Kenny Rogers & Jamaica: a love affair

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A report by Howard Campbell for Jamaica’s Observer.

Weeks before his first performance in Jamaica in January 2004, Kenny Rogers said he did not know what to expect from fans. He told this writer of frequent visits to the country’s north coast but was unaware of his popularity here.

Rogers, who died of natural causes last Friday in Georgia at age 81, did two shows in Jamaica that year. He debuted at the Air Jamaica Jazz Festival in Montego Bay; he was so well-received that he returned for an encore in Kingston at King’s House in November, that drew a mammoth crowd.

Like other veteran country and western singers who performed in Jamaica (Skeeter Davis and Crystal Gayle), Rogers knew little of the genre’s impact in reggae land. For his Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival set, he was prepared to go with the flow.

“I’ll sing the hits, of course, you have to do those. But when I get on stage, I tell you, I just work with the audience because they are the boss,” he said.

For both shows, the silver-haired Rogers reeled off the hits that made him a superstar. They included Lady, Ruby, Through The Years, Love Will Turn YouAround, You Decorated my Life, Islands in The Stream and his trademark, TheGambler.

The latter was covered by Busy Signal for Reggae Goes Country, a 2011 album that featured popular Jamaican artistes doing reggae takes on famous country songs like Patsy Cline’s Crazy and Jim Reeves’ He’ll Have to Go.

Interestingly, at the King’s House gig, fans implored Rogers to sing Write Your NameAcross my Heart, a song (covered by John Holt) he was not familiar with. To appease them, he sang the lyrics from a sheet of paper to rousing applause.

The Texas-born Rogers began recording in the late 1950s. Most of his initial songs were country but he branched out into rock in the late 1960s with the psychedelic band, First Edition.

Returning to his country roots in the 1970s, Rogers had massive hits with LoveLifted Me, Lucille, and The Gambler. In the early 1980s, he worked with pop songwriters like Lionel Richie, who penned Lady, one of his biggest hits.

It was not all music for Kenny Rogers in Jamaica. His restaurant, Roasters, had an outlet in Kingston for several years.

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