show started, we got two tweets, one of which said, "Everywhere we went in Uganda we heard Kenny Rogers. No kidding. He's huge there."
REHMAnd then another: "What is it with Kenny Rogers in Africa? A friend in Kenya said the same thing."
ROGERSYou know, I don't know. I went to Africa on a safari once, not a hunting safari, but a photographic safari with my wife and 10 other people. And we had this group of guys that took care of us, and every one of those guys ended up at the end of the thing with albums they wanted me to sign, which I thought was pretty cool, you know.
REHMSo it must have gone viral maybe.
ROGERSI guess so, but they looked old like they'd had them for a while so...
REHMIsn't that interesting?
ROGERSIt does --it fascinates me because I never take that for granted. You know, I go into a country, and I figure I have to start from scratch. And I'm surprised at -- you know, interestingly enough, someone told me once -- I was talking to a guy from some bizarre country, I don't know what it was, and I said, how would you have ever heard my music? And they said, because before we had our own radio stations, National Public Radio used to come in here, and they used to play you a lot.
REHMI love it.
ROGERSSo I have to give you credit.
REHMI love it. I love it. Well, I want to ask you first about that first solo hit of yours, "Lucille," and your mother's reaction.
ROGERSOK. You're going to play the song first and then...
REHMI want to hear a little bit about your mother, and then we'll work that song in.
ROGERSWell, my mom, first of all, you have to know that I had recently told her about a song called "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town"...
REHMWhich we're going to hear.
ROGERS...that was written by Mel Tillis because he wrote it about someone he knew. So I think my mom assumed all songs written are written about people they knew, and she assumed I had written this song. So she was all over me and saying, you know, how dare you do that?
REHMHow dare you do that? Let's hear it.
REHMHow I love that voice.
ROGERSYou know, I appreciate that. You know, it's so funny. My mom, who was such an important part of my life, she used to tell people, they would say, well, what do you think about his success? And she, you know, that boy never worked a day in his life. All he ever did was sing. It was like this isn't a job.
ROGERSBut she was very proud, you know, and she was a very strong woman in the sense that, you know, she only had a third grade education. But she had so many important things to say in my life that I think really shaped who I am.
REHMJust wonderful. You know, when you think about the fact that your father was an alcoholic...
REHM...and you talk about that a lot in the book, you talk about the fact that, when you begin to speak about your father, you identify him as an alcoholic. You say your mother really had to put up with a lot.
ROGERSBut you know what? One of the sad things about my life I've found is that I didn't know my father better. I mean, a friend of mine who was really a marriage counselor at one time, he said, every time you talk about your father, the first thing you say is, he was an alcoholic. And he said, is that how you see him? I said, no, he was a very funny man. He had a -- I've always said I get my sense of humor from my father and my sense of values from my mother, and it's a great combination. He was a great man because if you go back and you look at those times, almost every man was an alcoholic.
ROGERSThey'd come out of World War II where everybody worked at the shipyards, had a job. The jobs closed down after the war. He didn't have a -- he couldn't support his family, and that's got to be devastating too. And then I think my mom kind of unintentionally but necessarily emasculated him. She -- you know, he would bring his check home. She would take it and hide it.
ROGERSOtherwise he would go drink it up, and the family would have nothing. And I think that was very devastating to him. So I -- after having written the book and learned more about my father, I really regret that I didn't know him better as a man.
REHMBut what could she have done otherwise?
ROGERSShe couldn't -- she had no choices.
REHMExactly, because if he'd taken that money and spent it on alcohol, what would you kids have done?
ROGERSYeah. An alcoholic by nature means you don't have a choice. You know, he would have taken that money. He would've spent it. And he was kind of funny. He got smart. He'd bring his money home, and he'd hide it. But he would hide when he was drunk. Then he couldn't find it when he was sober, so they'd have to go through the house looking for his money.
REHMNow, you promised yourself you would never become either involved in alcohol or drugs. You did get tempted a couple of times?
ROGERSOh, I played with it in the '60s. Didn't everyone? But, you know, it was -- I was always worried about my ability to control it because of my dad. I worried if that was something that was predisposed to if my dad was an alcoholic. And alcohol has just never interested and -- except, we had -- I had this big place in Athens, Ga., and my wife used to love to throw parties. And we'd get...
ROGERSWanda, she's the only wife I talk about.
REHMYour current wife.
ROGERSYeah, she's great. But we'd have these big parties, and they would all drink 'cause we were staying on the property. And one night I thought I was drinking piña colada mix, you know, the pineapple -- and about halfway through, she started spiking them. And after I had four, it was like something hit me and like a baseball bat hit me.
ROGERSI realized I'm a lot more fun when I drink.
REHMI think most people think they're a lot more fun when they drink.
ROGERSYeah, that's probably what it was. I thought I was more fun.
REHMNot sure they really are, but in any event you actually, in high school, began forming your first band. You really were intense about wanting to create music.
ROGERSWell, I just loved it. I went to see Ray Charles when I was 12, and I was struck by the fact that people laughed at everything he said and clapped for everything he sang. And I thought, wow, who wouldn't want to do that? I didn't even know I could sing at the time. So -- but I started singing in church choirs and glee club in school.
ROGERSAnd my glee club teacher, Miss LaFesty (sp?) said, you know, you're really very good. You should do something with this. Which I guess was the kind of the nexus for what I chose to do. But started putting groups together because, you know, I learned really quickly that the guys in the groups got all the girls. So I -- and I was very one-dimensional at that time. Apparently academics didn't mean a lot to me, but music was great.
REHMAnd the friendship that you formed with the group was good, too?
ROGERSYeah, it was a bunch of guys that I went to church with, the first group. And we formed this little group, and we went around to sing at, what at the time were called, sock hops at the schools. So we'd go get on stage and sing, and, you know, it was really a great time in my life because the people I associated with weren't troublemakers. So we spent all of our time getting better at what we had chosen.
REHMKenny Rogers, his new memoir is titled "Luck or Something Like It." You can join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd I'm sure many of you, if not all, recognize that voice, that wonderfully distinctive voice of Kenny Rogers. He's here in the studio with me. He's got a brand new memoir. It's titled, "Luck or Something Like It." He was raised in a housing project, one of eight children in Houston, Texas. His father had drinking problems, shall we say. His mother was a stalwart who worked. She worked how many jobs, Kenny?
ROGERSSo many. She worked as a -- at the church, in the nursery. And then she worked at the Rice Hotel cleaning rooms. She just worked everywhere. She was an amazing woman. She was a nurse's assistant at the hospital.
REHMAnd yet somewhere in your heart, you believe, she emasculated your father.
ROGERSI'm not sure that's the right word.
REHMSounds as though she -- yeah, she needed to deal with how to deal with how to take care of you all.
ROGERSWell, sometimes reality is emasculating, you know.
ROGERSEmasculating in the sense that he wanted to be the man but wasn't capable. And I think that really hurt him, and he knew that. But to my father's credit, he stayed with my mom until he died. And he didn't just run off and leave and find somebody else and do that. So I have to step back from him sometimes and think about those qualities that he had, and he was funny. He was a hilarious man to be around.
ROGERSHe made us laugh every night. And so, you know, they each had their contribution to the family. But my mom's was stronger, you know. And my mom, I remember her going to all these jobs, and she told me once, son, she said, be happy where you are. Never be content to be there. But if you're not happy where you are, you'll never be happy.
REHMHere's an email from Keith, who says, "I was becoming a little disillusioned with rock music at about same time Kenny Rogers switched to country. I'd like to know if Kenny Rogers had similar feelings for the direction rock music was taking at that time."
ROGERSWell, I was accidentally rock. You know, in high school, there was a friend of mine named Mickey Newbury who did imbibe in medications, and he wrote, "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In." And I just loved the song. I thought it was so cool. So I asked him if I could record it, and he said he couldn't let me have it because Sammy Davis, Jr. had it on hold. I would have loved to have heard that record.
REHMOh, my goodness.
ROGERSBut, you know, I just -- we were never comfortable. The first edition was never comfortable being rock and roll. And we never fully accepted that song was so unique that it was played on rock radio. If you look back, we had songs like, "Reuben James," "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town." And we had songs that were really country oriented. And I've always been much more comfortable there.
REHMAnd let's hear a little of "Ruby."
REHMTell me about that song because it created a lot of stir.
ROGERSAnd it should have. You know, the '60s was a time where the public fought back. You know, before that, the music of the '30s and '40s was all what a wonderful world this is and how beautiful you look tonight. And about the '60s, people started saying, wait a minute, there's more to this life than that.
ROGERSBut what's really interesting that I learned from that song is that if you do a hook to the song that's sing-along-able -- if that's such a word -- that people will sing it. And later they'll go, oh, my god, that's about a guy who's going to kill his wife. You don't realize it until after it's -- until after they already love the song.
REHMBut it's also about Vietnam.
ROGERSIt was actually written about the Korean War. It says crazy Asian war, but I released it during the Vietnam War, so everybody assumed that's what it was. One thing that I think was fascinating is it took -- you hear 10,000 people are killed, and you don't really relate to it. I mean, it's tragic, and we all know that. But when one guy comes back home and tries to reinsert himself into his life and he has troubles, marriage problems, it puts the war on a one-to-one level, and we can all relate to that. And I think that was the beauty to that song.
REHMAnd this poor man comes back injured.
REHMAnd he's watching his wife go out the door.
REHMAnd he's afraid he's losing her.
ROGERSYeah, and he's threatening, in his mind at least, to kill her. So that's what, you know, I've always done two types of songs, the first are songs that say what every man would like to say and every woman would like to hear. If you listen to "Lady," "She Believes in Me," "You Decorated My Life," "Through the Years," all that. And the others are what I call social songs, songs that have social conscience to them.
ROGERSYou know, "Coward of the County" was about a rape, and I don't think people even realized that. They sing along with it. And they sing along and then one day they look back and go, wait a minute, that's about a rape. "Reuben James" was about a black man who raised a white child -- "Ruby" about the Vietnam War vet. So, I mean, I think you could do things -- if you could make people like the music, they'll get the message. But if they don't like the music, they're not going to listen to the message.
REHMTell me about five marriages.
ROGERSGreat. What can I tell you? You know, it's interesting. I loved every woman I married.
REHMYeah, I know you did.
ROGERSYou cannot accuse me of not being able to commit. But what's really interesting, I think, one of the things I realized in writing this book is there's a very fine line between being driven and being selfish. And I think I crossed that line a couple of times because...
ROGERS...subconsciously I wasn't saying I want to be successful at any cost, but I think I set out on a path that required me to be gone so much from home. And I don't care how much you love someone. If you're gone five or six months out of the year, you're going to disconnect. And I think once the marriage had run its course, it wasn't fair to everybody to do that. Do I wish I'd handled it differently? I wish I'd been more sensitive, if nothing else.
ROGERSYou know, I don't think -- recently, I've been watching a lot of television. I always have. But I've noticed how many kids are so screwed up because their parents got divorced. And I don't think I realized that. I thought, well, hey, she and I aren't getting along, I'm going to leave, and she'll take care of the kid. And I must say, you know, my boys, my older boys are incredible people. So my wives did wonderful things for them.
REHMAnd, now, you've been married for 20 years to Wanda.
ROGERSWe've been together 20 years, married for 15 years.
ROGERSIt just seemed like 20. I don't...
REHMAnd you've got twins?
ROGERSEight years old.
ROGERSYeah, they say having kids at my age make you or break you. And right now I'm leaning heavily toward break.
REHMIs that right?
ROGERSOh, it's such a great thing. You know, I regret, and I get choked up when I think about this, that I won't be here for that important part -- time in their life when they really need my help. So I took a couple of these books, and I signed one to Justin and one to Jordan.
ROGERSAnd I said, maybe this will help you understand who I really -- I can't do it -- who I really was. You know, because otherwise they wouldn't know what I've been through to get where I've been. And I said, I expect great things from both of you. Don't let me down.
ROGERSI don't think they will.
REHMI don't think so.
ROGERSThey're such good kids. And that I owe to Wanda. It's always the case, though. You know, men try as hard as they can, but they're always mama's boys. You know, I was. I know that.
REHMOne of my favorites has always been "The Gambler."
REHMWere you a gambler?
ROGERSYou know, I used to gamble. Then I realized that I can't win enough to excite me, but I could lose enough to depress me. So I quit gambling.
ROGERSThat's Dottie West singing in the background. It was, you know, that was a great time when she and I were kind of locked together professionally. And she loves singing on my records. I love singing on her records. And it was just a thrill for me to be a part of that because she was a very special person.
REHMTell me about Dottie because she died young.
ROGERSYeah. You know, she had more problems than that. She had a business manager who stole all her money -- I mean, it was several million dollars -- and just ran off with it. And so she was broke. And that hurt her more than anything else. The IRS came in and started taking her gold records off the wall, taking personal things, you know, and I guess that's what they do. But it just broke her heart. And she was a broken, broken woman at that time. So, you know, I had a deal with Dodge, Chrysler, and I gave her one of my cars. I couldn't give it to her 'cause if she owned it they could get it.
ROGERSSo I loaned it to her. And I think the day that she was going to the studios, the car wouldn't start, so -- and some -- the older guy took her, and they got in a car wreck. But I went to the hospital, and I saw her. And she was barely distinguishable, the way she looked. And I held her hand, and I said, Dottie, if you get out of this, we're going to do another duet. And they said she couldn't communicate, but I swear she squeezed my hand, you know.
REHMYou really do love doing duets.
ROGERSI do. You know, I have this thing about duets. I think that it's like running the 100-yard dash. You get out, and people say run it as fast as you can. You'll run it as fast as you think you can. But you put someone alongside you who runs faster, and you are going to run faster. So that's the same thing with duets.
REHMKenny Rogers, and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to your hometown, Houston, Texas.
REHMGood morning, Rhonda.
RHONDAHi. Kenny Rogers, I love your songs. I am an African American woman, and my middle name is Lucille.
ROGERSUh-oh. So the song was about you?
RHONDAYeah, it was.
ROGERSOK. We got to the bottom of that one.
RHONDAAnd she probably should have left my grandfather, but she didn't.
ROGERSYou know, life turns -- has some funny twists to it sometimes.
ROGERSAnd the trick is to take advantage of whichever way it goes. I mean, my mom loved my dad. My dad loved my mom. That was a problem they had to deal with.
REHMYou're going to hear an interesting comment from Teresita who's in Greensboro, N.C. Hi, there.
TERESITAHi. How are you?
REHMI'm good. How about you?
TERESITAI'm doing well, thank you.
TERESITAI just wanted to tell Mr. Rogers that I was born in Cuba, and I came into this country when I was 7 years old. And when we first got to the country, we had three albums, and one of them was one of Kenny Rogers' albums. And that was the way we learned how to speak English.
ROGERSOh, that's child abuse, isn't it, to start them that early?
ROGERSYou know, I've had so many people tell me that they learned to speak English because country music is simple. You know, if it hurts, you say it hurts. And I think that people learn to speak, you know, sentences through listening. They learn a song, and then they find out what it means. But that's very nice and very flattering, and I really appreciate that.
REHMYou know, there's another element of sound to your voice.
REHMAnd that's that gravelly vibrato. Tell me about that.
ROGERSRight. Well, you know, how you develop styles is you sing along, and you do something. I have a thing where I do a real wide vibrato as well. And if people tell you, boy, I hate it when you do that, then you quit doing it. If enough people tell you, I really like that one, then you find places to put it, you know.
ROGERSAnd that's what happened. It's a natural thing for me to sing like that and have that gravel in my throat. I don't know why, but it's something -- I think it also makes you listen to the lyric more. If it was just this warm, beautiful sound, I don't know that anybody would listen to it. But when you add that gravel to it, it makes you say, wait, hold on, what's he saying?
REHMBut, you know, Andy Williams, for example, who died recently...
ROGERSGood friend of mine. Good friend of mine.
REHM...had a rather smooth-sounding voice. He really did develop a listenership.
REHMSo, I mean, different kinds of voices.
ROGERSWell, yeah. I'm not saying one is better than the other. I'm just saying that...
ROGERS...in my case, the lyrics I sing are lyrics that require that you listen to them to find the story. So that's all. And I think it's helped me in what I do.
REHMKenny Rogers, his new memoir titled, "Luck or Something Like It."
REHMKenny Rogers is here with me in the studio. We're talking about his new memoir which I must say is very frank and very open in it's -- you don't hide any of your warts.
ROGERSWell, you know, one of the things that I told the people when I was doing it, I said -- when I told the publishers I said, I will not get into a he-said-she-said. I don't want to get into the salaciousness of all of this. The reason I did this is Patsy Bale Cox who was going to be the original writer on the book, you know, they said give her 20 hours, take her -- tell her your stories, and she'll write the book.
ROGERSWell, she started writing, and then she developed breast cancer and died. So she couldn't finish the book. And I started reading it, and, as wonderful as it was, it wasn't in my voice.
REHMIt wasn't you.
ROGERSIt wasn't in my voice. So I took the stories back and starting writing them. And I've always been very open about everything that's ever happened to me 'cause I figure if you tell people, they don't care. If you hide it, somebody's going to dig it up.
REHMAbsolutely, they'll find it. Here is a fabulous email from David who says, "I was in Rwanda in 1994 about a week before the massacre started in a small village in the most remote part of the mountains. I stayed in a two-room wooden hotel, served only as a restaurant and bar for miles. Upon my arrival, the proprietor asked me for two batteries. With a small cassette player, he played Kenny Rogers' "Lucille" over and over again until the batteries wore down."
ROGERSWow. You know, I'm so flattered by those things 'cause I don't get it. I don't know how to say it. You know, it shocks me, but...
REHMWhat shocks you?
ROGERSThat people that far away would like that song.
ROGERSI don't know why, but I think it's very flattering. And I'm thrilled with it. But every time I hear a story about someone in Uganda or somewhere liking my music, I have to just take a deep breath and go, how did that happen, you know?
REHMNow, I guess another element of how did that happen, looking at your face on the cover of this book, which I have always felt was such a handsome face, we have an email from Christine in Baltimore. She says, "I do hope we'll hear from Mr. Rogers about the dramatic change in his looks. Is he glad he underwent plastic surgery, and how has it changed things for him?"
ROGERSWell, in answer to your question, I'm glad I did it. I wish the results had been better. But, you know, like I said, I've always been open. I didn't put that in the book, the plastic surgery stuff 'cause that's all I would've talked about on the shows. And I think there's much more to it -- to my life than that, but I'm not ashamed of it.
ROGERSAnd do I wish I hadn't done it? I don't know what I would've looked like if I hadn't done it, so I have to settle for what I look like now. And I'm not unhappy now. Things have settled down. I think the guy that did my eyes took the edges too high for me, and I didn't like it. And I told him so. So -- but, you know, you live and you do things.
REHMWhy did you decide to do it?
ROGERS'Cause I could afford it, and I think it was -- you know, you go through those periods in your life. And I don't think I've ever been afraid of growing old. That's never been a deal with me. But, you know, I went through a thing where, well, what can I do? Can I do this? Can I do that? And I did it, you know.
REHMDid it have something to do with marrying a younger woman?
ROGERSOh no, this was before I met her.
ROGERSLong before that, yeah.
REHMI see. So...
ROGERSIt was just cosmetic. You know, that's exactly what it is. It's...
REHMAnd so when you look in the mirror now, do you see Kenny Rogers any differently? Do you think any differently about Kenny Rogers?
ROGERSI think that's a hard question to answer because I see what I see, and I've looked like this for 20 years and whatever it is. So I think this is what I look like. I look at old pictures of me, and I see, you know, wonderful lines in my eyes.
ROGERSAnd do I wish they were still there? Yeah. But would they be lines or bags at this point? So you can't look back. You can't go back. You can't change it.
REHMDo you think your fans would have reacted to you differently or have they that -- because clearly they've noticed.
ROGERSWell, yeah, but you know what? You don't do it for the fans. You do it for yourself. I mean, I have a life I have to live.
ROGERSAnd I have to do things for me. And the fans either like it or don't like it, and you can't be responsible for that.
REHMAll right. Let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Chris. You're on the air.
CHRISOh, good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
CHRISGood morning, Mr. Rogers.
ROGERSGood morning, Chris.
CHRISAs a 9-year-old boy when the movie "Six Pack" came out, my sister and I had my dad take us to this movie -- I think it was something like six times. And I absolutely fell in love with the movie. My question was, did you enjoy working with all the kids and actually acting and, you know, what was that like?
ROGERSI absolutely -- it was one of my favorite movies to have done. You know, Diane Lane is in there. Michael Anthony Hall is in there. And one of those kids just passed away the other day. They sent me a notice on it. But it was great fun. It was a cute story. You know, that's all it was. And the only thing I didn't like is when I had to go out and save Benji. He was on a raft and Diane floating down the Chattahoochee River. And it was in, like, January. That water was so cold. I took about four strokes, and I said, let me out of here, send the stunt double in.
REHMI love it.
ROGERSBut it was -- you know, it's -- movies like that are so much fun to do. And I'm so glad I did that, you know. And someone was telling me the other day, they said, you know you're really a very good actor. I said, I'm not a -- there are actors, and there are people who can act. I said, I'm not an actor. An actor can take unbelievable dialogue and make it believable. I can take believable dialogue and keep it believable. I found out I'm really good at being me in different clothes. I can be western. I can be a -- I was a preacher. I can do all that, but it's still me.
REHMIt's you. And Lynn in Johnson City, Tenn. has a comment for you. Good morning, Lynn.
LYNNGood morning. Thank you for speaking with me.
LYNNI go way back with -- and hello, Kenny.
LYNNI go way back with you, and -- personally with the First Edition. And I started working in music retail in 1975, so I followed your career from that point on and sold a lot of your records by the way.
ROGERSWell, that's very nice. Thanks.
LYNNYes, and anyway, my son is 19 and is a big Dolly Parton fan.
ROGERSAren't we all?
LYNNAs a result of that, he became a huge Kenny Rogers fan. He's 19 years old and, you know, a generation...
ROGERSSo I got caught up in the draft, huh?
LYNNYou got that right. My question is, are you seeing not only -- you know, I'm 57 -- are you seeing a younger fan base of any sort that is -- has an interest in your music?
ROGERSYeah, you know what I'm convinced of? All the people that bought my records played it for their kids. And while it's child abuse, I think those kids are now growing up and enjoying what they heard when they were kids. So it's a great hand-off, I think.
REHMThis has such an interesting rhythm.
ROGERSWell, the Bee Gees are notorious -- and that's the Bee Gees singing background -- they are notorious for writing everything on the upbeat. So as an artist, it's hard to sing that.
REHMYeah, and you know as a listener something's going on here...
ROGERSBut, you know, they -- they wrote the song and they gave it to me. And I'm in the studio, and I sang this for four days. And I finally turned to Barry Gibb, and I said, Barry I don't even like this song anymore. And like an epiphany, I mean, that quickly he says, we need Dolly Parton. And I said, I don't know Dolly, but my manager had just run into her.
ROGERSSo he said, let me call her. So 45 minutes later, she walked in the studio, and she marched -- you know, Dolly marches. She doesn't walk. So when she came in the studio, that song was never the same, and I give her full credit for it. And it was so much fun. And it was the beginning of two or three years of great camaraderie between the two of us.
REHMYou think that Dolly says what she means.
ROGERSWell, she -- I'm convinced she has no filter, that if she thinks it, it comes out her mouth, you know. And that's the beauty to her is that -- and that's what everybody loves about her. You know, I have a theory that we're all three people. I'm who I think I am, I'm who you think I am, and I'm who I really am. And the closer those three are together, the longer your career can last. If you look at Dolly, she's everything she says she is. Look at Willy Nelson.
ROGERSHe's everything he says he is. If you look at Johnny Cash, he was everything he said he was. And I'd like to think that I'm that way. And I think that's part of the reason -- nobody likes to get tricked. They don't like to think you're something and find out you're not. And with her, she's everything. If you like her on the radio, you'll love her in person because she's that and more.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I have a sense that your grounding, your background really lent you that ability to combine those three.
ROGERSYeah, well you know, Patsy Bale Cox who was writing this -- and I have to give Alan Rucker who came in after the fact and kind of organized this mess. But she said, Kenny I'm going to give you a secret about writing autobiographies. If they love the boy, they'll like the man. So she said, let's really pay attention to how you became you. And that's what's in the book. It talks about how I got from -- what the title really talks about is I wrote a song called "Love or Something Like It" and so we took the title "Luck or something Like It."
ROGERSAnd the idea is I was in jazz for 10 years, avant-garde jazz, and how I went from jazz to the New Christy Minstrels. And overnight I left on a Friday and started on a Monday, and it was really intricate difficult music to the simplest form of music. But it was music with a message, and I think that was really important to me. So then when we left the First Edition -- when we left the New Christy Minstrels -- four of us walked out of the middle of it -- we left on a Friday and started on a Monday with the First Edition. So I've just been so lucky to be in places I've been.
REHMThere is another duet that I absolutely adore that you recorded with Lionel Richie.
ROGERSOh, I like him.
REHMI gather you're about to record another song with Lionel Richie.
ROGERSWell, you know, Lionel and I have been friends for 40 years, and the problem with Lionel is his yes is a no and his no is a maybe. You know, he'll go home and say, I can't believe I agreed to do that. Then he'll find a way out of it. But if he says no, he'll go home and say, I really should've done that. So he told me yes, which scares me a little bit, but it's a song -- one of the guys from the Commodores, William King's son came to see me in California at a show.
ROGERSAnd he said, Kenny, some of my favorite childhood memories are going -- when us -- when we went to visit you in Georgia. And he said, I realized the other day you can't make old friends. You either have them or you don't. So I started thinking about that, and I went back to Don Schlitz. And we were talking, and he said, can I have a shot at writing? One day later, he sent me this song called "You Can't Make Old Friends." And Lionel said yes, which means it'll never happen.
REHMAnd you bet it will happen.
ROGERSWe've already cut the tracks. I'm going to force him. I'm going to track him down. He's one of my better friends in the business, and I love him with all of his flaws.
REHMAnd one last portion of a song before we go out, got to hear it.
ROGERSNow, what man wouldn't want to say that, and what woman wouldn't want to hear it?
REHMI'd like to hear this all day long.
ROGERSOh, thanks. Thank for having me here.
REHMOh, I'm so pleased you could come. Now, there are two Mr. Rogers at the top of my list, Fred Rogers and now Kenny.
ROGERSI'm going to put my sweater on.
REHMAll right. You've got a beautiful shirt. The book is called "Luck or Something Like It."
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