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The Gambler is still all in

Courtesy photo
Kenny Rogers is a long way from calling it quits. At 74, the country singer is still going strong, touring and working on a new album.

WANT TO GO?

Kenny Rogers

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

TICKETS: $30, $49 and $64

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Through much of the 1970s and '80s, there was scarcely a bigger music star in the world than Kenny Rogers. With songs like "Ruby," "Coward of the County" and the ubiquitous "The Gambler," Rogers dominated the country music charts for years.

Through the '90s, the Grammy winner's star faded some. He still charted country hits, but with less success than his earlier material.

However, Rogers, who performs Wednesday night at the Clay Center, never called it quits. He hung in there and is diligently working on what could be termed a comeback.

Almost a year after surprisingly appearing at the progressively and independent-music minded Bonnaroo Music Festival, Rogers finds himself in the middle of recording a new album. It has reunited him with some old friends, including Don Schlitz, who wrote "The Gambler." He also has a busy tour schedule that will take him, among other places, to festivals in Morocco, England and Switzerland.

"I'm the first country artist to ever play the festival in Morocco," he said. "And I'm playing Glastonbury, the same festival that U2 played, after that."

He sounded a little baffled to keep getting invited but glad to still be out there.

"I panic every time I go. When I did that thing in Tennessee [Bonnaroo], the first thing I said is, 'What's wrong with this picture? Me. Here.'"

He laughed and added that the show was a lot of fun. It helped that people liked him.

"I'm convinced people who bought my records when they were young played them for their kids," he said.

And that's fine by him.

Rogers said musically he's always gravitated toward doing what nobody else is doing rather than trying to do what somebody else does better. That's usually led him toward two types of songs.

"I've always looked for songs that either say what every man would like to say and what every woman would like to hear, songs like 'Through The Years,' 'She Believes in Me' and 'You Decorated My Life' or songs that are social songs, that have something important to say."

"Reuben James," he said, was a song about a black man raising a white child. "Ruby" was about the Vietnam War, and "Coward of the County" was about a rape.

The tunes were catchy, but there was something going on under the surface.

He said, "People would listen to the songs, love the songs and then go, 'Oh my God, the song is about rape.'"

Rogers said the new record follows similar veins but will sound different than what people might expect. The record is only about half-finished, and so far, no release date has been set.

Rogers said he's happy to still have a music career, but he doesn't miss his acting career much.

"I didn't want to get into it in the first place," he groaned.

Through the '80s and '90s, he starred in several TV movies based on his hit song, "The Gambler," and did a little television here and there. Rogers said he mostly just played himself. 

"There are actors, and there are people who can act," he said. "I'm not an actor, but if you give me believable dialogue, I can keep it believable. Actors, you can give them unbelievable dialogue and they can make it believable. I can't do that."

However, Rogers remembered his 1982 film "Six Pack" favorably and said he recently thought about putting the movie on for his two 9-year-old sons to watch.

"And then I realized there's a little kid who says, 'No s--- Sherlock' every 30 minutes or so."

The singer thought maybe 9 is a still little too young for that.

Fatherhood is important to Rogers, though at 74, he looks at the job differently than he might have as a younger man. When he's home in Atlanta, he gets up at 6:30 a.m. to take his boys to school. He brings them out to shows that are reasonably close to the city, like concerts in Florida, Georgia or Alabama.

During his regular Christmas tours, Rogers has them along for the first couple of dates, lets them come out on stage, sing and even talk to the people in the front row.

"I'm hoping we're creating some good memories for them because we certainly are for me."

They aren't quite ready to go pro, he acknowledged, but Rogers loves that they sing.

"The first song they learned was a song I wrote called 'Love or Something Like It," he said. "They were 4 and singing things like, 'Show me a bar with a good looking woman...'"

Rogers laughed, "I was like, no, no, we've got to find something else."

And they have, but Rogers is awfully proud that his boys know his music.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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