The first time I knew the name Kenny Rogers was as a member of a group called The First Edition. Several people, including Thelma Camacho, Mike Settle, and Terry Williams, split off from a folk-music troupe, The New Christy Minstrels.
They had a big hit, Just Dropped In (To See What My Condition My Condition Was In), which got all the way to #5 pop in March of 1968. It was a quasi-psychedelic track later covered by Tom Jones.
After a couple flops, they released But You Know I Love You. They performed it on some variety shows, because I remember the applause at the dead-stop false ending. It went to #19 in early 1969.
Their next hit was Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town. By now, Kenny Rogers was receiving top billing. Read about the Mel Tillis song, which was not about the aftermath of the Vietnam war. It went to #6 pop and #39 country in mid-1969.
The follow-up, Reuben James, went to #26 pop, #46 country. The group had a few more hits, notably Something’s Burning (#11 pop). They even had their own syndicated show called Rollin’ in 1972. Kenny went solo in 1973. It took a while, but the hits eventually came.
His first country #1 was Lucille in 1977, which also went to #5 pop and went gold.
When the dealin’s done
If one knows only one Kenny Rogers song, it might be The Gambler. While it only went to #16 pop in 1979, it went to #1 for three weeks country. Moreover, there were at least three TV movies about it, starring Rogers. And it’s the only one of his songs ever quoted in this blog.
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
In 1980, Kenny Rogers was the #1 pop artist, with massive crossover hits. Lady, written by Lionel Richie, for instance, was #1 for six weeks pop, #1 country, and #42 soul.
You probably have your own favorites, including duets with female artists. I count 20 #1 country hits among the 53 songs charting. His other #1 pop song was Islands in the Stream with Dolly Parton for two weeks in 1983.
He was a ubiquitous popular culture presence for decades, and I’m sorry about his passing.