on October 4, 2012
Review first published on Blogcritics - Everyone knows it takes both talent and luck to ascend the top of tier of country music stardom. The "something like it" addressed in Kenny Rogers' new autobiography includes adages, lessons, concepts, experiences and close friends encountered along the way. From a humble childhood upbringing in the projects of Houston,Tx., Rogers credits his mother for such values as optimism, respect, sharing and punctuality, as well as sage advice such as, "Find a job you love...and you'll never work a day in your life." His alcoholic father was good-natured with a sense of humor much like the one Kenny acquired. His dad once encouraged him to grow up having just five close friends to become a wealthy man. His managers, producer, and tennis instructor are among those acknowledged in the book. Perhaps a little more could've been written about Las Vegas businessman Steve Wynn who is mentioned as one of the five. Throughout the book, Rogers occasionally calls upon several friends or acquaintances for short stories in their own words.
Subtitled as a "memoir," Rogers' book offers many personal experiences, anecdotes, successes, failures and even a few secrets. While some of the stories are a little trite, most are both humorous and insightful. We quickly learn that Rogers does truly believe a key tenet that "entertainers - no matter how old they are - should never take themselves too seriously." That kind of carefree, yet still businesslike, attitude comes across quite strongly in 'Luck or Something Like It.' That competent and methodical outlook certainly helped Rogers succeed, and it also helps explain his close friendship with stars like Dolly Parton who once herself stated, "The magic is inside of you. There ain't no crystal ball." Kenny Rogers clearly has learned to sing, tell his stories, and live from a special place in his heart.
Rogers previously released an autobiography called 'Making It With Music' back in 1993, and all the facts and figures surrounding his climb to celebrity are well documented. In 'Luck or Something Like It,' he finds ways to modestly mention his hits and awards without coming off as egotistical. Most importantly, Rogers revisits the importance of treating music as a profession, with a serious attitude about viewing it as a business. If his acumen in that arena has been a clear strength, then so too has been his adaptability, teamwork, and skill as a communicator. Rogers was able to get his start on the road to success with doo-wop (The Scholars), jazz (Bobby Doyle Three; Kirby Stone Four), folk (New Christy Minstrels), country rock (The First Edition), and then ultimately find his niche as a soloist in pop-country. Being treated like a professional actually made him professional, and Rogers never forgot another adage learned from his grandfather about shifting winds - "Never assume today is like it was yesterday." Admitting that it took him almost half a lifetime to locate his natural musical terrain, the driven and confident Rogers had perseverance and never gave up.
Autobiographies are nice for their context. They're records of events and situations from the personal perspective of an individual with intimate knowledge of the situations in their life. Rogers talks about his five marriages, his children, and even that one point in his life that he used a restricted phone number and "enjoyed talking with beautiful, alluring women on the phone." Being accused of sexual harassment, he became the 1993 celebrity du jour for the tabloids. Along with over thirty color photographs, this book's narrative is revealing and inspiring, understanding and uplifting.
At seventy-three years old, Kenny Rogers provides a thoughtful account of his life to this point in time, without being overly self-indulgent. Like many of his hit ballads, 'Luck or Something Like It' exhibits a lot of soul. Rogers relates his life journey with shrewd perception and keen awareness, although none of the characters are quite as bad off as the man that Lucille tragically left in the song. 'Luck or Something Like It' is an enjoyable read about his music career, family, friends, interests, and memories. It also emphasizes the well-rounded, mature nature of Kenny Rogers as musician, actor, author, photographer, athlete, businessman, philanthropist and matriarch. He's clearly still a visionary artist in motion. (Joe Ross, Blogcritics)
on January 1, 2013
Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir is the autobiography (rather than a memoir) Kenny Rogers says that, in the course of committing himself to his previously-published books, Kenny resisted offers to write for years.
Rogers' reservations stemmed from his wanting to write an honest account of his life, but realizing that recounting his colorful past failings would revive the tabloid aspect of his celebrity that, as he approaches his 75th birthday, has largely run its course.
Titled after Rogers' hit, Love or Something Like It (which Kenny co-wrote with Steve Glassmeyer), the singer finally acceded to working with a ghostwriter when a book packager provided an exact time commitment for a clock-watching Rogers.
Unfortunately, the book suffers from that assembly line approach.
When the book's first ghostwriter, Patsi Bale Cox died, literary agent Mel Berger, working with Kenny's friend, writer Kelly Junkermann (co-author of Kenny's book, The Toy Shoppe) and editor Lisa Sharkey, "found a guy named Allen Rucker" to complete the book. Reviews of Cox's previous books noted that she was error-prone (Tanya Tucker's autobiography was a prime example) and given to falling short of a ghostwriter's biggest challenge: to write in the "voice" of her/his subject (Loretta Lynn's "voice" is uniquely the singer's own). Rucker's previous work (most demonstrably portions of Gretchen Wilson's autobiography) is notable for Allen's lack of curiosity and/or inability to ask the natural follow-up question.
The limitations of both ghostwriters' work are evident in Kenny Rogers' latest book (Check out the butchered spelling of veteran record label promotions director and sales executive Frank Leffel's surname), though it should be equally emphasized that the two have done an impressive job of including so much material about their subject in a mere 294 pages; and that doesn't even include the accompanying eight pages of photos (some of which are from Junkermann's, Rogers' and his sister's personal collections.)
For his part, Kenny is effusive in his praise of both Patsi and Allen and the transition from one ghost to the other is seamless. However, the first clue that this book is not what it should be comes with a glance at the cover art and dedication (more about those in due course).
In the hands of an author such as myself (i.e., one who also reviews books and who has been published by HarperCollins' Collins Books imprint) the contract would have mandated that this HarperCollins' William Morrow imprint include an index.
An index is imperative when keeping track of Kenny Rogers' various recordings, family members, famous friends, escape from imminent bankruptcy, travels and busy career as an actor, singer, songwriter, sports enthusiast, raconteur, restaurateur and philanthropist.
In spite of such lapses, Rogers' narrative, otherwise written mostly in chronological order, gets off to a great start with Kenny's mother, Lucille's hilarious reaction the first time she heard her son's recording of his hit, Lucille.
Readers learn that Kenneth, as Rogers was known until he was nicknamed for professional purposes, was apparently the only one of eight siblings with an uncertain middle name! (I was always confused when I saw Rogers' full name reported by equally credible sources as variously Kenneth Donald Rogers and Kenneth Ray Rogers, so it's good to finally have as good an explanation as there ever will be- on the order of "they're both right- sort of" in terms of finally putting the matter to rest.)
Kenny's candor in sharing details of his hardscrabble childhood, adolescence (which included an arrest for joyriding) and strained relationship with his alcoholic father (whose personality, his son emphasizes, was anything but one-dimensional) make for an interesting read as does Rogers' early professional work as a rock, jazz and folk singer and musician.
For instance, Kenny's earliest rock group, The Scholars' experiences playing clubs included a pre-Kennedy assassination stint at one of the Dallas "strip joints" owned by Jack Ruby. The Scholars also appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
Kenny's multi-matrimonial adventures began with a brief, shotgun marriage to Janice Wray, the mother of Rogers' daughter, Carole.
This book's dedication, which includes the names of Kenny's other children, omits that of his only daughter. While there is no direct explanation for the omission, readers are informed that, following Kenny's divorce from Janice and Wray's remarriage, Rogers reluctantly agreed to allow Janice's new husband to adopt Carole. While Kenny says he allowed himself to be convinced that the adoption and, going forward, his absence from his daughter's life, were in Carole's best interest, any connecting of the dots rings hollow.
If, despite Rogers' paying $80/week in child support payments, Kenny's visitation with Carole was limited to only a couple of hours per week, as People magazine indicated in an article published in 1980 (in which it was also stated that, after visiting the-then 22-year-old Carole only once in 15 years, Kenny attempted a 1979 reconciliation by flying "Carole and her mother in for a visit and a Hawaiian vacation,") then the failure to mention Carole (with whom, to his day, Kenny says he has "never bonded"), when given such a great opportunity over three decades later to extend yet another olive branch, speaks volumes.
In the hands of a more inquisitive ghost, there would have been followup questions, providing (greater) context, to such statements in the book as Kenny's indicating that he dated Anita Bryant and that, later in life, he was a pallbearer at Vincente Minnelli's funeral.
An astute writer would also have corrected Rogers' reference to Mark McCain. Context suggest that a confused Kenny intended to mention actor Johnny Crawford, rather than the character Crawford portrayed on the TV western series, The Rifleman.
Rogers' childless marriage to second wife, Jean Massey, ended "for a lot of reasons," only one of which, Kenny's clichéd "obsession with music" is mentioned. Though Rogers says that the latter was the "main reason," once again, a more-experienced collaborator could have drawn him out.
Kenny is hardest on his third wife, Margo. Rogers' second shotgun marriage produced a son, Kenny, Jr. That union ended over a decade later when Kenny found another guy's "clothes in my closet," though initially Rogers tried to save his marriage. After Margo's assurance that the betrayal would not recur, Kenny agreed to forgive and forget- until, within days of the agreement, Rogers saw his wife and her lover together again.
As Kenny's first three marriages are chronicled, so are his professional accomplishments to that point. Briefly a college student, who was more interested in playing jazz with the Bobby Doyle Three, Rogers went on to be mentored by the leader of the Kirby Stone Four before finding folk fame with the New Christy Minstrels.
Most impressively, Kenny explains his next musical transformation, that of an aging rocker who found unlikely acceptance as the lead singer of the First Edition. Sporting rose-tinted glasses, a gold earring and long hair, Kenny details his First Edition years in greater detail than he volunteers the less pleasant aspects of his life.
Readers learn that the group's early signature song, Mickey Newbury's psychedelic Just Dropped In was first "promised" to Sammy Davis, Jr. Davis apparently never recorded the song, though Jerry Lee Lewis, who did record Just Dropped In, never released it.
Rogers writes of having "smoked a little pot" during the peace and love era (until his First Edition bandmates reviewed Rogers' musical performance while stoned) and that he "did my first and only hard drugs with Mickey Newbury."
While Kenny does not mention, let alone explain the reason for, The First Edition being subsequently known and billed as Kenny Rogers & The First Edition (perhaps modestly assuming it is obvious), Rogers shares several amusing anecdotes about the group. One revolves around The First Edition's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan, famous for mangling the introduction of his guests, was apparently fixated on The First Edition's sole female member, Thelma Comacho. As a result, Sullivan introduced his audience to "Thelma and her boys."
Readers learn that when Thelma left the group, Karen Carpenter was among the singers who auditioned to replace Comacho. While First Edition fans may know that Thelma's replacement was Mary Arnold, they may not have known until now that Kenny introduced Mary to her future husband, Roger Miller.
Kenny explains in some detail that he also separately introduced The First Edition to both a rather rude Tom Jones and to "Ringo Starr's finger." And, readers learn, the element of "luck" referenced in the title certainly applies to this bit of trivia: Johnny Cash's recorded Don Schlitz' The Gambler before Kenny did and, as Rogers suggests, it easily could have been Cash, rather than Rogers, who had the definitive hit version of the song.
Just short of a decade since its formation, with only a few changes in personnel in between, Kenny Rogers & the First Edition disbanded. At that point, Kenny's road from jazz to folk to rock took him Nashville to pursue the country music that Rogers had known since his impoverished childhood growing up in Houston's projects.
But, as he admittedly jumped aboard the country-music bandwagon, Kenny continued to be managed by Ken Kragen, though only after a deal that Rogers tried to consummate with George Jones' infamous manager, Shug Baggott fell through. (Kenny writes that he has never known Shug by anything other than his nickname. Kenny's collaborator(s) should have informed Rogers and, thus Kenny's readers, that Baggott was christened Alcy Benjamin Baggott, Jr. (Rogers also does not mention who introduced him to Baggott, the specifics of his agreement with Shug nor that Rogers' instincts to stay with Ken Kragen proved correct when Shug was sentenced to three years in federal prison for cocaine possession.)
Shug did help Kenny find backup musicians, but Rogers' solo country career was briefly stalled when, as an opening act for The Captain and Tenille, Kenny says he was not treated very well. At that point, Rogers reveals, he decided that, if he ever headlined as solo act, he would treat his opening acts better than he had been treated.
As Kenny tried to musically reinvent himself, he had a stroke of luck when Ken Kragen booked him on Hee-Haw. On the set of the TV series, Rogers met cast member Marianne Gordon. Like Kenny, Marianne was extricating herself from a marriage and, as the two bonded, Gordon loaned Rogers money to help him make a child support payment.
Predictably, Marianne became Kenny's fourth wife and the mother of their son, Christopher.
As Rogers' country career took off, Kenny felt (re)established enough to broaden his horizons as Dottie West's duet partner. Rogers details that period and reveals the sequence of events leading to Kenny's loaning Dottie the car that proved to be unreliable transportation when it broke down at the site of Nashville's Belle Meade Theatre as the Grand Ole Opry star was running late for an appearance on the "live" radio stage show Dottie would never make. (Once again, a writer familiar either familiar with the circumstances, or willing to check news reports, would have corrected Kenny's account of the drunk driver who offered what became a fatal ride to the stranded singer. While Rogers writes that Dottie's "neighbor was just passing by on the freeway" when he encountered West, in fact, Dottie was in the front driveway of the Harding Pike theater.)
This lack of attention to detail is evidenced in a Jerry Seinfeld anecdote. After telling the tale Kenny indicates that "Someday I would honestly love to hear his side of the story." Of course, unless Rogers is being disingenuous, any collaborator worth her/his salt would have obtained Jerry's perspective for Kenny's book.
Likewise, if Kenny Rogers Roasters was more than a footnote in the expansion of Rogers' business interests, as would seem to be the case given the pulling out all of the stops level of promotion the restaurant chain received from Kenny at the time of its launch, the period of Rogers' involvement with the business deserves more then the passing mention it gets here.
Kenny's duet partnerships with Kim Carnes, Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton and even Suzy Bogguss are detailed here. as is Kenny's acting career. The latter, Rogers also credits somewhat to luck, for, as he candidly puts it, "I am a really versatile, mediocre actor."
Luck struck again when, after The Commodores passed on the unfinished version of Lionel Richie's Lady, Rogers encouragement led to Richie's not only completing the song, but in Lady becoming yet another #1 hit for Kenny.
There are great stories here about those who have underestimated Rogers, including an otherwise unnamed RCA Records head honcho (presumably Bob Fead), as well as an amusing story about Kenny's level of success convincing him that he needed an entourage.
This, of course, is not Kenny Rogers' first book. One of several others, Making It With Music, which contained elements of autobiography, was the book Rogers once said would suffice as his life story. But it's not that book, nor Kenny's cookbook, but rather his photography books, notably, Your Friends and Mine, Rogers' coffee table book of celebrity photos, about which Kenny is seemingly the most proud. For the singer's photography books are another lucky byproduct of Kenny's passion for photography.
Rogers devotes space to his participation in the We Are the World project and music video, but his related discussion of Michael Jackson is the only incidence of Rogers' remarking on plastic surgery in this book. That is rather curious when the reader considers that Kenny doesn't otherwise shy away from openly discussing his own tabloid frenzy-inducing botched plastic surgery (the reason he has given for not mentioning it in the book).
Additionally, while airbrushed celebrity photos are so common they are seldom any longer noted, in light of the disastrous results of Kenny's surgery, it seems ironic that not only is Kelly Junkermann's cover photo of Rogers airbrushed- the apparently decades-old photo isn't even "pre-plastic surgery" recent!
Kenny gives no insight into the reasons for his divorce from fourth wife, Marianne other than an obvious trigger in the form of the phone sex scandal that precipitated it. Rogers humorously quips about his attraction to the institution of marriage amid the realization that he isn't very good at staying married, but if the secretiveness of Kenny's penchant for phone sex ever extended to engaging in adulterous affairs- as has been rumored- Kenny retains his silence.
While Rogers is generous in his praise of those who have helped or otherwise expressed loyalty to him, Kenny's longtime association with Ken Kragen deserves more space than he has given it. Once again, a serious collaborator would have argued for the necessity of mentioning what Rogers does not: Kenny's firing Ken and the lawsuit that resulted from the dissolution of a long-term professional partnership between men who for decades enjoyed a handshake agreement (in the absence of a written contract) and who appeared for years to be joined at the hip.
A serious discussion of an all-star TV tribute to Rogers, titled a 50th anniversary special, likewise should have noted that the cable special failed to attract the intended interest of the "big three" commercial networks.
Kenny's candor is also tested in his account of his marriage to fifth wife, Wanda. Rogers' effusive praise of his trophy wife (Kenny is older than Wanda's parents and nearly thirty years' Wanda's senior) is certainly preferable to the alternative. But Rogers' suggestion that when the couple married he didn't want any more children, but that Wanda is now the mother of Kenny's twin sons (whom Rogers wants to be around for their teen years in a way that he wasn't for his three other children), because Kenny didn't want to deprive Wanda of bearing children, once again ring hollow.
If Kenny is parenting Justin and Jordan at age 80 and beyond, will they and Wanda continue to be, as he writes in this book's dedication (which does not mention wives one through four as it mentions Kenny's sons in nearly reverse order of age) "my rock... my reasons for living"?
Rogers' daughter, Carole probably has her doubts...
on October 26, 2015
I have read superb celebrity memoirs and autobiographies such as the original ones by Carol Burnett, Debbie Reynolds, and Loretta Lynn. There aren't enough rating stars for their books. This one is not in that category at all although it starts out with much promise. An impoverished kid from the projects with an absent and alcoholic father becomes a star. Unfortunately, the book loses steam as it disintegrates into page after page of recitations of names, songs, contracts, deals, albums, records and how high they charted, golf and golf courses, tennis and tennis courts, lavish homes, Christmas programs for children, an over-the-top wedding in a horse arena, and his wife's description of IVF treatment and pregnancy.The book sputters to a colorless end, giving little insight into the man except what is found between the lines, such as when Rogers says he lived with his current young wife in Las Vegas for one whole year, unmarried, before attempting to meet her parents. She was in her twenties. He was thirty years older, old enough to have handled that in a mature way. Insight is found in the disastrous phone sex scandal. Kenny should have known about the existence of recording devices at that point in his career.
Rogers clearly was surrounded by visionary, persistent and creative people, one of whom he ends up suing after decades of working together, Rogers' career heights being the result of the man's talent, drive, and management. The singer also benefitted from having some absolutely terrific material brought to him and some strong duet partners such as Dolly Parton, Dottie West, and Kim Carnes. What Rogers brought to the table was an average voice and an ego. I am going to digress here for a moment and ask if I am the only person in America who hears how off-key he is in his latest Geico commercial. It is painful to listen to and should have been fixed. Now back to the review.
In Rogers we have an absent father of three who suddenly gets what fatherhood is all about when he's in his 70s and has two more children, a man who rides in his private jet on a whim but neglects to have cash-strapped Dottie West transported in a limousine to the auditorium, instead giving her a car that breaks down on the way and results in her death. The story of a ridiculous cooking contest where the result is a lot of ruined food is not interesting. It's immature and stupid. His mother was kept on life support for six years after a massive stroke and yet there is not a mention of how he felt about that. That's a long time to keep a loved one's heart pumping with a machine. Like so many other things, this stunning fact is simply dropped onto the page and left there. Gestures of charity seem to need to have his name on them. There is almost nothing in this book that made me feel that Rogers is made of very much, as many other reviewers have said. His stories about Lorne Greene, who shows himself to be a lot less than nice, remind us once more that an image is just an image and proves anew that fame and money may open doors that are locked to the rest of us but that no amount of money can buy class.