Kenny Rogers: "Luck Or Something Like It: A Memoir"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:55
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Kenny Rogers has held close to 200 million records. That's pretty impressive for one of seven children raised by Floyd and Lucille Rogers in a Houston housing project. Kenny Rogers joins me here in the studio to talk about his new memoir. It details his life and a five decade music career.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:24
It's titled "Luck or Something Like It." And you can join us, I know many of you are Kenny Rogers fans. Call us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, feel free to follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Kenny Rogers, it's so good to meet you.

MR. KENNY ROGERS

11:07:52
Thank you so much. First of all, I'm one of eight children.

REHM

11:07:56
Eight?

ROGERS

11:07:56
Unless you're leaving one of them out, one of them didn't deserve to be mentioned anyway.

REHM

11:08:03
I'm glad you're here.

ROGERS

11:08:05
I am too and I appreciate you're having me here.

REHM

11:08:07
I want to know that before the show started we got two tweets, one of which said, "Everywhere we went in Uganda we heard Kenny Rogers. No kidding, he's huge there." And then another, "What is it with Kenny Rogers and Africa? A friend in Kenya said the same thing."

ROGERS

11:08:37
You know, I don't know. I went to Africa on a safari once, not a hunting safari, but photographic safari with my wife and 10 other people. And we had this group of guys that took care of us and every one of those guys ended up at the end of the thing with albums. They wanted me to sing, which I thought was pretty cool, you know.

REHM

11:08:58
So it must've gone viral maybe.

ROGERS

11:09:01
I guess so, but they looked old like they'd had them for a while so...

REHM

11:09:05
Isn't that interesting?

ROGERS

11:09:07
It does, it fascinates me because I never take that for granted. You know, I go into a country and I figure I have to start from scratch and I'm surprised. You know, interestingly enough someone told me one time, I was talking to a guy from some bizarre country, I don't know what it was, and I said, how would you have ever heard my music? And they said, because before we had our own radio station, National Public Radio used to come in here and they used to play you a lot. So I have to give you credit.

REHM

11:09:39
I love it, I love it. Well, I want to ask you first about that first solo hit of yours, "Lucille" and your mother's reaction.

ROGERS

11:09:57
Okay. You're going to play the song first and then...

REHM

11:10:00
I want to hear a little bit about your mother and then we'll work that song in.

ROGERS

11:10:07
Well, my mom, first of all, you have to know that I had recently told her about a song called "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town"...

REHM

11:10:17
Which we're going to hear.

ROGERS

11:10:17
...that was written Mel Tillis because he wrote it about someone he knew. So I think my mom assumed all songs written are written about people they knew and she assumed I had written this song. So she was all over me and saying, you know, how dare you do that?

REHM

11:10:37
How dare you do that? Let's hear it.

REHM

11:11:57
How I love that voice.

ROGERS

11:11:59
You know, I appreciate that. You know, it's so funny, my mom who was such an important part of my life, she used to tell people, they would say, what do you think about his success? And she, that boy never worked a day in his life, all he ever did was sing. It's like, like this isn't a job. But she was very proud, you know, and she was a very strong woman in that sense that, you know, she only had a third grade education but she had so many important things to say in my life that I think really shaped who I am.

REHM

11:13:06
Just wonderful. You know, when you think about the fact that your father was an alcoholic and you talk about that a lot in the book, you talk about the fact that when you begin to speak about your father, you identify him as an alcoholic, you say your mother really had to put up with a lot.

ROGERS

11:13:36
But you know what, one of the sad things about my life I've found is that I didn't know my father better. I mean, a friend of mine who was really a marriage counselor at one time, he said, every time you talk about your father, the first thing you say is he was an alcoholic. And he said, is that how you see him? I said, "No, he was a very funny man. He had a great..." I've always said I get my sense of humor from my father and my sense of values from my mother and it's a great combination.

ROGERS

11:14:05
He was a great man because if you go back and you look at those times almost every man was an alcoholic. They'd come out of World War II where everybody worked at the shipyards, had a job, the jobs closed down after the war. He didn't have a, he couldn't support his family and that's got to be devastating to, and I think my mom kind of unintentionally but necessarily emasculated him.

ROGERS

11:14:30
She, you know he would bring his check home, she would take it and hide it otherwise he would go drink it up and the family would have nothing. And I think that was very devastating to him. So I, after having written the book and learned more about my father, I really regret that I didn't know him better as a man.

REHM

11:14:49
But what could she have done otherwise?

ROGERS

11:14:53
She had no choices.

REHM

11:14:54
Exactly, because he'd taken that money and spent it on alcohol what would you kids have done?

ROGERS

11:15:01
And alcoholic by nature means you don't have a choice. You know, he would've taken that money, he would've spent it and he was kind of funny, he got smart. He'd bring his money home and he'd hide it but he would hide when he was drunk. Then he couldn’t find it when he was sober so they'd have to go through the house looking for his money.

REHM

11:15:19
Now, you promised yourself you would never become either involved in alcohol or drugs. You did get tempted a couple of times?

ROGERS

11:15:32
I played with it in the '60s, didn't everyone? But you know, it was, I was always worried about my ability to control it because of my dad. I worried if that was something that was predisposed. If my dad was alcohol and alcohol has just never interested and, except, we had, I this big place in Athens, Ga. and my wife used to love to throw parties and we'd get...

REHM

11:15:56
Which wife?

ROGERS

11:15:58
Wanda, she's the only wife I talk about.

REHM

11:15:59
Your current wife.

ROGERS

11:16:00
Yes, she's great, but we'd have these big parties and they would all drink because we were staying on the property. And one night I thought I was drinking pina colada mix, you know, the pineapple and about halfway through she started spiking them and after I had four, it was like something hit me in, like a baseball bat hit me. I realized I'm a lot more fun when I drink.

REHM

11:16:24
I think most people think they're a lot more fun when they drink.

ROGERS

11:16:27
Yes, that's probably what it was. I thought I was more fun.

REHM

11:16:29
Not sure they really are but any event you actually, in high school, began forming your first band. You really were intense about wanting to created music.

ROGERS

11:16:46
Well, I just loved it. I wanted to see Ray Charles when I was 12 and I was struck by the fact that people laughed at everything he said and clapped for everything he sang. And I thought, wow, who wouldn't want to do that. I didn't even know I could sing at the time. So, but I started singing in church choirs and glee club in school.

ROGERS

11:17:03
And my glee club teacher, Ms. LaFesty (sp?) said, you know, you're really very good. You should do something with this. Which I guess was the, kind of the nexus for what I chose to do. But started putting groups together because, you know, I learned really quickly that the guys in the groups got all the girls. So I, and I was very one dimensional at that time, apparently academics didn't mean a lot to me but music was great.

REHM

11:17:30
And the friendship that you formed with the group was good too?

ROGERS

11:17:37
Yes, it was a bunch of guys that I went to church with, the first group, and we formed this little group and we went around to sing, what at the time were called sock hops, at the schools. So we'd go get on stage and sing and it was really a great time in my life because the people I associated with weren't troublemakers. So we spent all of our time getting better at what we had chosen.

REHM

11:18:02
Kenny Rogers, his new memoir is titled "Luck or Something Like It." You can join us, 800-433-8850.

REHM

11:20:03
And I'm sure many of you, if not all, recognize voice, that wonderfully distinctive voice of Kenny Rogers. He's here in the studio with me. He's got a brand new memoir. It's titled, "Luck or Something Like It." He was raised in a housing project, one of eight children in Houston, TX. His father had drinking problems, shall we say. His mother was a stalwart who worked. She worked how many jobs, Kenny?

ROGERS

11:20:49
So many. She worked as a -- at the church, in the nursery. And then she worked at the Rice Hotel cleaning rooms. She just worked everywhere. She was an amazing woman. She was a nurse's assistant at the hospital.

REHM

11:21:05
And yet somewhere in your heart, you believe, she emasculated your father.

ROGERS

11:21:13
I'm not sure that's the right word.

REHM

11:21:14
Sounds as though she, yeah, she needed to deal with how to deal with how to take care of you all.

ROGERS

11:21:20
Well, sometimes reality is emasculating, you know.

REHM

11:21:23
True.

ROGERS

11:21:23
Emasculating in the sense that he wanted to be the man but wasn't capable. And I think that really hurt him and he knew that. But to my father's credit, he stayed with my mom until he died. And he didn't just run off and leave and find somebody else and do that. So, I have to step back from him sometimes and think about those qualities that he had and he was funny. He was a hilarious man to be around.

ROGERS

11:21:50
He made us laugh every night. And so, you know, they each had their contribution to the family. But my mom's was stronger, you know. And my mom, I remember her going to all these jobs and she told me once, son, she said, 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.

REHM

11:22:14
Here's an email from Keith, who says, "I was becoming a little disillusioned with rock music at about same time Kenny Rogers switched to country. I'd like to know if Kenny Rogers had similar feelings for the direction rock music was taking at that time."

ROGERS

11:22:40
Well, I was accidentally rock. You know, in high school, there was a friend of mine named Mickey Newbury (sp?) who did imbibe in medications and he wrote, "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In." And I just loved the song. I thought it was so cool. So, I asked him if I could record it and he said he couldn't let me have it because Sammy Davis, Jr. had it on hold. I would have loved to have heard that record.

REHM

11:23:05
Oh, my goodness.

ROGERS

11:23:06
But, you know, I just -- we were never comfortable. The first edition was never comfortable being rock and roll. And we never fully accepted that song was so unique that it was played on rock radio. If you look back, we had songs like, "Reuben James," "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town." And we had songs that were really country oriented. And I've always been much more comfortable there.

REHM

11:23:29
And let's hear a little of "Ruby."

REHM

11:24:51
Tell me about that song, because it created a lot of stir.

ROGERS

11:24:57
And it should have. You know, the '60s was a time where the public fought back. You know, before that the music of the '30s and '40s was all what a wonderful world this is and how beautiful you look tonight. And about the '60s, people started saying, wait a minute, there's more to this life than that. But what's really interesting that I learned from that song is that if you do a hook to the song that's sing-along-able, if that's such a word, that people will sing it. And later they'll go, oh, my god that's about a guy who's going to kill his wife. You don't realize it until after it's -- until after they already love the song.

REHM

11:25:36
But it's also about Vietnam.

ROGERS

11:25:41
It was actually written about the Korean War. It says crazy Asian war, but I released it during the Vietnam War, so everybody assumed that's what it was. One thing that I think was fascinating is it took, you hear 10,000 people are killed and you don't really relate to it. I mean, it's tragic and we all know that. But when one guy comes back home and tries to reinsert himself into his life and he has troubles, marriage problems, it puts the war on a one-to-one level and we can all relate to that. And I think that was the beauty to that song.

REHM

11:26:12
And this poor man comes back injured.

ROGERS

11:26:17
Right.

REHM

11:26:17
And he's watching his wife go out the door.

ROGERS

11:26:21
Right.

REHM

11:26:22
And he's afraid he's losing her.

ROGERS

11:26:26
Yeah, and he's threatening, in his mind at least, to kill her. So that's what, you know, I've always done two types of songs, the first are songs that say what every man would like to say and every woman would like to hear. If you listen to "Lady," "She Believes in Me," "You Decorated My Life," "Through the Years," all that. And the others are what I call social songs, songs that have social conscience to them.

ROGERS

11:26:48
You know, "Coward of the County" was about rape and I don't think people even realized that. They sing along with it and they sing along them and one day they look back and go, wait a minute, that's about a rape. "Reuben James" was about a black man who raised a white child. "Ruby" about the Vietnam War. So, I mean, I think you can do things if you could make people like the music, they'll get the message. But if they don't like the music, then I got to listen to the message.

REHM

11:27:13
Tell me about five marriages.

ROGERS

11:27:19
Great. What can I tell you? You know, it's interesting, I loved every woman I married.

REHM

11:27:26
Yeah, I know you did.

ROGERS

11:27:27
You cannot accuse me of not being able to commit. But what's really interesting, I think, one of the things I realized in writing this book is there's a very fine line between being driven and being selfish. And I think I crossed that line a couple of times because subconsciously I wasn't saying I want to be successful in a cost, but I think I set out on a path that required me to be gone so much from home.

ROGERS

11:27:59
And I don't care how much you love someone, if you're gone five or six months out of the year, you're going to disconnect. And I think once the marriage had run its course, it wasn't fair to everybody to do that. Do I wish I'd handled it differently? I wish I'd been more sensitive, if nothing else. You know, I don't think -- recently, I've been watching a lot of television, I always have. But I've noticed how many kids are so screwed up because their parents got divorced.

ROGERS

11:28:31
And I don't think I realized that. I thought, well, hey, she and I aren't getting along, I'm going to leave and she'll take care of the kid. And I must say, you know, my boys, my older boys are incredible people. So, my wives did wonderful things for them.

REHM

11:28:45
And now, you've been married for 20 years to Wanda.

ROGERS

11:28:51
We've been together 20 years, married for 15 years.

REHM

11:28:53
Aha.

ROGERS

11:28:54
It just seemed like 20. I don't...

REHM

11:28:56
And you've got twins?

ROGERS

11:28:57
Eight years old.

REHM

11:28:59
Gosh.

ROGERS

11:29:00
And they say having kids at my age make you or break you. And right now I'm leading toward break.

REHM

11:29:04
Is that right?

ROGERS

11:29:05
Oh, it's such a great thing. You know, I regret and I get choked up when I think about this that I won't be here for that important part time in their life when they really need my help. So I took a couple of these books and I signed one to Justin and one to Jordan. And I said, maybe this will you understand who I really -- I can't do it -- who I really was. You know, because otherwise they wouldn't know what I've been through to get where I've been. And I said, I expect great things from both of you, don't let me down.

REHM

11:29:39
They won't.

ROGERS

11:29:40
I don't think they will.

REHM

11:29:41
I don't think so.

ROGERS

11:29:42
They're such good kids. And that I owe to Wanda. It's always the case, though. You know, men tries hard as they can, they're always mama's boys. You know, I was, I know that.

REHM

11:29:55
One of my favorites has always been, "The Gambler."

ROGERS

11:30:03
Oh, yeah.

REHM

11:30:04
Were you a gambler?

ROGERS

11:30:06
You know, I used to gamble, but I realized that I can't win enough to excite me but I can lose enough to depress me. So, I quit gambling.

ROGERS

11:31:47
That's Dottie West singing in the background. It was, you know, that was a great time when she and I were kind of locked together professionally. And she loves singing on my records, I love singing on her records. And it was just a thrill for me to be a part of that, because she was a very special person.

REHM

11:32:05
Tell me about Dottie, because she died young.

ROGERS

11:32:09
Yeah. You know, she had more problems than that. She had a business manager who stole all her money. I mean, it was several million dollars and just ran off with it. And so she was broke. And that hurt her more than anything else. The IRS came in and started taking her gold records off the wall, taking personal things. You know, and I guess that's what they do. But it just broke her heart.

ROGERS

11:32:33
And she was a broken, broken woman at that time. So, you know, I had a deal with Dodge, Chrysler, and I gave her one of my cars. I couldn't give it to her, because if she owned it they could get it. That's why I loaned it to her. And I think the day that she was going to the studios, the car wouldn't start. So, and some -- the older guy took her and they got in a car wreck. But I went to the hospital and I saw her, and she was barely distinguishable, the way she looked.

ROGERS

11:33:06
And I held her hand and I said, Dottie, you get out of this, we're going to do another duet. And they said she couldn't communicate, but I swear she squeezed my hand, you know.

REHM

11:33:39
You really do love doing duets.

ROGERS

11:33:45
I do. You know, I have this thing about duets. I think that it's like running the 100-yard dash. You get out and people say, run it as fast as you can. You'll run it as fast as you think you can. But you put someone alongside you who runs faster and you are going to run faster. So that's the same thing with duets.

REHM

11:34:01
Kenny Rogers, and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to your hometown, Houston, TX.

ROGERS

11:34:20
Okay, good.

REHM

11:34:21
Good morning, Ronda.

RONDA

11:34:23
Good morning.

REHM

11:34:24
Hi.

RONDA

11:34:25
Hi. Kenny Rogers, I love your songs. I am an African American woman and my middle name is Lucille.

ROGERS

11:34:35
Uh-oh. So the song was about you?

RONDA

11:34:37
Yeah, it was.

ROGERS

11:34:39
Okay. We got to the bottom of that one.

RONDA

11:34:44
And she probably should have left my grandfather, but she didn't.

ROGERS

11:34:50
You know, life turns -- has some funny twists to it sometimes.

REHM

11:34:55
You bet.

ROGERS

11:34:56
And the trick is to take advantage of whichever way it goes. I mean, my mom loved my dad, my dad loved my mom, that was a problem they had to deal with.

REHM

11:35:05
You're going to hear an interesting comment from Teresita who's in Greensboro, NC. Hi, there.

TERESITA

11:35:15
Hi. How are you?

REHM

11:35:16
I'm good. How about you?

TERESITA

11:35:19
I'm doing well, thank you.

REHM

11:35:20
Good.

TERESITA

11:35:22
I just wanted to tell Mr. Rogers that I was born in Cuba and I came into this country when I was seven years old. And when we first got to the country, we had three albums and one of them was one of Kenny Rogers' albums and that was the way we learned how to speak English.

ROGERS

11:35:40
Oh, that's child abuse, isn't it? To start them that early. You know, I've had so many people tell me that they learned to speak English, because country music is simple. You know, if it hurts you say it hurts. And I think that people learned to speak, you know, sentences through listening. They learn a song and then they find out what it means. But that's very nice and very flattering and I really appreciate that.

REHM

11:36:03
You know, there's another element of sound to your voice, and that's that gravelly vibrato. Tell me about that.

ROGERS

11:36:14
Well, you know, how you develop styles is you sing along and you do something. I have a thing where I do a real wide vibrato as well. And people tell me, oh, I hate it when you do that. Did you quit doing it? If enough people tell you, I didn't really like that one, then you find places to put it, you know. And that's what happened. It's a natural thing for me to sing like that and have that gravel in my throat.

ROGERS

11:36:36
I don't know why, but it's something -- I think it also makes you listen to the lyric more. If it were just this warm, beautiful sound, I don't know that anybody would listen to it. But, yeah, that gravel to it, it makes you say, wait, hold on, what's he saying?

REHM

11:36:53
But, you know, Andy Williams, for example, who died recently...

ROGERS

11:36:57
Good friend of mine. Good friend of mine.

REHM

11:36:59
...had a rather smooth sounding voice. He really did develop a listenership.

ROGERS

11:37:08
Oh, absolutely.

REHM

11:37:08
So, I mean, different kinds of voices.

ROGERS

11:37:11
Yeah. I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm just saying that...

REHM

11:37:14
Absolutely.

ROGERS

11:37:15
...in my case, the lyrics I sing are lyrics that require that you listen to them to find the story. So that's all. And I think it's helped me in what I do.

REHM

11:37:25
Kenny Rogers, his new memoir titled, "Luck or Something Like It."

REHM

11:40:03
Kenny Rogers is here with me in the studio. We're talking about his new memoir which I must say is very frank and very open in it's -- you don't hide any of your warts.

ROGERS

11:40:23
Well, you know, one of the things that I told the people when I was doing it, I said -- when I told the publishers I said, I will not get into a he-said-she-said. I don't want to get into the salaciousness of all of this. The reason I did this is Patsy Bale Cox who was going to be the original writer on the book, you know, they said give her 20 hours, take her -- tell her your stories and she'll write the book.

REHM

11:40:46
Right.

ROGERS

11:40:46
Well, she started writing and then she developed breast cancer and died. So she couldn't finish the book. And I started reading it and as wonderful as it was it wasn't in my voice.

REHM

11:40:55
It wasn't you.

ROGERS

11:40:57
It wasn't in my voice. So I took the stories back and starting writing them. And I've always been very open about everything that's ever happened to me 'cause I figure if you tell people they don't care. If you hide it somebody's going to dig it up.

REHM

11:41:09
Absolutely, they'll find it. Here is a fabulous email from David who says, "I was in Rwanda in 1994 about a week before the massacre started in a small village in the most remote part of the mountains. I stayed in a two-room wooden hotel, served only as a restaurant and bar for miles, Upon my arrival the proprietor asked me for two batteries. With a small cassette player he played Kenny Rogers' "Lucille" over and over again until the batteries wore down."

ROGERS

11:41:59
Wow. You know, I'm so flattered by those things 'cause I don't get it. I don't know how to say it. You know, it shocks me but...

REHM

11:42:09
What shocks you?

ROGERS

11:42:10
That people that far away would like that song.

REHM

11:42:13
Yeah.

ROGERS

11:42:14
I don't know why but I think it's very flattering and I'm thrilled with it. But every time I hear a story about someone in Uganda or somewhere liking my music I have to just take a deep breath and go, how did that happen, you know?

REHM

11:42:30
Now, I guess another element of how did that happen, looking at your face on the cover of this book, which I have always felt was such a handsome face, we have an email from Christine in Baltimore. She says, "I do hope we'll hear from Mr. Rogers about the dramatic change in his looks. Is he glad he underwent plastic surgery and how has it changed things for him?"

ROGERS

11:43:13
Well, in answer to your question, I'm glad I did it. I wish the results had been better. But, you know, like I said, I've always been open. I didn't put that in the book, the plastic surgery stuff, 'cause that's all I would've talked about on the shows and I think there's much more to it -- to my life than that but I'm not ashamed of it. And do I wish I hadn't done it? I don't know what I would've looked like if I hadn't done it so I have to settle for what I look like now. And I'm not unhappy now. Things have settled down. I think the guy that did my eyes took the edges too high for me and I didn't like it and I told him so. So -- but, you know, you live and you do things.

REHM

11:43:52
Why did you decide to do it?

ROGERS

11:43:56
'Cause I could afford it. And I think it was -- you know, you go through those periods in your life and I don't think I've ever been afraid of growing old. That's never been a deal with me. But, you know, I went through a thing where, well, what can I do? Can I do this? Can I do that? And I did it, you know.

REHM

11:44:13
Did it have something to do with marrying a younger woman?

ROGERS

11:44:18
Oh no, this was before I met her.

REHM

11:44:20
Long before.

ROGERS

11:44:21
Long before that, yeah.

REHM

11:44:22
I see. So...

ROGERS

11:44:24
It was just cosmetic. You know, that's exactly what it is. It's...

REHM

11:44:27
And so when you look in the mirror now do you see Kenny Rogers any differently? Do you think any differently about Kenny Rogers?

ROGERS

11:44:40
I think that's a hard question to answer because I see what I see and I've looked like this for 20 years and whatever it is. So I think this is what I look like. I look at old pictures of me and I see, you know, wonderful lines in my eyes.

REHM

11:44:55
You bet.

ROGERS

11:44:55
And do I wish they were still there? Yeah, but would they be lines or bags at this point? So you can't look back. You can't go back. You can't change it.

REHM

11:45:03
Do you think your fans would have reacted to you differently or have they that -- because clearly they've noticed.

ROGERS

11:45:16
Well, yeah, but you know what? You don't do it for the fans. You do it for yourself I mean, I have a life I have to live.

REHM

11:45:21
Of course.

ROGERS

11:45:22
And I have to do things for me. And the fans either like it or don't like it and you can't be responsible for that.

REHM

11:45:28
All right. Let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Chris. You're on the air.

CHRIS

11:45:34
Oh, good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:45:36
Surely.

CHRIS

11:45:37
Good morning, Mr. Rogers.

ROGERS

11:45:40
Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS

11:45:41
As a nine-year-old boy when the movie "Six Pack" came out, my sister and I had my dad take us to this movie, I think it was something like six times. And I absolutely fell in love with the movie. My question was, did you enjoy working with all the kids and actually acting and, you know, what was that like?

ROGERS

11:46:06
I absolutely -- it was one of my favorite movies to have done. You know, Diane Lane is in there, Michael Anthony Hall is in there. And one of those kids just passed away the other day. They send me a notice on it. But it was great fun. It was a cute story. You know, that's all it was. And the only thing I didn't like is when I had to go out and save Benji. He was on a raft and Diane floating down the Chattahoochee River. And it was in like January. That water was so cold. I took about four strokes and I said, let me out of here. Send the stunt double in.

REHM

11:46:41
I love it.

ROGERS

11:46:41
But it was -- you know, it's -- movies like that are so much fun to do. And I'm so glad I did that, you know. And someone was telling me the other day, they said, you know you're really a very good actor. I said, I'm not a -- there are actors and there are people who can act. I said, I'm not an actor. An actor can take unbelievable dialogue and make it believable. I can take believable dialogue and keep it believable. I found out I'm really good at being me in different clothes. I can be western, I can be a -- I was a preacher. I can do all that but it's still me.

REHM

11:47:15
It's you. And Lynn in Johnson City, Tenn. has a comment for you. Good morning, Lynn.

LYNN

11:47:24
Good morning. Thank you for speaking with me.

REHM

11:47:26
Surely.

LYNN

11:47:28
I go way back with -- and hello, Kenny.

ROGERS

11:47:29
Hey, Lynn.

LYNN

11:47:30
I go way back with you and -- personally with the First Edition. And I started working in music retail in 1975 so I followed your career from that point on and sold a lot of your records by the way.

ROGERS

11:47:47
Well, that's very nice. Thanks.

LYNN

11:47:49
Yes, and anyway, my son is 19 and is a big Dolly Parton fan.

ROGERS

11:47:55
Aren't we all?

LYNN

11:47:57
As a result of that, he became a huge Kenny Rogers fan. He's 19 years old and, you know, a generation...

ROGERS

11:48:04
So I got caught up in the draft, huh?

LYNN

11:48:06
You got that right. My question is, are you seeing not only -- you know, I'm 57 -- are you seeing a younger fan base of any sort that is -- has an interest in your music?

ROGERS

11:48:20
Yeah, you know what I'm convinced of? All the people that bought my records played it for their kids. And while it's child abuse, I think those kids are now growing up and enjoying what they heard when they were kids. So it's a great handoff, I think.

REHM

11:49:49
This has such an interesting rhythm.

ROGERS

11:49:53
Well, the BGs are notorious -- and that's the BGs singing background -- they are notorious for writing everything on the upbeat. So as an artist it's hard to sing that.

REHM

11:50:02
Yeah, and you know as a listener something's going on here...

ROGERS

11:50:08
Yeah.

REHM

11:50:08
...that's different.

ROGERS

11:50:09
But, you know, they -- they wrote the song and they gave it to me. And I'm in the studio and I sang this for four days and I finally turned to Barry Gibb and I said, Barry I don't even like this song anymore. And like an epiphany that quickly he says, we need Dolly Parton. And I said, I don't know Dolly but my manager had just run into her. So he said, let me call her. So 45 minutes later she walked in the studio and she marched -- you know, Dolly marches. She doesn't walk. So when she came in the studio that song was never the same and I give her full credit for it. And it was so much fun. And it was the beginning of two or three years of great camaraderie between the two of us.

REHM

11:51:38
You think that Dolly says what she means.

ROGERS

11:51:42
Well, she -- I'm convinced she has no filter, that if she thinks it, it comes out her mouth, you know. And that's the beauty to her is that -- and that's what everybody loves about her. You know, I have a theory that we're all three people. I'm who I think I am, I'm who you think I am and I'm who I really am. And the closer those three are together the longer your career can last. If you look at Dolly she's everything she says she is. Look at Willy Nelson. He's everything he says he is. If you look at Johnny Cash, he was everything he said he was. And I'd like to think that I'm that way.

ROGERS

11:52:14
And I think that's part of the reason -- nobody likes to get tricked. They don't like to think you're something and find out you're not. And with her she's everything. If you like her on the radio you'll love her in person because she's that and more.

REHM

11:52:28
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I have a sense that your grounding, your background really lent you that ability to combine those three.

ROGERS

11:52:46
Yeah, well you know, Patsy Bale Cox who was writing this -- and I have to give Alan Rucker who came in after the fact and kind of organized this mess. But she said, Kenny I'm going to give you a secret about writing autobiographies. If they love the boy they'll like the man. So she said, let's really pay attention to how you became you. And that's what's in the book. It talks about how I got from -- what the title really talks about is I wrote a song called "Love or Something Like It" and so we took the title "Luck or something Like It."

ROGERS

11:53:17
And the idea is I was in jazz for ten years, avant-garde jazz and how I went from jazz to the New Christy Minstrels. And overnight I left on a Friday and started on a Monday and it was really intricate difficult music to the simplest form of music. But it was music with a message and I think that was really important to me. So then when we left the First Edition -- when we left the New Christy Minstrels -- four of us walked out of the middle of it -- we left on a Friday and started on a Monday with the First Edition. So I've just been so lucky to be in places I've been.

REHM

11:53:51
There is another duet that I absolutely adore that you recorded with Lionel Richie.

ROGERS

11:54:01
Oh, I like him.

REHM

11:55:18
I gather you're about to record another song with Lionel Richie.

ROGERS

11:55:24
Well, you know, Lionel and I have been friends for 40 years and the problem with Lionel is his yes is a no and his no is a maybe. You know, he'll go home and say, I can't believe I agreed to do that then he'll find a way out of it. But if he says no he'll go home and say, I really should've done that.

ROGERS

11:55:37
So he told me yes which scares me a little bit, but it's a song -- one of the guys from the Commodores, William King's son came to see me in California at a show. And he said, Kenny some of my favorite childhood memories are going -- when us -- when we went to visit you in Georgia. And he said, I realized the other day you can't make old friends. You either have them or you don't.

ROGERS

11:56:01
So I started thinking about that and I went back to Don Schlitz and we were talking and he said, can I have a shot at writing? One day later he sent me this song called "You Can't Make Old Friends." And Lionel said yes which means it'll never happen.

REHM

11:56:14
And you bet it will happen.

ROGERS

11:56:17
We've already cut the tracks. I'm going to force him. I'm going to track him down. He's one of my better friends in the business and I love him with all of his flaws.

REHM

11:56:26
And one last portion of a song before we go out, gotta hear it.

ROGERS

11:57:08
Now, what man wouldn't want to say that and what woman wouldn't want to hear it?

REHM

11:57:14
I'd like to hear this all day long.

ROGERS

11:57:18
Oh, thanks. Thank for having me here.

REHM

11:57:20
Oh, I'm so pleased you could come. Now, there are two Mr. Rogers at the top of my list, Craig Rogers and now Kenny.

ROGERS

11:57:32
I'm gonna put my sweater on.

REHM

11:57:34
All right. You've got a beautiful shirt. The book is called "Luck or Something Like It."
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