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© Allen, Willie J. Jr/ZUMA Press/Corbis
These days, Kenny Rogers is in the advertising business. GEICO, the car insurance company, signed him up for a television spot in which he annoys fellow poker players by singing his signature gambling song under his breath.
The past few years have also seen him release a worthy, new collection of sentimental tunes, You Can’t Make Old Friends, and win over the millennial crowds at Bonnaroo and Glastonbury, along with the sort of mile-marker moments you’d be more prone to expect from a septuagenarian superstar. After publishing a memoir and being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rogers has just become the subject of an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Kenny Rogers: Through the Years.
The day that MusicRadar sat down with the Houston-bred singer at the museum, an array of artifacts awaited display in the gallery space. There was rather dignified western attire he wore in the TV movie role of The Gambler, the sheet music to some of his singles, a framed award as long as a dinner table recognizing 12 times platinum sales of his Greatest Hits album, a wooden tambourine like those he tosses out during shows, more than one concert poster and such period-embodying stage clothes as a bejeweled, denim outfit from Tony Alamo of Nashville that he wore with the psychedelic folk-rock group The First Edition. The tangible items proved a good jumping off point for discussing Rogers’ career, long and varied as it’s been.
(For more information on the Kenny Rogers: Through The Years exhibit, visit the website of the Country Music Hall Of Fame And Museum.)
So many of the interviews you’ve done have begun with interviewers quoting back to you how many albums you’ve sold, lumping everything together as though there was no difference between your era fronting The First Edition and your decades as a solo artist. But it’s really one of the greatest second-act stories in popular music.
“Yep. It’s one career... but several episodes.”
Weren’t you approaching 40 when you launched your solo career?
“I think I was 35. Because I remember [producer] Larry Butler went to war the president of the record company. [The president] kept saying, ‘He’s too old.’”
How likely or unlikely did it seem to you at the time that your solo country bid would work?
“You know, I’ve never thought in terms of that. Because when I went with The First Edition, I was the oldest one in that group. So they didn’t want me, because I was too old. So I went and I grew my hair, grew a beard, put an earring in my ear, put on some sunglasses.”