Even for an artist who’s had 120 hit singles and sold more than 100 million records over a 50-year career, Kenny Rogers has had a monster year.
Rogers is playing Cranbrook on Feb. 26. But in the months leading up to this date, he’s released his 22nd Top 10 country album, got a Grammy nomination along with old friend Dolly Parton, been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and handed the CMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s had a novel published, and been awarded an Honorary Masters of Photography.
He’s spent much of the past year roaming the planet with his Through The Years World Tour.
Western Financial Place in Cranbrook will feature an arrangement where the stage faces the side seating, rather than end to end. This will make for an up-close-and-personal evening, and Rogers is looking forward to it.
“You know, I’d actually rather work those kinds of (smaller) venues, because you can really feel the audience more,” Rogers told the Townsman in an interview last week. “If you work big venues, what you have to do is play to the front two rows and acknowledge the back 10. But this way you get to see everybody — literally. I turn on the house lights from time to time and I get a chance to look around, and see who’s there. It’s fun for me to do that, to pick out people. There’s always someone holding a sign that says, ‘Where’s Dolly?’
“It’s a totally different feel, but it’s much more rewarding. There’s a better connection in those conditions, and I just love it.”
Rogers’ latest album, ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends,’ was released last October and reached number nine on the U.S. country charts. Rogers has said it is the best album he’s ever recorded.
“It is,” he insisted. “Warner Brothers called me and said, ‘We want you to do an album.’ We had a meeting and I said, ‘I want you to know that I understand and I accept the fact that at this point in my career I may not be able to get it on the radio.’ And the president of the company said, ‘Don’t worry about the radio. Do the 10 songs or 11 songs that you want to do.’
“Because I’ve always had a knack for picking good songs. And not having the pressure of the radio took so much pressure off me as an artist, that I have some songs that I would never have even looked at before.
“That’s what I think makes it so special. It’s really more fun. It was top 10 the first week out, so we must have done something right.
“There’s really only two ways I can compete,” Rogers continued. “I can do what everybody else is doing, and do it better. And I don’t like my chances with that. Or I can do something nobody else is doing, and then you go in by comparison.”
The album’s title track features old friend and duet-mate Dolly Parton. The pair were nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award for “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”
“That song was written for us,” Rogers said. “And we both felt it was not so important that it be a successful big hit on radio. But it was important to both of us to have our relationship documented. We can go years without seeing each other, but when she walks in the room it’s like we were together yesterday.”
What about the concert that Cranbrook can look forward to?
“I got about 18 or 19 top 10 records, and I do them all. ‘Lucille,’ ‘Coward of the County,’ ‘Daytime Friends’ … All the ballads: ‘Love the World Away,’ ‘Through the Years,’ ‘She Believes in Me,’ ‘Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town’ … All those things, and I’m going to mix some new things in.”
And the band that’s accompanying Rogers?
“My band has been with me, most of them, for the better part of 40 years. And they’re great players and good friends, and they just get better every time we go out.”
In October of last year, Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in November received the CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I’m glad it happened now, rather than at the peak of my career,” Rogers said, “because at the peak of my career I had so much on my table, I don’t know that I could have really appreciated it.
“I have two twin boys, nine years old, and they just thought that was so cool. My older boys were there (at the ceremony), my brothers and sisters, my wife. It was a great family moment.”
Not that Rogers appears to be slowing down too much, creatively. In September, a novel written by Rogers, with Mike Blakely, was released, titled “What Are The Chances?”
“It’s about the game of Texas hold’em being invented. It’s about a kid who wants to be in Nashville, and he’s there when Texas hold’em is invented.”
As to the aforementioned Honorary Masters of Photography, awarded by the Professional Photographers of America:
“I have a new category for psychiatrists — I’m impulsive-obsessive,” Rogers said. “I get involved with something impulsively, and then I get obsessed with it, to see how well I can do it. That’s what happened with photography. You go out on the road, you have an hour and a half where you’re high, where the audience is carrying you and you’re feeling great. The other 22 and a half hours of nothing to do. So I always find things to do. I play tennis — I never played tennis until I was 35, and then I got a national ranking. Because I took it so seriously, and worked so hard. And it’s the same with photography. Once I found out I could do it, I worked to see how well I could do it. And it was really very rewarding.”
The Kenny Rogers Through the Years 2014 World tour, with special guest Charlie Major, touches down at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook, Feb. 26. Showtime 7:30 p.m. Tickets available at Western Financial Place box office, by phone at 250-426-SEAT, or online at www.tickets.cranbrook.ca.