There was a time when native Texan Kenny Rogers' salt-and-pepper visage was ubiquitous - in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, his country-slash-pop music was topping charts left and right, he was on TV all the time, his concerts were instant sellouts from sea to shining sea.
That's all water under the proverbial bridge now, as times, tastes and Rogers himself have changed.
Still, he's a great singer, and - as they say in Hollywood PR circles - a consummate entertainer.
If you're reading this, you know what I'm talking about. Listing his gold singles and platinum albums won't sway you one way or the other. He's at the Johnny Mercer Theatre Sept. 17
Here's Ken talking about various aspects of his long and winding career, from a series of interviews I conducted with him in 2001.
On leaving rock music in the ‘70s:
"When the First Edition broke up, I went to Nashville, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I went to this Fan Fair thing, and there were 8,000 people in this auditorium, and they said 'Here's Freddy Davis, who had a hit in 1956,' and everybody went crazy. I though whoa, this is where I need to be. It was very eye-opening for me, as far as what country music really was. It's not like pop music, where you have a hit and you disappear, and no one cares."
On being liked:
"I think my sound is very identifiable. And I think it's one of those things that if you like it, I'm really consistent with it, and if you don't like it, you're never gonna like it. But it's always been my theory that I've never been a particularly good singer. But I've always, I think, had a great ear for great songs. And my theory is if you have a great song, you've got to screw it up for it not to be a hit. If you start with "Lucille," then you've got to do it as a polka for it not to be a hit. It's gonna be a hit by whoever does it."
On ‘The Gambler':
"There's really a single ingredient to every hit song you find. And that is: familiarity. Now, there's two ways you can get familiarity: You can start off with a song you can sing the second time you hear it, which is what we chose to do. I think I've had songs that were bigger in sales, but none that were bigger in identity for me. I go to Korea and people say ‘Oooh, the Gambler.' And it's really sweet. It's really cute. I think those are career-making songs."
On his fans:
"You have to remember that something like 80 percent of all country records are bought by women. That's why it's hard for a woman to have a career in country music - men, historically, don't buy country records, women do. The people who were buying the records were showing up, and they happened to be women. And the guys wouldn't mind bringing their girls, because they knew I was going to be doing songs that they liked, too. So I think that's what really helped my career."
On making ‘Lady' with Lionel Richie:
"My whole influence has always been Ray Charles. Somehow or other, Ray Charles factors into everything I do. He was singing R&B to country tracks. Country music is the white man's rhythm ‘n' blues. And I wanted to do something that was equally as innovative. I wanted to sing country to R&B tracks. I kept listening to ‘Three Times a Lady' and ‘Still'" those Commodores songs, and I thought now, here's a guy that really has his handle on country music - which is really R&B."
On his inevitable fall from the charts:
"At one time, if you had a country record you could be there forever. That was what attracted me to it. I think I made some strategic mistakes based on my own musical comfort level - and at that same time, country music was going much more country, so I was much farther out of the pocket.
"Truly, I think in my heart I can be bigger than I've ever been in a matter of time, because I'm very well organized and I think that's a huge part of success. But if it doesn't happen, it's not the end of the world for me. I've got a lot of other things going on."
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Ogelthorpe Ave.
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17
Tickets: $45-$65 at etix.com
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