at that—or do something totally different,
where you don’t invite comparison. Either
it works or it doesn’t work. That’s where
we went with this.
Tell us about recording with Dolly.
We started the recording process with that
duet, “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” and
both agreed we didn’t care if it was a hit.
I went into the studio first and recorded a
base track, and then she came in and sang
her part so much better than mine that I said,
“While we’re here, let me redo my part.” Then
she said, “Let me redo mine if you’re going
to redo yours.” So we went over and over it,
and finally finished it together that night in the
studio. It was recorded almost 30 years to
the day after we did “Islands in the Stream,”
but neither of us realized that at the time.
The gambler rolls the dice on his dream of making chart history at 75
“My current audience Falls into
two groups,” says Kenny rogers. “those
born after 1980 whose parents made them
listen to my music as child abuse, and those
born before the ’60s who can no longer
remember that decade.”
that’s a typical self-deprecating
comment from one of this year’s
country Music Hall of Fame inductees—
an honor that rogers says “blindsided”
him. His wildly successful career in the
mid-’70s produced country-pop megahits like
“the Gambler,” “coward of the county,”
and his classic duet with dolly Parton,
“islands in the stream.” But before that
rogers played bass in an avant-garde
jazz ensemble, then performed with folk
group the new christy Minstrels and later
the First edition.
rogers’ new album, You Can’t Make
Old Friends, includes sounds both familiar
and new—from a fresh country-pop duet with
Parton to the southwestern flavored “dreams
of the san Joaquin” (which includes spanish
lyrics) to the contemporary christian vibe
of “turn this World around.” at 75, he’s
pushing creative boundaries more than ever:
He released a memoir in 2012, and a novel
he wrote comes out this year. no matter what
he’s doing, rogers relies on advice that’s
carried him through his half-century career.
says rogers, “My mom told me, ‘always
be happy where you are. never be content
to be there, but if you’re not happy where
you are, you’ll never be happy.’ so even in
hard times, i’m happy. i’m making music
and surviving. What more can you ask?”
How has this record been unique?
i didn’t have any pressure. i told John
esposito, the president and ceo of Warner
Bros., “i can’t guarantee i’m going to get on
the radio with this album.” He said, “you go
cut the 12 songs you want to cut and let
me worry about getting it on the radio. don’t
think radio, think music.” there’s usually a
lot of pressure to record something that
sounds radio-friendly. But there are really
only two ways i can compete at my age:
do what everybody else is doing, and do
it better—and i don’t really like my chances
‘‘I don’t like just singing words—I like to have a story.
Those are the best songs for me.’
you sang in spanish.
I hope I never have to do “Dreams of the San
Joaquin” live in Spanish. I’m sure it would
sound more like Czech or something. We
hired a guy to stand right beside me in the
studio, and when I’d sing the Spanish lyrics,
he’d correct my inflection and pronunciation.
When you listen to that song, it’s almost
cinematic. It presents a wonderful story
about the migrant farmers who made this
country and the struggle they went through
to feed their families back in Mexico. It’s kind
of a Woody Guthrie statement.
Has recording become easy, or are
some songs still challenging?
There are still songs I struggle with. The
good news is, as you go through life, you
find the technical part of recording gets
better. Some songs would have a long verse
that I couldn’t sing without taking a breath,
so the technicians would say, “Sing what
you can, and we’ll cut it together.” When
you’re learning a song, you don’t think about
where to breathe. I’ve done a couple of the
songs since then, and once you learn where
the breaths are, you can do them. One of
the writers of “Turn This World Around,”
How did you choose the songs?
Cris Lacy and Rebekah Sterk at Warner
Bros. had a great deal of input in finding
songs for me to listen to. Once they found
them, I had the right of refusal. I started with
finding the songs I could do well, then finding
songs that make a statement. I don’t like just
singing words—I like to have a story. Songs
like “You Had to Be There” put you in a spot,
take you through this emotion, and drop you
off at the end, just like “The Gambler” did.
Those are the best songs for me.
need. If I don’t have a reason to write, I
can’t just say, “Hey, I’m going to write a
song today.” I don’t play guitar anymore,
so songwriting is that much harder for me
because it requires someone else to play the
music. Writing is one of those things I like to do
but don’t need to do.
Anything you still want to achieve?
Right now, if anything gets me going, it’s
the idea of chasing history. I’d like to be 75
years old and have a charted record. I don’t
want to be thought of as that past guy who
recorded “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to
Town.” I need to be relevant.
no plans to retire?
I believe everyone has to have a purpose
in life, a reason to get up every morning. I
have twin 9-year-old boys, so that’s purpose
enough, but right now my purpose is to get
away from them for a while. I still enjoy
touring and performing. Getting there is not
Onstage in London, 2009
Has your selection criteria evolved?
It’s opened up a little bit. On this album we
have a Zydeco-feeling song called “Don’t
Leave Me in the Night Time” that we asked
Buckwheat Zydeco to play accordion on. It’s
such a fun piece of music, and it makes me
want to try other things that are also out of
my comfort zone.
Eric Paslay, is a young guy with plenty
of lung left, but for me, trying to sing that
song without an oxygen mask was
difficult. I would do a take, we’d listen to
it and say, “I like it except for these two
places.” Then I’d go back in and redo
those two parts.
Why three different producers?
There were two different sets of producers.
Dann Huff is so hot right now that he just
didn’t have time to do the whole project. I
told him, “Dann, I could die before we finish
seems you’re writing more prose
I think there are writers, and I think there
are people who can write. I think writers
have a need to write, and I don’t have that
M mag 30.indd 66
this album.” Kyle Lehning and my keyboard
player, Warren Hartman, produced the
religious album I did for Cracker Barrel a
few years ago, and I went back to my comfort
zone and asked them if they’d help me finish
the album. I think they did a beautiful job. It
was so totally different, yet equally as good
as Dann’s stuff.
‘Writing is one of
those things I like
to do but don’t
need to do.’
as much fun as it used to be, but once I get
there, there’s no place I’d rather be than
walking out on that stage.
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