Five Takeaways from A&E’s ‘Biography: Kenny Rogers’ Special

We learned quite a bit about the Gambler.

Five Takeaways from A&E’s ‘Biography: Kenny Rogers’ Special
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton; Photo credit: Joshua Timmermans

The third A&E country music installment, Biography: Kenny Rogers, followed the life and career of the country singer. The special, airing last night (4/13), featured early video clips of Rogers including his TV debut on the retro show, American Bandstand

The program also broadcasted interviews and performance scenes from Rogers’ farewell show, Kenny Rogers: All In For The Gambler, which took place at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on October 25, 2017. Artists who made appearances alongside Rogers were Chris Stapleton, Lady Antebellum, Reba McEntire, Little Big Town, Jamey Johnson and more.

Prior to being a country icon, Rogers first received notoriety as the lead singer in rock ’n’ roll group, The First Edition. After touring with the group for several years, the five members decided to go their separate ways. “When The First Edition broke up, I didn’t know where to go,” Rogers explained. 

The singer-songwriter then made the choice to move to Nashville for a new music career direction. After a serendipitous meeting with producer Larry Butler, Rogers began his start in country music.

Here are five takeaways we learned about Kenny Rogers’ life and career:

1) Kenny Rogers first wrote the song “Sweet Music Man” about Waylon Jennings. 

During a video recorded conversation with producer-musician Don Was, Rogers confirmed he began writing the song about Jennings. In the end, the song also held motivational meaning for the performer — with the final line in the tune singing, “Sing your song sweet music man, I believe in you.” 

“It started as about Waylon, and by the time I finished it, it was about me,” Rogers said. 

2) Kenny Rogers’ classic “The Gambler” was previously recorded by Johnny Cash, but never released as a single.

With Rogers being a natural storyteller singer, Butler convinced him to record the song. “I said, ‘Kenny, if you record this, I think you will become ‘The Gambler,’” Butler recounted. No truer words were ever spoken, and the song became synonymous with country crooners’ identity.

3) Pop singer Lionel Richie wrote his own solo smashes “Hello” and “All Night Long” while staying in Rogers’ guest house.

Richie, who wrote Rogers’ crossover No.1 song “Lady,” became musically inspired while staying at his home. After forming a close friendship with the pop singer, Rogers invited Richie to live in one of his guest houses for a while.

Richie jokingly said, “The problem with me was not getting me in the guest house, but was kicking me out of the guest house.” 

4) Rogers threatened to quit country music if his single, “Lucille,” wasn’t a success.

After persuasion from his producer, Rogers agreed to cut the traditional country track. He also threatened to leave country music behind if “Lucille” didn’t become a success. 

Rogers’ brother Randy explained why the tune was a good fit, saying, “He had that storytelling voice that goes with country music, and that’s what sells the song.”

5) The timeless Rogers and Dolly Parton duet, “Islands In the Stream,” wasn’t recorded as a duet in the beginning.

Before the notorious collaboration with Parton, Rogers was recording the song with Bee Gees member Barry Gibb as producer. “I sang that song for four days, and I finally just said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore,’” Rogers stated. Gibb and Rogers decided it was time to turn the song into a duet, and requested Parton to be part of the project.

Fortunately, as fate would have it, Parton had an apartment up the street from Rogers’ studio in L.A. “She came marching in the studio [because] Dolly doesn’t walk anywhere, she marches,” Rogers quipped. The song would eventually become an instant classic, and a chance for the legends to tour worldwide together.

Towards the end of the program, both Parton and Rogers appeared onstage from ‘The Gambler’s’ aforementioned final show to perform, “Islands In the Stream,” one last time.