Cape Town – Kenny Rogers sure knows when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em...
Having done it all, from a career spanning over six decades to selling the most albums of anyone in the world, Kenny has finally decided to hang up his Stetson.
Kenny is heading to South Africa in June to say goodbye, and as I nervously answer the phone, Kenny immediately puts me at ease: "Hi Jean-Marie, this is Kenny."
Wow! "It is such an honour to be chatting to you," I say. "Thanks so much," Kenny replies.
"You’ve been to SA before, but this time will be different as you will be saying goodbye. What can South African fans expect from your farewell concert?" I ask.
"People can expect to hear 25 hit songs. Because that’s what people want you know, so I will be doing all the hits," says Kenny. "People ask me whether I ever get tired of singing the same songs, and I always say, 'Boy! Do I love to do them!'
"I can’t wait to come down there, South Africa has always been good to me, so I wanted to come and say goodbye. I’ve always said, I don’t want people to remember my show by how good my voice was, but rather by how much fun they had and how much they enjoyed it," Kenny adds.
Kenny’s visit to South Africa will be very special this time around, as he will be ticking off something from his bucket list.
"I will be bringing my 11-year-old identical twins, Justin and Jordan, with to SA and we will be going on a safari. About 12 years ago I went to the Serengeti in Africa. I loved it, so it’s definitely on my bucket list to do it with my twins. They are so excited! I bought each of them a camera and said they can each take their own pictures then we will make some sort of collage or an album that they can show at school," says Kenny.
I have to ask: "Do Justin and Jordan know how famous their dad is and how do they handle it?"
"Jordan will play that to the top!" Kenny says jokingly. "Once when we went on a Disney cruise, and we were waiting in line with about 40 other people, Jordan very loudly said 'Hey dad, aren’t we VIP’s?'"
There’s warmness in Kenny’s voice as he chats about his children and how he will be spending his time after the music.
"Well, I just want to spend more time with my children, do things with them and for them you know. That’s on my bucket list, so that’s what I want to focus on."
Kenny’s had an incredible career spanning over six decades. "Which decade stands out for you and why?" I ask.
"All my career has been different. I mean ten years out of high school I joined this avant garde jazz group where we played music from the 30s and 40s. I then did some folk music, during what we can call the Age of Aquarius, during which everyone revolted. I loved that experience! Then Lucille broke, and that made my career," Kenny says.
"What has been a career highlight for you?" I ask.
"Well, I grew up in the projects in Houston where we had nothing. We always went over to our neighbour’s house to watch The Ed Sullivan Show on television. So when I first made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, I thought to myself, 'We are on The Ed Sullivan Show, we’ve made it!' I measured my success on that you know, as it was something I grew up with and to me, everyone who was everyone appeared on that show."
Being on the road constantly, I just have to ask: "Is there any crazy tour story you can share with us? Or a crazy groupie story for that matter?"
Kenny laughs: "A lot of crazy things have happened while on tour, especially in the 60s! But there are these fans that have been to 1300 shows in a row, and at every show they bring me a rose with a tag that has the date and the number of the show on it. I’m sure they will also show up in South Africa."
Kenny is well-known for his duets and performances with country legend Dolly Parton.
"I think some of us were hoping that you will bring Dolly with for this concert... when last did you chat to Dolly?" I ask.
"Well, we did a song, You Can’t Make Old Friends, together almost 2 years ago, so that’s when I last spoke to her. I mean I live in Tennessee and she lives in Atlanta. But we have that friendship where we can go without seeing each other for 30 years and we’ll be fine.”
"Have you ever been in love with Dolly?" I ask mischievously.
"No, we’ve only ever been good friends," Kenny says with a hint of a smile in his voice. "I’d say we flirted with each other for 30 years, but we never acted on it as I respect her and her marriage too much."
As we come to the end of our conversation, I have to tap this legend’s brain for some advice one last time: "Do you have any advice for up and coming artists?"
"Do it because you love it, and not for the money. If you’re doing this for the money, don’t do it because you won’t last long enough to get the big money, but if you’re doing this because this is your calling, then even when you’re down you’re happy. You’re doing something you love. My mother once gave the best advice to me, she said, ‘be happy where you are, and you will never have to work a day in your life’," says Kenny.
After we say our goodbyes, I just keep thinking: "What a great man... "
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