The country-pop singer is highlighting his romantic material on his current tour.
By JOHN PATRICK GATTA
Kenny Rogers had a major hit nearly two decades ago about a gambler. A closer look at his own life shows that he could have been singing about his own recording career.
In the poker game of life, he's had to hold 'em and he's had to fold 'em, but eventually, he's found a way to spread four aces on the table again and again.
Over the span of five decades, Rogers sang as part of a doo-wop group, played bass for country artist Mickey Gilley and a jazz outfit. In the '60s, he performed with the New Christy Minstrels and the First Edition before he broke out as a solo artist in the '70s and '80s.
While Rogers may not dominate the charts as he did in the past, his catalog continues to sell and he remains a solid concert draw.
That's evidenced by his upcoming performance Friday at Edward W. Powers Auditorium selling out in advance. Only single seats were available at press time.
One fan who won't have to purchase tickets to see her favorite artist is Rita Galletta of Struthers. Among the thousands who sent entries to The Vindicator, she won the paper's grand prize giveaway for the Kenny Rogers concert.
Rita and Frank, her husband of 52 years, will ride in style to the show in a limousine, dine at Chrystal's restaurant, enjoy front-row tickets and backstage passes to the concert. Also included in the package are flowers, candy, fragrances for him and for her, overnight accommodations at the Holiday Inn MetroPlex and, for her, a 1-carat diamond heart necklace.
Rita grew up in Youngstown, while Frank made the move to the area from Bessemer, Pa., to work at Youngstown Sheet and Tube until its closing.
When reached by phone, the exuberant Galletta said she doesn't even play the three-digit lottery but put in seven entries for this contest and won.
"I did it all because I like Kenny Rogers," she said.
"I knew I wanted to see this. I said, 'Well, I'll just wait 'til after the drawing and if not, I'm calling Powers Auditorium, and I'm going to get a couple tickets.'"
What is it about Rogers that appeals to her? "I don't know," she said. "He's good looking. He's aging well. I like his voice. I like country, but actually maybe it's just Kenny Rogers."
For some the diamond may be the most precious gift in the giveaway. Galletta views the best prize of all to be the opportunity to see Rogers in concert. "Oh, I'd say the tickets and going backstage. That's a thrill. You can always go out and buy a diamond."
Effect of songs
Rogers' current tour dates highlight his romantic material. "Islands in the Stream," his duet with Dolly Parton, was named by VH1 among the 100 Greatest Love Songs. The cable music channel will highlight the track during a program at 11 p.m. Thursday.
Like much of Rogers' material, that song derives its impact from the storytelling style. His smooth vocal delivery offers listeners a brief glimpse to a point in time and then moves on as the song fades.
Dave Steele, program director for country radio station K105, recalled the effect that "The Gambler" has on him ever since he first heard it growing up in rural Norwood, Colo., a place where people still rode horses into town and tied them up to a hitching post.
"A record like that, it just took you back to the Wild West," said Steele. "That song for me I still think of six shooters, chaps, horses, dust and never-ending prairies."
Steele views Rogers' easygoing charisma and ability to engage a listener as part of the singer's enduring appeal.
"There are so many factors in Kenny Rogers' career. He went from a band that had very moderate success to a solo career that completely took off," Steele said. "And it got so big that he was able to go into the movies. He oozed the image of the Gambler. Whether you're a country artist or not, you go to the movies you're going to expose yourself to a part of an audience that might not have ever been familiar with your music.
"So, just by the very nature of his ability to cover so many artistic avenues with movies and music, duets with so many different people that, eventually, it's just the longevity of the career that makes you that popular."
What Rogers achieved was creating a sound that pleased country and pop music fans. Hits such as "The Gambler," "She Believes in Me," "Lady" and "Coward of the Country." His duets with Dottie West, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and Dolly Parton contained the same mix of musical genres and provided similarly successful results.
Despite his crossover appeal, Rogers music remains a popular favorite on K105. Steele said that the station plays several of his past hits, especially during its Classic Country program on Sunday night and at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
But, like many older artists, Rogers found it more difficult during the past decade to receive the much-needed radio airplay to sell albums. He turned to other business ventures, such as his Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant chain that eventually bottomed out.
Just as he has done throughout his career, he's followed a downturn in his career by persevering. He had country hits with "The Greatest" and two years ago with "Buy Me a Rose," which featured Alison Krauss and Billy Dean on background vocals. A recent A & amp;E cable special, "Live By Request," which featured 33 hit songs, proved successful, and its release on compact disc on Rogers' Dreamcatcher records sold respectably. He tours consistently each year, and just like the Gambler, Rogers finds himself with a full house from one town to the next.
If you're still in a gambling mood, K105 will award a Valentine's Day package during "The Hometown Morning Show with Doug and Mary Ann" on Tuesday. For more information, go to www.k105country.com.