Kenny Rogers Breaks Down His Biggest Duets: 'There's a Chemistry Between Us'

Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers

GAB Archive/Redferns

In part two of our look back at the career of Kenny Rogers to celebrate this week’s release of his newest work, "You Can’t Make Old Friends," we shine the spotlight on the collaborations that Rogers has been a part of. Aside from Willie Nelson, duets have perhaps been as much a part of his career as any artist in the format’s history. Billboard got a chance to ask Rogers his thoughts with some of those he has shared the spotlight with over the years....


Don't Fall in Love...

Rogers’ musical relationship with Kim Carnes stretches back further than any of his other collaborators. The two were members of the New Christy Minstrels in the mid 1960s. Carnes and her husband, , wrote an entire album for the singer in 1980 titled Gideon – which included their hit single "Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer." The two also joined forces with R&B great James Ingram for 1984’s pop hit "What About Me."

Rogers on Carnes: "Kim was with me in the New Christy Minstrels. We were good buddies there, and I remember her being out on the road with all these guys, and we had this girl with us named Kiyoko Ito, who spoke no English, so Kim was the only girl who spoke English. I remember her crying on the bus because she was so lonely on the road. I had no idea that she had the ability to write that she does, and I was thrilled with Gideon, the album she wrote for me."


We've Got Tonight

After bursting on the international scene with the success of "Morning Train (Nine To Five)" in 1981, Sheena Easton quickly became one of the biggest female acts in music. She joined musical forces with Rogers in 1983 for a cover of Bob Seger’s "We’ve Got Tonight."

Rogers on Easton: "Sheena was on Capitol at the same time I was. Jim Mazza had found 'We’ve Got Tonight,’ which was a Bob Seger song. He said that we should do the song as a duet instead of me trying to compete with Bob Seger. She was so hot at the time, and so gracious. She sang it so beautifully."


Calling Me

In 2006, Rogers returned to his prior home of Capitol Nashville to release the well-received disc Water & Bridges. "Calling Me," One of the singles from the project netted him a Grammy nomination – a duet with the legendary Don Henley. But, did you know there is a tie that binds the two singers?

Rogers on Henley: "Don and I go back a lot further than most people know. I discovered him in Linden, TX, took him to LA, and he stayed at my house with the rest of his group (Shiloh) for about four or five months. I produced an album on them. I had all of his publishing, and when he went with the Eagles, he said he couldn’t really do it if he didn’t have his publishing rights. So, I gave him his publishing back, and said 'good luck,’ and look what’s happened to him!"


Islands in the Stream

It was a duet pairing made in musical heaven. Country’s biggest male crossover star teams with the format’s biggest female crossover act. The two became synomonous with each other following the success of "Islands In The Stream," and also topped the charts with "Real Love" in 1985. In addition, their 1984 "Once Upon A Christmas" disc has become a standard of the holiday season. Parton appears with Rogers on his new disc, singing on the emotional title cut. Watch the new video here.

Rogers on Parton: "There’s a chemistry between us that is truly unique. It doesn’t matter where I go. On stage, I’ll talk about being blessed to sing duets with some of the most talented and beautiful women. I’ll start with Dottie West, Kim Carnes, and Sheena Easton, and then I say Dolly Parton, and the whole place goes crazy. I know there is a passion there from the audience for us." 



Rogers has had an uncanny chemistry with Lionel Richie over the years. From Kenny’s 1980 original "Lady" to the 1981 Rogers album "Share Your Love" to their collaboration on "Lady" on the 2012 Tuskegee disc, Rogers has nothing but the highest of praise for his friend and recording partner. 

Rogers on Richie: "I think he’s one of the most talented people I have ever met. He did one of the smartest albums I have ever seen in "Tuskegee." He took songs that everybody knew, and did them with artists that everybody loved. That’s why that album was such a big success."


Make No Mistake (She's Mine)

Kenny Rogers’ signing with RCA allowed him to record with two of the label’s most successful artists – Parton and Ronnie Milsap. The two teamed up for the 1987 chart-topper "Make No Mistake, She’s Mine," which coincidentially, was co-written by another Rogers duet partner – Kim Carnes.

Rogers on Milsap: "He came out on tour with me when I was working in the round. We had a six foot wide stage that was a circle, with the pit in the middle. Ronnie Milsap gets on that stage and literally ran around it. It literally scared me to death. I think he had put sandpaper on the side of it, but I didn’t know that. He’s so impressive and such a great singer."


Anyone Who Isn't Me Tonight

A chance meeting at the recording studio led to one of the most successful duet pairings in country music history. The two won several CMA and ACM Awards and tallied six top-40 records – with three going all the way to the top.  

Rogers on West: "I had been sitting in the studio listening to her for forty-five minutes. I had never met her, and she hadn’t met me. I was listening to her sing 'Every Time Two Fools Collide,’ and she looked in through the glass and said 'Larry, is that Kenny Rogers sitting next to you?’ He said sure, and she said 'Well, you tell him I want to sing a duet with him.’ I said 'Dottie, I think I’ve heard this song enough that I could sing it with you.’ So, we literally went in the studio, and did it that night."

NEXT PAGE: Kenny Rogers' Ten Biggest Billboard Country Hits