Since 1957, easygoing pop-country singer Kenny Rogers has made his mark on the entertainment world with hit records, film and television appearances, photography exhibits and books. For two decades, the Renaissance man of crossover country has been a Georgia resident, with homes in Athens, Alpharetta and Atlanta. With his recently released 61st album, Back to the Well, the 65-year-old Georgia Music Hall of Fame member remains busy with international tours, a partnership in local design firm Kenji and — with his wife, Wanda — preparing for a set of twins due in July.
Creative Loafing: How's life in Buckhead?
Kenny Rogers: People care about their yards here and they plant flowers. It shows pride in the community. That's something I don't see in many cities, quite honestly. I turn one corner and go half a mile and I'm on 285. I go the other way for a mile and I'm on 75, so it doesn't get much better for convenience. There's a mall about five minutes away and all the great restaurants are around the corner. So I guess that's why I pay all these heavy taxes.
After all this time, it's amazing your Grand Ole Opry debut was only two years ago.
No one ever asked me! That's how simple life is sometimes. No one asked me to sing there till then.
Why did it take so long? Was it a backlash from your pop success?
Yeah, I assumed it was, because a lot of the thrust of my music has been pop-related. I'm country, but with a lot of other influences. But a lot of art forms become diluted. And in all fairness, country music has as well.
The definition of country music has been considerably stretched since the Urban Cowboy craze in the '80s, and you were a big part of that.
Yes, but it has stayed pure in its content. Folk music is about the problems of society. Country music is about the people in the society. That's why it has done so well universally. We all suffer from two things: None of us want to grow old alone and we all fear rejection. So when you touch on those two issues, I don't care what language you use, people relate to it.
Country is the one true populist music.
It really is. A good example is part of what my success came from. In the '60s, when "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town)" was released, "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane was number one. Now, if you weren't involved in the subculture and knew that was a drug song, you wouldn't know what was going on. Then, all of a sudden, here comes a song about a guy who's got personal problems. It was simple, catchy and it had a hook everybody could sing. And a lot of people thought, "I like that. It's a great option for me, a person who doesn't do drugs or understand 'White Rabbit.'" When pop music gets so abstract that the average guy on the street doesn't understand it, some little country song can be a breath of fresh air. But then, when country music gets to the point that it becomes pop music, people go back to the steel guitars.
How has the industry changed during your career?
Country music, when I came up, was defined as music that country fans will buy. Now, country music is what country radio will play. If they don't play it, the audience won't get a chance to listen to it. If you're just throwing records out there, hoping something will happen, you don't have a prayer.
You've been lucky enough to have hit records in six consecutive decades now.
You know, I don't feel old, but when you start throwing those kinda numbers around, you realize you are old.
Come on, how many 65-year-olds are expecting twins?
I have to admit, I kinda fought against it at first because of my age. But the more I think about it, the more I realize this might fill a very important void in my life when I choose to quit singing. To quit singing and just have nothing sounds really frightening to me. To quit singing and have two kids to take care of sounds even more frightening, but it sounds exciting, anyhow. My life's about to shift gears, in a big way.
Kenny Rogers performs Fri., Feb. 20, at the Atlanta Civic Center, 395 Piedmont Ave. Billy Dean opens. 8 p.m. $25-$75. 404-881-8885. www.atlantaciviccenter.com.