Wednesday September 26, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- During a career of more than half a century, Kenny Rogers has embraced many show business roles -- singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, producer, actor -- and he appears to have treasured every minute.

"I really love what I'm doing," he says, adding photography to that list of occupational pleasures.

Everywhere Rogers goes he takes along at least one of his cameras, and he has published books of landscape photos from such places as China, Africa and Europe, as well as America, to account for his devotion to the visual arts.

"That's what I do with my day. Otherwise I'd just sit on my bus," Rogers explained during a telephone chat one morning last week from his home in Atlanta.

Likes New England

This particular day he was contemplating his appearance with his eight-member band Thursday evening at 8, at the Colonial Theatre, the tunes he would perform, but also the autumn photos that might be collected.

"I do like New England this time of the year," he observed in that familiar husky drawl with more than a trace of his native Houston. He was recalling fondly previous visits to the region, and wondering, too, about the state of the foliage.

When informed that the still-temperate weather had not yet set the leaf color changes in motion, he sighed with some audible disappointment, while displaying a characteristic optimism that he would find something to satisfy what he calls his new "high-class, 4-by-5 digital.


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"

As to those songs: "I've learned that people want to hear the hits. There are about 25 major hits."

After 50 years, Rogers said he knows what works. "So why do something that won't. Live music is a great memory maker. When you hear a hit song you remember from when you were a kid. You remember where you were, who your friends were."

And humor: "When I do a show, it's not important that anyone leaves there saying, ‘He's the greatest singer.' But it's important that everybody leaves saying, ‘I enjoyed that.' And I try to do it with humor. I've learned that people will clap to be nice, but they won't laugh to be nice, so if you can make them laugh, they'll be happy, whether they've enjoyed the music or not."

Song categories

The number of hits suggests Rogers' unerring instinct for selecting new songs. He separates the songs he performs into two categories:

"First, I try to sing my ballads -- the words every man would like to say and every woman would like to hear.

"And then I sing story songs that have social significance," he said, citing "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town."

"It's about a Vietnam war vet who came back, wounded and trying to keep his wife from having an affair, written by Mel Tillis, another country artist."

Actually, noted Rogers, the song was from the 1960s, about a Korean war vet, but the theme, he said, has universality.

"It's really about any war, about soldiers who come back home, and there's a disconnect. Can they reconnect?"

Rogers ascribes his success to good fortune, promising to describe all in his forthcoming autobiography, "Luck or Something Like It," a play on the title of one of his big ballads, "Love or Something Like It." It will be published Oct. 2 by Harper Collins.

"It's about how lucky I've been. I was with a jazz group; I played bass for 10 years. Then a guy introduced me to the New Christy Minstrels. The two managers, George Greif and Sid Garris, were looking for a bass player who sang high, and it was me.

"From the Christy Min strels, four of us put together the First Edition," he recalled, mentioning the folk-rock band from the 1960s.

Although Rogers has written several of his big songs, he confides that his songwriting career is winding down. "I don't write much any more," he said. "Great songwriters have to write. I don't have to write."

Yet, at 74, he's busy. The new album is coming along, the concert schedule is robust, the big house he bought in Atlanta is being redecorated.

And he has his two identical 8-year-old twins, Justin and Jordan. 

"Having kids at my age can make you or break you," Rogers laughed.

"I am a happy man. There is nothing that I could think of that I don't have," he said, recalling valuable wisdom from his mother.

Mom's advice

"My mom told me to be happy where you are. But don't be content to be there. And if you're not happy where you are, you'll never be happy -- a great piece of motherly advice."

Lucille Rogers' words helped assure her son when he was in his early teens.

"I was struggling with what I wanted to do with my life," he said. "Life can offer you all these opportunities, but if you're not happy, you're wasting your time."

This particular day Rogers was on a heavy schedule of interviews, and our allotted time was nearing its end, but his farewell issued an urgent photographer's entreaty:

"Get out there an help those leaves turn for me."


Who: Kenny Rogers

When: Thursday 8 p.m.

Where: Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield

Tickets: $125, $100, $50

How: (413) 997-4444; (413) 298-5576; at the Colonial box office and online at vwww. BerkshireTheatreGroup.org;