In a moment both reflective and humorous during his show at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez on Thursday night, Kenny Rogers sized up his catalog of songs like "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town," "Coward of the County," "Daytime Friends," "The Gambler" and "Lucille." His appraisal: "I have had an incredible career singing about dysfunctional families."
It has been an incredible career for Rogers, who is now 75 years old and can still easily sell out a joint. The show touched on his whole career in music, from his early days fronting The First Edition to a new album that came out last year, with a lot of hits in the middle.
I repeat, lots of hits: In addition to the aforementioned songs, he sang the opener "Love or Something Like It," "She Believes in Me," which he described as the favorite of his ballads, "You Decorated My Life," "Lady," "Through the Years," "We've Got Tonight," which he described as his favorite duet (originally recorded with Sheena Easton), "Islands in the Stream" (originally recorded with Dolly Parton), and his most recent No. 1 song, "Buy Me a Rose."
Rogers also performed three fine songs from his new album, starting off with the title track "You Can't Make Old Friends," a song with a couple of winning combinations going for it: It's a duet with Parton, whose taped vocals accompanied Rogers at the show, and it was co-written by Don Schlitz, who wrote Rogers' huge hit "The Gambler." Rogers introduced "Old Friends" by joking that when they recorded it, Parton volunteered that she could never sing at his funeral, to which Rogers replied, "Wait, I'm going first?" The Chumash performance of the song was complemented with video footage of Rogers and Parton from days past.
The other new songs were the zydeco-flavored "Don't Leave Me in the Night Time" and "'Merica," after which Rogers had the veterans in the house stand up to be acknowledged for their service.
Rogers introduced the songs from The First Edition by pointing out that in those days, "I was a happenin' dude." For "Something's Burning," he told that U.S. radio stations wouldn't play it because it was "too sexual." (Given the sexually charged songs that now receive regular rotation on the radio, we can conclude that the times they have a-changed.) But after they went to England and played the song on the This Is Tom Jones TV show, which aired in the United States, the song took off.
For the psych gem "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," Rogers joked that "this song kept me out of the Country Music Hall of Fame for 30 years." During this performance, trippy vintage video footage of The First Edition was shown.
In addition to singing great songs, Rogers often cracked the audience up. Early on, he told us that the lighting was set up so "I can watch you watch me." He gave a hard time to a lady in the eighth row with binoculars, and also told about a recent show in St. Louis where he saw a couple who had been married 50 years respond to the song "Through The Years" — the wife snuggled up to the husband, and the husband said, "I didn't like that song then, and I don't like it now."
Rogers also made a deal with a guy in the front named Arnie, who self-identified as "not a particularly big fan" — Rogers would give Arnie $10 for each song that he knew. Let's just say that by the end of the night, Arnie had come out pretty well.
Noting that "the older you get, the more you learn to save your steps," Rogers didn't bother to leave the stage and return for an encore — he just stayed onstage. He wrapped up with "Lady" and "Islands in the Stream," hits that show that his incredible career wasn't just built on tales of dysfunctional families.
This trip to the casino was a definite winner.
Love or Something Like It
It's a Beautiful Life
If You Want to Find Love
Through the Years
You Decorated My Life
She Believes In Me
Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town
Love the World Away
Coward of the County
Buy Me a Rose
You Can't Make Old Friends
Don't Leave Me in the Night Time
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
Have a Little Faith in Me
Islands in the Stream
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.