Kenny Rogers probably wouldn’t recognize me if we were in an elevator together and I was wearing a neon name tag. But there was that one night when “The Gambler” asked ME to take a picture with HIM. The memory of that occurrence beam brightly today as Rogers adjusts to his 81st birthday.
Let me explain: In the antediluvian days before there was streaming, downloading and CDs, I used to browse the record bins for “cutout” vinyl albums — that is, albums with the corners clipped off to signify they were to be sold at a reduced price. The cover of one of these discounted albums showed a male trio, the central visage of which looked a lot like a young, beardless Kenny Rogers. And, indeed, it was. So I bought it.
The album, In a Most Unusual Way, was by the Bobby Doyle Three and dated 1962. Later I learned that Rogers had dropped out of the University to Texas just to join the trio. I listened and lulled to its pleasant covers of current and classic pop tunes and soon after filed the album away with my other bargain treasures.
Years and decades passed. Civilizations rose and fell, and then, in May 2012, my editor at CMT.com assigned me to cover Rogers’ last of two shows as artist in residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame. On a hunch that Rogers might like to have my album for his archives, I took it with me and looked up one of Rogers’ managers before the show started. He was dazzled by the album, noting that the only copy Rogers had of it was on cassette. Instead of taking the album to Rogers himself, the manager insisted I present it to him personally.
So we walked down past the crowd gathered in the Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater and into the green room where artists awaited their cue to go on. The room was packed with friends, assistants and hangers on. But Rogers lit up when he saw the album. He joked that because Doyle was blind, he and the other singer posed him for the album cover looking to the side instead of into the camera as they were.
Then he said, “Let’s take a picture.” He put his arm around my shoulder and held up the album in front of us. We grinned mechanically, the photographer snapped and the moment was over. Never one to linger in the unaccustomed company of greatness, I quickly took my leave and went to my assigned perch to watch Rogers present one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen.