Books

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.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero