It’s “The Gambler’s Last Deal” at Thunder Valley Friday, June 24, a milestone in the world of country and pop music as Kenny Rogers performs in what he’s calling his final tour. Rogers has been a stalwart of live casino performances for 50 years dating back to the days when he was best known as the lead singer of The First Edition.
Back then, he would pack the cabarets at Harrah’s, playing to around 250 patrons a night who were paying roughly a $5 two-drink minimum. He was mostly viewed as a journeyman – an almost-was with a few minor hits – playing small rooms. But he didn’t see it that way. His First Edition songs (“Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition was in,” “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town?) were strong enough to earn him a following. Also, he clearly enjoyed the atmosphere and was working on a career revitalization that took the music industry almost totally by surprise.
The song was “Lucille” and it shot him to the top of the charts. He signed with Steve Wynn in Las Vegas for $100,000 a week, jumping him from the $11,000 a week he was making at Harrah’s. But here is where he differed from other entertainers who achieved big success while playing the cabarets (notably Barbra Streisand at Harrah’s). He honored his contract and played it out. “It doesn’t do to provide bad feelings just because someone gets lucky,” he told this writer.
The scene in Vegas was, to say the least, boisterous. These were the days when one could practically set up camp in the cabarets, holding on to seats for show after show. The lines to see Rogers snaked around the casino while patrons who had entered for an earlier performance did not budge. Pit bosses were beside themselves trying to accommodate their high-end players. Soon after the policy changed. Seating became for single shows only.
Meanwhile, Rogers went on to greater heights with hit after hit, television specials and even movies. He’s charted 120 singles and sold more than 120 million albums. He’s influenced generations of young singers and tossed countless tambourines out to his audiences while performing.
And he’s been playful. One night in Las Vegas he arranged to go on in the “Legends in Concert” show, taking the place of its Kenny Rogers impersonator. Nobody knew he was the genuine article. Everybody was impressed with how accurate “Kenny” was.
But as the advice goes in his favorite song; “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” He’s decided to fold ’em, in order to spend more time with his wife and twin sons. He’s played a great game. (7 p.m.; $43.75-$189.75; thundervalleyresort.com)