- - Monday, December 14, 2015

There is only one Kenny Rogers. The undisputed king of crossover country music has sold over 100 million records and charted 120 hit singles in his amazing career, including “The Gambler,” “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” “You Decorated My Life,” “Islands in the Stream” (with Dolly Parton), “Through the Years,” “Coward of the County,” “Lady” and dozens more.

To celebrate the release of his holiday album, “Once Again It’s Christmas,” Mr. Rogers is hitting the road for what he says is his farewell tour. Ahead of his gig at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown, Maryland, Tuesday, Mr. Rogers discussed his holiday album, that hilarious Geico ad and the possibility of a Kenny Rogers theme park.

Question: How are you?

Answer: You’re getting me at the end of the day, so I have no idea what I’m gonna tell ya. [laughs]

Q: Why did you decide to record a new Christmas album?

A: Well, you know, I haven’t done one in a while. Someone said [it’s been] 17 years. And I do a Christmas tour every year of about 30 cities, and I’m doing the same songs. They said, “You probably should try to do some new songs.” I said OK, and that’s how it came about to do the Christmas album.

It was great fun to do, even in July when we started it. Once you get in there and start singing about it, you feel Christmas. You get the feeling that Christmas gives you.

Q: How is it different from your previous holiday albums?

A: I’ve never recorded any of these songs before. I don’t do that. I just do maybe something someone else did or songs I’ve heard. There are some newer songs and well-known ones. It’s a combination.

The record company taught me a very important lesson. They said, “They don’t care who you are as an artist. When the buying public goes to buy an album, if they don’t see songs on there they know, they won’t buy a Christmas album.”

Music is the greatest memory-maker of all time. If you don’t have certain songs, then you’re not making any memories.

Q: I understand you shot the cover photo for the CD yourself?

A: Yeah, I’m a photographer. I was out a couple years ago in — I want to say, North or South Dakota. I was out driving around, and I saw this one incredible tree with orange leaves in the midst of all the snow. It just struck me as being beautiful. I took the picture. Then they told me they wanted to use it on the cover. Everyone who has seen it loves it. I guess it’s good. And the CD doesn’t have my picture in it, so that’s good for me.

Q: Why is that good for you?

A: I’ve seen me before. [laughs]

Q: When you play live on the upcoming “Once Again It’s Christmas” tour, will you just play holiday music?

A: It started out we were doing all hits on tour. Then somebody said [for shows] halfway through December, “Hey, are you gonna do any Christmas music?” After about two years I put together an all-Christmas show — an hour-and-a-half long with phenomenal production.

And about halfway through the show, someone said, “Are you gonna do ‘Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town’?” Now I play both.

Q: What are your favorite songs to play live?

A: I like to do songs that were hits because the feedback and the reaction is so amazing. And that is so fulfilling as an artist: “Coward of the County,” “She Believes in Me,” “Lady,” “Islands in the Stream.”

Q: How did you end up in the Geico commercial?

A: It was great fun. They called me to ask me if I would do it. They wanted to use [“The Gambler”]. I said, “I think that is a great idea.”

I go to California, and I go to this little house, and the guys I play poker with were there. We tried a bunch of different things. I would show them some of my hand and I would tease them. The director said, “Why don’t you try singing one?” So I did it. That was the first and only musical take — the one I did. They just renewed [the spot].

Q: Are you still involved with Kenny Roger’s Roasters restaurants?

A: No, but I may be shortly. I’m gonna try to buy that and start it over again. It is very big in Malaysia and the Asian countries. I went into one in Greece one day. I was walking around. I noticed the manager was looking at the cup and looking at me, trying to see if I was the guy or not.

It’s a great product. I’m proud to have been a part of it.

Q: What is the secret to your success?

A: I think my song selections and my duets. I’ve done duets with some of the most beautiful and talented women in music: Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton, Dottie West. Dolly Parton, of course. I’m convinced that everybody sings better when they do duets. It’s a little bit like running the hundred-yard dash. You run it as fast as you think you can. Then someone runs alongside you, and you’re gonna run faster. I think that’s what happens with duets.

Q: What do you have coming up next?

A: Well, somewhere down the line there’s a guy in Atlanta who wants to do a big project with me called Kennyworld. It will have things like Dollywood. And it will have a big, giant hotel, and I will decorate this hotel, because I’m a decorator too — an interior decorator.

It’s pretty cool. We’re playing with that.

Mr. Rogers plays The Maryland Theatre in Hagerston, Maryland, Tuesday at 7:30. Tickets are $60 to $130 at Ticketmaster.com.


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