For an entertainer, it’s inevitable. No matter how brightly today’s stars shine, eventually they will fall — out of favor, off the charts, maybe even out of sight. For Kenny Rogers “fall” has never been synonymous with “fail.” He’s been too busy.
For a little over a year now, Rogers has enjoyed a remarkable comeback with the release of She Rides Wild Horses on Dreamcatcher, his own label. The album has spawned the hit songs “The Greatest” and “Buy Me a Rose.” The latter became Rogers’ first No. 1 single since 1987 and the first top country hit by an artist over age 60 in the 56 years that Billboard has tracked country singles. The Recording Industry Association of America last September certified the album gold (for shipment of 500,000 copies). The videos for both songs went to No. 1 on the CMT Top 12 Countdown and were the first video chart-toppers of Rogers’ career. With these and other accolades, it’s little wonder that he has been named CMT’s July Showcase Artist.
In more than 30 years of entertaining, the Houston-born singer has amassed a mantel full of awards. He has sold many millions of copies of the 58 albums he recorded (more than 100 million internationally, according to his press bio) and racked up scores of hit songs. On June 15 Rogers was awarded the first Country Weekly Presents the TNN Music Awards Career Achievement Award.
The first single from his upcoming album, There You Go Again, due September 12, is “He Will, She Knows.” Featuring background vocals by Collin Raye and Diamond Rio, it goes to country radio this week (June 26). In the face of current country trends toward the new and young, the 61-year-old Rogers asserts that it is the song — the right song — that can overcome public and industry bias against older and more established artists.
“I believe that if you have a great song that radio can’t say no to, and make it sound contemporary, then anybody can get played on radio,” he asserts in a recent telephone interview with country.com. “It’s very healthy for country radio to have established artists on the radio. To have only new, young country is, by its very design, a temporary thing.
“An artist can only be ‘new’ once and ‘young’ for awhile. In sports, at 35 you’re history, I don’t care how good you are,” says the former semi-pro tennis ace. “But with music you should be able to continue as long as you can compete, and with the right songs and a producer who can help you make records that sound contemporary alongside Tim McGraw, the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill, you can compete.”
Looking ahead to There You Go Again, Rogers seems genuinely excited. His confidence comes from the knowledge of his years of experience. He realizes that he cannot rely on past successes to create future success.
“The spirit in which Kenny approached this was like a brand-new, young artist, and I think that made a big difference,” noted Rogers’ long-time friend and Dreamcatcher co-founder Jim Mazza in a recent interview with CMT Showcase. “We worked very, very hard to make sure that the music we’re creating is being heard by as many people as possible.”
Ken Kragen, who has managed Rogers for some 30 years, agrees. “I think with Kenny, the important thing has always been perseverance. I don’t think as long as I’ve been around him there’s ever been a great deal of discouragement. There’s always, ‘We do the best we do. My turn’s gonna come again, and when it does, I’m going to be there.’ For him, he loves the music and he loves the idea that he can compete.”
Rogers understands that the success of She Rides Wild Horses has given his career new momentum. It also creates added pressure on the follow-up in much the same way that a new artist’s early success raises the bar for a sophomore release. “People expect this to be a better album,” he says, “and I think it is song-for-song the best and most country album I’ve done in the last 15 years.”
Produced by Rogers, Brent Maher and pop singer Richard Marx, the project features special appearances by country artists Brad Paisley, Alison Krauss, Steve Wariner, Collin Raye, Diamond Rio and Billy Dean. Even with such strong and diverse talents represented, Rogers knows that as an older artist on an independent label, he has a lot of work ahead of him.
“With ‘The Greatest’ and ‘Buy Me a Rose,’ I put in much more work than I put on anything else I’d done in the past, just to make them work,” he says. “It’s knowledge, not past laurels, that makes a success. And hard, hard work. I don’t lie to myself, because I have to know where I am in order to know where to begin.
“For ‘The Greatest,’ which is a song about a kid and baseball, I went around to ball fields and radio stations with only my guitar, and I sang it for those audiences. At radio, the phones began to light up, and everybody began to realize the impact of that song. Then,” he says, breaking into a chuckle, “radio had to get over the thought of hearing me on country radio again. They finally said, ‘OK, it doesn’t matter what his age is, this song appeals to younger people.'”
“The Greatest” struck a personal chord with so many people that Rogers and songwriter Don Schlitz adapted the lyrics into a children’s story, and the book was released in May. Rogers hopes eventually to release a series of children’s stories. He will follow up The Greatest with a children’s adaptation of his Christmas stage show, The Toy Shoppe, to be published in the fall. There are also plans for a book of Rogers’ photography, This Is My Country, to be released sometime next year. It will feature portraits of country stars of the past, present and future.
There seems to be little chance that Rogers will slow down anytime soon. After last year’s European concert tour in Scandinavia, Britain, Poland and Germany, this summer he will focus on the States, then embark on a Christmas tour. In the midst of all that, Rogers will make various promotional appearances for the new album and books, and he will participate in the continued development of Dreamcatcher Entertainment as a viable record company, artist management firm and film and television production unit.
He acknowledges that success has required a team effort. “I’m extremely lucky, in that I’ve surrounded myself with some very bright people who know how to maximize what I’ve done in the past and what I’m doing now.
“I hope we can establish this record company as an option for new and established artists who have a creative view that might not fit into the box of major labels,” Rogers says. “It would be a thrill for me to discover a new talent and help make them successful. None of this is easy, and it’s a pretty big dream, but I’ve been lucky so far. Success breeds confidence, and confidence breeds more success. That’s where the fun comes.”