Kenny Rogers Dies At 81 The three-time Grammy-winning icon, whose hits included "Lucille," "Lady" and "The Gambler," died at home in Sandy Springs, Ga., his family said in a statement.
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Country Music Legend Kenny Rogers Dies At 81

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Country Music Legend Kenny Rogers Dies At 81

Country Music Legend Kenny Rogers Dies At 81

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Kenny Rogers considered himself more of a storyteller than a superstar singer. And he's being remembered for spinning 4-minute tales with titles like "The Gambler," "Through The Years" and "Lucille." Kenny Rogers died last night at the age of 81. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN in Nashville has this remembrance.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Kenny Rogers had 20 No. 1 hits, and he'd often say there were two kinds - love ballads that say what every man would like to say and every woman would like to hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LADY")

KENNY ROGERS: (Singing) Lady, I'm your knight in shining armor, and I love you.

FARMER: The other kind are story songs that have a social significance. "Coward Of The County" is really about a rape.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COWARD OF THE COUNTY")

ROGERS: (Singing) Tommy opened up the door and saw his Becky crying. The torn dress, the shattered look was more than he could stand.

FARMER: Rogers didn't write most of his hits. He often said he didn't consider himself much of a songwriter. But he told Morning Edition in 2012 that he had a knack for picking songs that could draw in the listener.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROGERS: I've always felt great songs put you in a spot, put you in a place - on a warm summer's evening, on a train bound for nowhere. You know where you are. And from there, the rest of the song plays out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GAMBLER")

ROGERS: (Singing) So we took turns a-staring out the window at the darkness, till boredom overtook us, and he began to speak.

FARMER: "The Gambler" would become a worldwide hit in 1978. And it would end up being Rogers' calling card. He toured and performed into his late '70s and said he would never skip it and risk a revolt in the audience. He always joked, however, that he wasn't much of a gambler himself. Here he is talking to Rachel Martin on Weekend Edition in 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROGERS: 'Cause I learned a long time ago I can't win enough money to excite me, but I can lose enough to depress me.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: (Laughter).

ROGERS: So I don't gamble. But you're right - it has been a career-identifying song.

FARMER: Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but he always spanned genres. His career really started with jazz, playing upright bass with a trio in Houston. That's where he was raised in public housing, becoming the first in his family to graduate from high school. After a stint playing bass with The New Christy Minstrels, he went on to co-found The First Edition.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST DROPPED IN (TO SEE WHAT CONDITION MY CONDITION WAS IN)")

ROGERS: (Singing) I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.

FARMER: Rogers would quickly go on to be a solo artist, but he was always known for his collaborations, especially duets with Dolly Parton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLANDS IN THE STREAM")

KENNY ROGERS AND DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) You do something to me that I can't explain. Hold me closer, and I feel no pain. Every beat of my heart, we've got something going on.

FARMER: The story goes that Rogers was in his studio in Los Angeles for days, trying to get this song written by the Bee Gees just right. Then someone said, this needs Dolly Parton, and she happened to be in town. They both recalled it being a magical studio moment, and "Islands In The Stream" became a No. 1 hit in 1983.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLANDS IN THE STREAM")

ROGERS AND PARTON: (Singing) Islands in the stream, that is what we are.

FARMER: After that first chance encounter, they performed together for decades. Their musical chemistry was so central to both of their careers that Don Schlitz - who wrote "The Gambler" - penned a song called "You Can't Make Old Friends," based on their three-decade relationship.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T MAKE OLD FRIENDS")

DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) When I'm out, on the stage all alone, and I hear the music begin.

ROGERS: (Singing) We all know the show must go on.

ROGERS AND PARTON: (Singing) But you can't make old friends.

FARMER: It will now be a poignant tribute. But Parton once told Rogers she would never be able to sing at his funeral. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

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