Kenny Rogers' Luck: The Gambler's Story More Than Breaks Even

Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir By Kenny Rogers William Morrow, 304 pp., $27.99

Having recently produced a television special commemorating his 50 years in show business, this memoir from the Gambler seems long overdue.

And indeed, during his '70s and '80s heyday, Kenny Rogers was an artist that would get played on country, pop and rock stations here in town, a crossover artist who -- like Harry Chapin -- took the "story song" ("Coward of the County," "The Gambler," "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," "Lucille") to mass success.

Of course, since Rogers was born (at St. Joseph's Infirmary) and raised (at San Felipe Courts...now Allen Parkway Village... where a fence separated black and white housing) in Houston, there are plenty of local venues getting name-checked.

Rogers attended Wharton Elementary School, George Washington Junior High School, Jeff Davis High School, and the University of Houston, won a talent show in 1949 at the Texan Theatre, was a busboy at the Rice Hotel, swept floors at the Wormser Hat Store (for $9 a week), bought his first guitar at H&H Music, and had early gigs at places like the Saxony Club and Showbiz.

He recalls the time his alcoholic father got drunk at the ritzy Houston Petroleum Club during an important show for the younger singer, even met his third (of five and counting) wives at Houston's "Bunny Club."

Musically, Rogers narrates his career in rock as a member of the First Edition ("Just Dropped in (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)") to massive success in country either as a solo artist or with duet partners like Dolly Parton (who he clearly adores and has a close bond with) and Dottie West (whose tax issues and tragic car accident death still haunt him).

He also writes candidly about his later career struggles trying to remain relevant in an industry with ever-changing tastes, before realizing he should just follow what he wants to do (Jazz record? Christmas tour and play? Sure!) and hope his audience would follow.

And his detailing of the "We Are the World" recording session -- and longtime friendship with the song's co-author/"Lady" scribe Lionel Richie -- are interesting and funny, along with a story about his Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurants and the memorable Seinfeld episode that revolved around one.

And then there's the time that he took psychedelic drugs (a rarity for him) with songwriter Mickey Newbury and listed to...Cat Stevens' song "Sad Lisa." For hours. And then hours more.

However, he steers clear of his, um, experiments in plastic surgery that have left him looking... a bit squinty-eyed these days.

Sometimes when the narrative strays from music into his other interests (golf, photography, travel), his houses, or tales of moony-eyed cooking in the kitchen with his current wife and family (Rogers tells us giddily he was in charge of "salad and bread" at one family gathering) it's a bit much.

Still, fans of Rogers, classic country, and the grooming of gray hair will find plenty to enjoy here. And -- as readers already know -- the Gambler has survived on more than just luck over the years.

Kenny Rogers will sign Luck or Something Like It at 1 p.m. Friday, October 12, at the Barnes and Noble in River Oaks at 2030 W. Gray. He also performs at 8 p.m. that night at the Arena Theatre, 7326 SW Fwy, 713-772-5900 or www.arenahouston.com.

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