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‘The Gambler’ gave us a great ride

With our attention focused squarely on all the latest news concerning the COVID-19 virus and its widespread impact on our daily lives, perhaps some missed an equally sad story that broke on Friday of last week.

Kenneth Ray Rogers, the fourth of eight children born to Edward and Lucille Rogers – a poor family living in public housing in Houston, Texas – died at the age of 81 at his home in Sandy Springs, GA.

He was better known as Kenny Rogers, a man who rose to stardom with his gravely voice and a knack for telling stories through his music.

I became a fan way back in the day when Rogers played bass guitar and sang lead vocals for a band known as The First Edition. They were formed in 1967, just at the same time that my musical tastes were broadening at the age of 14.

Their sound was a mix between country rock, pop, and psychedelic rock. The latter was found in their first big hit in 1968: “Just Dropped In.” One year later, their big hit – “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” – had more of a country rock sound.

What I heard in the late 60’s was only a small taste of great things to come for this talented singer/songwriter.

Between 1977 and 1987, Kenny Rogers, now as a solo artist, saw his work 20 times at the top of the Country Charts with one big hit after another. Some of those were on the Pop Charts as well.

Who can forget such classics as The Gambler, Lucille, Lady, She Believes in Me, Through the Years, You Decorated my Life, Daytime Friends, Reuben James, Coward of the County, Something’s Burning, and Love Will Turn You Around.

And then there were those duos with legendary female artists: Islands in the Stream (Dolly Parton), Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer (Kim Carnes), We’ve Got Tonight (Sheena Easton) and my favorite – Every Time Two Fools Collide (Dottie West).

It’s no wonder that Rogers, over the course of his career, sold more than 50 million albums….and that’s just in the United States alone.

It’s no wonder that Rogers was a five-time Country Music Association award winner and also claimed three Grammys.

It’s no wonder that the CMA rightfully inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2013.

“Kenny was one of those artists who transcended beyond one format and geographic borders,” says Sarah Trahern, Chief Executive Officer of the Country Music Association. “He was a global superstar who helped introduce Country Music to audiences all around the world. I had the pleasure of working with him over the years and I’ll always remember his graciousness and kind heart. He has left us with his music, some of which will go down as the most memorable performances in Country Music history. Our condolences go out to his family and friends at this sad time.”

This was a bit before my musical tastes developed, but Rogers had his first claim to fame in 1958 with a song entitled – That Crazy Feeling. It was so good that it landed Rogers a spot on American Bandstand (a weekly TV music show, starting the late great Dick Clark…..I threw this explanation in for all those millennials who never heard of that ionic show and its famous host).

Rogers was also a familiar face on TV later in his career. His all-time hit song – The Gambler – led to a mini-series on the tube. He was also on the big screen with a movie – Six Pack – in 1982.

But of all that success, Rogers slipped away virtually unnoticed due to the around-the-clock coverage of COVID-19.

I only knew Kenny Rogers through his music, but listening to those songs makes me think that he would preferred to leave this world in the same way he entered it….without a lot of fanfare.

RIP to “The Gambler” and thanks for the great ride.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.