Kenny Rogers Recalls Christmases Past, Looks Forward to New Memories
Kenny Rogers is 77 years old and still learning. For his new Christmas album Once Again it's Christmas, the Country Music Hall of Famer says he brought a pile of original songs. All but one found the trashcan.
During an interview with Taste of Country, Rogers shared an important lesson he learned from executives at his record label: "They said, ‘I don’t care who you are. When they buying public goes in and looks at that album, if they don’t see some Christmas songs they recognize, they won’t buy it.’”
"They're looking for their own memories," he adds.
There's a certain, unmistakable honesty and humility about Rogers. His humor is often self-deprecating, and when he offers the oft-used line about not wanting anything for Christmas, you believe him, because just a few moments earlier he said that when Christmas morning comes, he's pretty tired of the season.
“But at the same time, I’ve heard 'Joy to the World' 34 nights, I don’t need to hear it again," he says. He's referring to his 34th Christmas tour, which begins on Nov. 11. He'll play 30 shows in America and Canada, including some frigid states and territories. Men a quarter of his age would shudder at the thought of a December show in Bangor, Maine.
Dad always made us feel like he didn’t care about Christmas ... and one year we came home from church and my dad was laying on the floor underneath the Christmas tree, opening up the end of one of the gifts so he could see what he got.
Rogers doesn't complain. He looks forward to changing up his setlist. He looks forward to seeing familiar faces, including two women and a husband who have seen him more than 1300 times!
“A lot of the kids that were with us 15 years ago are now 25 and 30 years old. And they bring their kids in and they remember being on the stage up there," the icon says.
"The Light" is the only song Rogers helped write for Once Again It's Christmas. He admits that a recent ulnar nerve transposition has made it difficult to grip a guitar, so he doesn't write very much any longer. Fans who see the show can expect a big choir during this song.
“That’s one of the things I love about Christmas. It’s different,” he explains. “The songs themselves give the audience a feeling and anything we can do to enhance the feeling makes it that much better.”
Alison Kraus, Jennifer Nettles, Home Free and the Time Jumpers are among the collaborators on this album, a collection of covers Rogers has tried before and some he's tackling for the first time. Until now he stayed away from "There's a New Kid in Town." Keith Whitley's version can't be topped, he says, and he didn't want to draw comparisons.
“He was so good that he put a stamp on it," Rogers says, sitting comfortably in an easy chair after an eight-hour day of interviews and audio recording. "Like the thing I did with Wynonna ("Mary, Did You Know?"). A lot of people can cut it, but she and I put our stamp on it. Now everybody else's is a cover record."
Rogers doesn't hesitate to admit he had help patching some of the deficiencies in his voice during the making of this album. He gives credit to Kyle Lehning and Warren Hartman for creating a wonderful end product, but recording it was often painful.
"I would show up on one day and it would sound wonderful. I’d show up the next day and I couldn’t talk," he recalls. Modern engineering tricks provided the salve he needed, and the finished work is as strong as any he's released in the last decade.
The Once Again It's Christmas Tour ends on Dec. 23, and on Dec. 25, he'll be at home, celebrating with his twin 11-year-old boys. They're much like most kids at Christmas time, and quite a bit like his older kids were 30 to 40 years ago. Rogers recalls growing up in the projects near Houston, so Christmas wasn't always a season of bounty. But his father looked forward to it, despite what he'd say.
“Dad always made us feel like he didn’t care about Christmas, he didn’t care about what we got him," Rogers says. "And one year we came home from church and my dad was laying on the floor underneath the Christmas tree, opening up the end of one of the gifts so he could see what he got.”
Linda Davis will join Rogers on the Once Again It's Christmas Tour. The cover art for the new album features a photo taken by Rogers. It’s called “Red Tree,” and it was taken in Yakima, Wash., in December 2003.
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