Despite scores of hits and a career spanning decades, when Kenny Rogers started work on his new album, he was unsure whether it would be a commercial success.
“The record company was incredibly generous to me,” Rogers said. “I told them I can’t promise you I’m going to get it on the radio because now they’re playing 25-year-old kids. It used to cost half a million dollars to create an image. And now it costs half a million dollars to overcome the image and the generation that I am.”
He said he isn’t allowed to discuss details of the album quite yet, but he promised that it’s exciting and it’s good stuff.
“Musically, I tried to do some things that I’ve never done before,” he said. “I was very happy with the results of it. There’s only two ways that I can compete at my age and with my history: One is to do whatever everybody else is doing and do it better; the other is to do what no one else is doing, and you don’t compete, and that’s how I decided to go with this. It’s uniquely different from what I’ve done and what everyone else is doing.
“It’s one of the most diverse albums I’ve ever done; it sounds really contemporary, with great songs, good music. It’s an album that I’m really excited about. If it’s my last album, I’ll be happy to go out this way.”
Rogers will headline the Copper Country music festival at Copper Mountain on Labor Day weekend with a show on Sunday afternoon. Despite a whole new list of songs that he could trot out for live performance, Rogers said he understands that people come to see him play his hits and will be disappointed if they are inundated with a lot of new music.
“I have to do those songs,” he said. “First of all, I went to see Ray Charles and he didn’t play ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ and I got so mad because that’s why I went to see him. I do roughly 23 to 24 hits every show I do. When you do a new song, the audience has to really work; they have to decide: Do I like this song? Do I like the way you’re doing it? Do I like what it says? It’s subliminal, but it’s constantly working. When you do a hit, they don’t have to do that. They’re a part of the song; they’re part of the show.”
Rogers said in the past, he’s tried to do one of two types of songs.
“One were ballads that say what every man would like to say and every woman would like to hear, and the other type of music is songs that have social comment of some kind,” he said. “Coward of the County” is about rape, Rogers said, and “Reuben James” is about a black man raising a white child. He also touches on the Vietnam War in “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” “They have social significance, so I think they are more powerful that just song songs, and there are a few in there that are really unique.
“You have to constantly expand your boundaries. … I don’t want to be replaying everything I’ve done.”
Hall of famer
In October, Rogers will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. He said he’s excited about the honor and he’s glad it’s happening now rather than at the height of his success.
“I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much at the peak of my career as I can now,” he said. “It’s fun for me; I have twin boys that are 9 years old, and a 31-year-old son and a 47-year-old son, and they’re all coming out here to be with me for this. It’s really important to my career. Out of all the things I’ve earned, this is probably the biggest.”
Rogers said he fits the criteria for the Hall of Fame and never understood why he hadn’t been nominated before now.
“When I came along, I did a lot more country-based pop music — it sounded more pop — and in my heart, I’d like to believe that I brought some people to country music that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he said. “I think I improved the sales of country music. I assumed that’s what it was, and people resented it. But if you look at country music now, it’s way more pop than anything I ever did.”
The evolution of country toward pop music might be necessary for the genre to thrive, Rogers said.
“I think it’s healthy,” he said. “Music has to change, and that’s why I said you have to have people in it who are willing to step out and say country music is what country people will buy. Not everybody’s country roots go back to Hank Williams. Some start with Alabama, and you have to respect that.”
If you get lucky with doing something totally different, you can start a new music trend, Rogers said, but people will always come back to the roots of what makes country music great.
“I think that’s what’s happened today,” he said. “It’s inviting a lot of young people to country music, and I think that’s really helpful. With kids, they will always stretch the boundaries and once you stretch them so far, country people won’t buy it. Then someone comes in with a really country song and brings people back, and I think that’s really healthy.”
‘What are the Chances’
Immediately following Rogers’ show at Copper Country, he will be releasing his second book, a novel titled “What Are the Chances” that comes out on Tuesday.
“The novel was really interesting because I’ve done five ‘Gambler’ movies, and they wanted me to do anther ‘Gambler’ movie, so we came up with this,” he said. “I love the story concept; there are some nooks and crannies in there and some really cool surprises.”
The book tells the story of the advent of Texas Hold’em and has its roots in the facts, Rogers said, with a bit of artistic license taken with the history and dialogue.
“It’s more about friendships and the things you do for friendships,” he said.
Despite the book and the movies, Rogers said he himself isn’t much of a gambler.
“I’ve never been a gambler, believe it or not,” he said. “I can’t win enough to excite me but I can lose enough to depress me. I played blackjack when I was working in Vegas, I’d sit down with my friends, but I was never a serious gambler. I’d always base it on the luck of whatever came up.”