In a celebration only lottery players could have fantasized, performing rights organization BMI honored two novice songwriters from Utah Tuesday (Sept. 12) for creating the comeback vehicle for a singer most people assumed was long over the hill. That vehicle was “Buy Me a Rose,” which became a No. 1 hit this past May for 61-year-old Kenny Rogers.
To compound the series of unlikelihoods, Rogers scored the hit on his own independent label, Dreamcatcher Records. More recently, the song became the basis of an episode of the TV series, Touched by an Angel.
Songwriters Jim Funk and Erik Hickenlooper made their first trip to Nashville to accept their awards, and Rogers dropped by the festivities at BMI’s Music Row offices to share the moment with them.
Funk and Hickenlooper got their song to Rogers through the Taxi songpitching service in Los Angeles. Rex Benson, a friend of Rogers, discovered the song there and became one of its four publishers. “It was an absolute miracle,” Benson told the celebrants.
Beaming at Benson’s song-pitching tenacity, Rogers cracked, “He stays on me like white on rice. If I ever start a publishing company, Rex Benson is my man.” Rogers noted that the long shot success of “Buy Me a Rose” reminded him of Don Schlitz’s “The Gambler.” The song, which became a No. 1 hit for Rogers in 1978, went on to win the Country Music Association song of the year award in 1979. When a T-shirted and Afro-wearing Schlitz took the stage to accept his award, Rogers recalled, he said, “This is the first country song I’ve ever written, and I find this encouraging.”
Ken Kragen, Rogers’ manager, and Jim Mazza, president and CEO of Dreamcatcher, were both on hand to hear Rogers announce that the label hopes to expand its roster. “We’ve been a kind of one-artist, 36-promotion-man company,” he quipped. “We get the credit, and you guys get the work. Personally, I like that arrangement.”
Seeming a bit bedazzled by it all, the songwriters spoke only briefly. Alluding to their distance from mainstream music centers, Hickenlooper said, “We describe how to get to our house by which cornfield to turn at.” Said Funk, “You’ve treated us really well, and we’ve been here only a few minutes.”
Rogers lauded “Buy Me A Rose” for its message. “What we learn [from it],” he said, “is that big problems can be solved with little gestures.”