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Kenny Rogers Is Still Rocking 50-Plus Years Later

He started with jazz and folk, but country music made him famous

  • Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis

    The Man Behind the Curtain

    Kenny Rogers pulls back the curtain on his life and career in his new memoir, Luck or Something Like It, out Oct. 2.

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    Doo-Wop Ditty

    Kenny Rogers (third from left) first tasted fame at age 17 in 1956, singing tenor and playing guitar with Houston doo-wop group the Scholars — "an interesting name for four C students," he muses in his new memoir. They made one record, Poor Little Doggie, but broke up the next year. 

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    Feeling Jazzed

    In 1959 a blind jazz pianist recruited Rogers (top) as bass player and harmonizer for his group, the Bobby Doyle Three. "I learned how to be a musician from Bobby Doyle," Rogers writes. "I could never remember where B flat was on the bass." 

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    Folk Hero

    When the popular New Christy Minstrels invited Rogers (far right) to join in 1966, he jumped at the chance. It meant a move to L.A. and $750 a week. Folk music, he found, was "uplifting, about the strength and tradition of this country." Once again, he played bass and sang harmony.

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    Taking the Lead

    The First Edition (1967-1976) crossed psychedelia such as "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" with country-rock ballads such as "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." The band gave Rogers (second from left) his first chance to sing lead — and rock a beard.

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    Grammy Gala

    Rogers found solo success in Nashville in the late 1970s with smash records such as "Lucille" and "The Gambler," for which he won a Grammy in 1979. He spun off the latter into a TV movie (with a number of sequels) and says "The Gambler" is still his favorite hit.

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    Fool for Love

    Though best known as a soloist, Rogers recorded a number of duets, including three hit albums with the late country star Dottie West, including Every Time Two Fools Collide. "You believed everything she sang," he writes.

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    Crossover Appeal

    Rogers' duets often crossed the stylistic divide: In 1980 he sang "Don't Fall in Love With a Dreamer" with Kim Carnes (here with James Ingram). He then paired with Sheena Easton on "We've Got Tonight." "Lady," Rogers' solo hit written by Lionel Richie, became an adult-contemporary favorite, too. 

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    Big Hair, Big Hits

    In 1983 Rogers scored another No. 1 hit, "Islands in the Stream," with the unsinkable Dolly Parton. He and Parton would go on to make a 1984 Christmas album and TV special. The duo landed a second country chart-topper, "Real Love," in 1985. 

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    Celebration Time

    To mark his five-plus decades in the business, Rogers launched a 50th Anniversary Tour in 2009, traveling the United States and the U.K. His international tours continued into 2012, taking him to Australia and Asia. "I love the people," he says. "But I hate being gone from my family."

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