On Friday, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will unveil Kenny Rogers: Through The Years, a new exhibit that pays tribute to the legendary entertainer.
The 2013 Hall of Fame inductee's career will be celebrated with a wide array of artifacts, including a Tony Alamo denim outfit that Kenny Rogers wore on stage during his First Edition days, and his Diamond sales plaque for his 1980 Greatest Hits album.
"They have gone to great trouble to get things together. There are some things from when I was in jazz, and the New Christy Minstrels, as well as the First Edition," Rogers tells Billboard. "We also went back to the days when I first started out with Larry Butler. His wife sent me his Bible and his cufflinks. I wanted them to be in there," he says fondly.
It was Butler who took a chance in signing Rogers to United Artists in the mid '70s, not too long after the members of First Edition went their separate ways. Rogers was almost 40 at the time, and it had been several years since the First Edition had a major hit. Needless to say, the UA brass was not impressed with Butler's decision, but the producer held his ground.
"He had a big flare-up with the president of the record company, and he told them, 'Look at my contract. I can sign whoever I want," recalls Rogers. "He signed me, and the first couple of records weren't that big. Then 'Lucille' changed everything."
Over the course of his career, the numbers are staggering: 31 Gold and 19 Platinum Albums during his career, plus a list of hits that include standards such as the aforementioned "Lucille," "Islands In The Stream," "Lady," and, of course, "The Gambler." That 1978 chart-topper continues to find new life over three decades later, with Rogers singing the famous chorus in a recent commercial.
Rogers wasn't too sure about the Geico commercial when originally presented with the idea, but he quickly warmed to it. "When they called me and asked me about it, I said, 'I don't know,' and then they told me the story, and I said, 'I have to do that.' It was fun to do it, and they seemed to love how it turned out."
Rogers says he has no problem poking fun at his romantic balladeer image. "I love that. Anyone who takes themselves so seriously are running the risk of really getting hurt. I tell people this story about doing a concert in St. Louis: This couple was in the front row, and they had been married for 50 years. She puts her arms through her husband's arms and her head on his shoulder. I actually heard that man say to his wife, 'I didn't like that song then, and I don't like it now.' I think those things are more fun."
Also featured in the exhibit are costumes from his movies, such as The Gambler and Six Pack, as well as many of the cameras he used while shooting photography over the years. He's released a series of books in that vein, such as This Is My Country and Your Friends And Mine.
Seeing all of the items collectively has been a trip down memory lane for Rogers. "I'm trying to see how much I remember, because when I was writing my book, I was amazed by how much I had forgotten. When you're in the fast lane, you don't take notes," he admits. "I'm so lucky that my band remembered."
Scheduled Events for the kickoff weekend of Kenny Rogers: Through The Years (supported by SunTrust)
Saturday, Aug. 16
11:30am: Songwriter Session: Don Schlitz, writer of countless country hits, including Rogers' "The Gambler," "The Greatest," and the recent "You Can't Make Old Friends."
2:30pm: Interview Session: Kenny Rogers, to be streamed at countrymusichalloffame.org/streaming.
Sunday, Aug. 17
2:00pm: Film Screening: Kenny Rogers: Live By Request: A presentation of a historic A&E concert special where fans called in and made live musical requests of Rogers. Linda Davis also appears.