(CSC) 1. Great to speak with you again! After 57 years of entertaining fans across the globe, you’ve decided to officially retire from show business. As you reflect on your illustrious career, what have been some of the most significant and memorable moments for you?
Well I would think that my mom was a big fan for a lack of better words. She loved to come out. My dad hated to go anywhere and my mom would get on a boat to go somewhere. She just loved to travel. So I bought her, her own bus and a driver and he used to drive her when she wanted to go from concert to concert. I remember her sitting out there in her little seat and waving at me and that was really important to me. It was great fun to know that she was happy because I had a couple of brothers that worked on the tour at the time and so she got to see a lot of her family; she would be out for a week or ten days at a time.
(CSC) 2. As you prepare to embark on your last world tour, what kind of a theme or elements do you plan to incorporate into the farewell show?
It's turning out to be harder than I thought. We’re just in the thought process right now because we’re in the middle of our Christmas tour. But I’m trying to start at the first and maybe do one of the jazz songs with my band; I can’t play bass anymore but maybe we can sing one of the jazz songs and then do a First Edition song and then kind of go through my career chronologically. Now I don’t know if that’s going to work out, but it’s a thought as to how we might approach this.
(CSC) 3. You’ve mentioned having a bucket list for your 11-year old twin sons…what are some of the goals on that list that you’d like to accomplish?
Well you know I took them to Africa on an African Safari and they had the best time. I talked to their teacher at school and I said, we’re going to have to take them out of school some and she said, “you know that life experience is so much greater than anything they’re gonna learn in this school” and she encouraged it.
So then when we started this Christmas tour, we were in Niagara Falls. So I brought them up to see the falls. I thought that was an important thing. I’m looking for things that someday they’ll look back and say my dad took me there; that’s all I ask. I’m hoping they’ll learn something in the process.
On my farewell tour, I’m going to go to several other countries and I’m going to take them with me on that as well.
(CSC) 4. In your autobiography you wrote about the fine line between being driven, being selfish and choosing success over your family… do you regret that chapter of your career where your successes got the best of you and your family?
You know it's hard to say. I have a great relationship with my two sons and they turned out better than probably if I’d been involved with them (Laughs) so I don’t know. I also don’t know that I would be where I am today if I hadn’t chosen to do that. My older boys are great kids and we have a great relationship. They are both studying filmmaking. Surprisingly enough they live in Los Angeles and they’re good friends and they work together on projects.
(CSC) 5. You’ve had many famous duet partners over the years, notably the late great Dottie West, whom you recorded some of the biggest hits in the history of music with. What do you treasure from the opportunity to know and record with her?
I think she was so incredible. I think she was so underestimated by the Country Music Association. That is one of the things that I deal with the most is that she’s not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. I think that to work with her was a great gift for me. She was a great singer and she really put out everything she had in the process of being that.
(CSC) Did you make Dolly jealous when you went off and recorded with Dottie?
(Kenny Rogers) (Laughs) Oh no! I recorded with Dottie first and then Dolly. I think they were good friends. You know you get to know someone so well when you record with them. Then Dottie of course traveled with me on the road for two years, so we got to know her and her family really well once we got out on the road. I just loved her! I think she had a great heart and a great spirit; she was country music at its finest.
It just breaks my heart that she’s not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. If anybody deserves it, she does. It’s like my boys were talking to me, you know I got voted in about three years ago and they said, “Dad I thought you were in a long time ago” and I said son, let me tell you something; it's not when it's that! It's not when you get in but that you get in! Because hits come and go but the Hall of Fame is forever.
(CSC) 6. Tell us about the set of photography books, American Beauty (waterfalls/canyon shots) and the other which features shots from your travels around the world; China, Africa, Europe, Switzerland that you plan to release next year!
Well I have about 500 pictures I just went through the other day and one of them was going to be called “American Beauty and All Shots in This Country” and the other is called “Places I’ve Been and Things I’ve Seen.” It's from all over the world in China and Africa, Saudi Arabia; all around the world! One of the things that I think has kept me sane on the road is that I’m kind of an impulsive, obsessive. I impulsively get involved with something, whatever it is and then I obsess with it. I just want to see how good I can get and I learned from the best. I had two teachers, John Sexton who was Ansel Adams’s assistant for three or four years and Yousef Karsh, who is the best portrait photographer that ever lived; he was from Canada. He came down and worked with me and taught me lighting and stuff. So I think if you have that kind of instruction you can’t very well not learn, if you want to learn.
(CSC) 7. Where does your passion for photography originate from?
You know, it’s somebody you won’t know. When I started out my mentor was a guy named Kirby Stone, of the Kirby Stone Four. He had a little Brownie Hawkeye and he let me use it to go out in his backyard in the fall and it was spectacular! I took a shot and I thought wow that's really something! In school my major was Commercial Art. So I understand composition and I learned pretty quickly that the difference between a snapshot and a photograph is where you take it from. You know you can just shoot a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge or you can get down on your knees and get down at the bottom and find an interesting angle and more people can enjoy it.
Kirby was kind of a mentor to me and he took me under his wings. He’s the guy that had the line in my book (autobiography), “This is not all wet towels and naked women.” I was terribly disappointed, but what he meant was this is a business and if you don’t treat it like a business, you will never survive. I thought it was all wet towels and naked women!
You know the front of my
latest Christmas album cover, I shot that picture, the one with the orange
tree. It’s a beautiful photograph and they asked me about using it and I said I
just can’t imagine an orange tree being a great Christmas album cover and it
really is! It’s beautiful and they did a nice job with it.
Enjoy PART II of the interview below:
(CSC) 8. Congratulations on releasing your sixth Christmas album and first in 17 years, “Once Again It’s Christmas”… this record features intricate songs that pay homage to the true meaning of Christmas! What did you take from being able to record these special songs in the studio?
Well you know I love doing that. The record company taught me a lesson. I had all these wonderful songs and they said people who go to buy Christmas albums, if they don’t recognize the music they won’t buy it and I had never thought about that. I think I would and I found a group, this young group called Home Free and they are an acapella group and they are unbelievable and so I have a chance to really show them off on this album.
(CSC) 9. Aren’t there other artists on the album like Alison Krauss and who else?
Alison Krauss and Jennifer Nettles, a group called The Time Jumpers and their guitar player is Vince Gill. I’ve really been able and lucky to get the people that I want. You know you don’t start with the artist, you start with the song and you say, who could do this song well because you want to make sure that that person is proud of it as well.
(CSC) 10. I remember as a young boy watching you and Dolly’s Christmas special in the late 80’s, have you ever thought of doing something like that again with her or another album? The Christmas album you two did was wonderful!
You know, she wrote nine songs on that album. At the time David Foster was producing us and I talked to him about co-producing and I said Dolly do you mind if I co produce? And she said, “Not if you don’t mind if I write some songs” and she went on for about two weeks and she wrote nine songs and they’re all incredible songs; she’s a great songwriter. You know we’ve talked about doing something together and our schedules are so screwed up. I’m about to start Kenny World and she’s got Dollywood so we're gonna be busy, busy, busy!
(CSC) 11. Having been a part of so many people’s Christmas celebration year after year, what kind of significance does this current Christmas tour hold as you perform alongside your friend, Linda Davis?
This is my 35th straight Christmas show. First of all, she is a great help. I mean she pulls me through every night; she’s a good girl. I’ve known her for years and years. We've worked together before and I’m so thrilled to have her out this year. I give her a chance to mention Hillary (her daughter from Lady Antebellum) every night, she loves that!
(CSC) 12. When you think about 35 years does anything stick out in your mind when you look back at all those Christmas tours?
For me it's all the towns I’ve been in and you know we use to go out with like Garth Brook’s group and The Oak Ridge Boys and different people. We use to play football or basketball, we had some sport that we played with those guys every year when we went out. That’s what made it fun for us. The music made it incidental.
(CSC) 13. In closing, what would you like to say to your fans and our readers who have been with you since the start?!?
Just, it's hard for me, I know this sounds crazy, it's hard for me to imagine, why anyone would want to listen to me that much! But I’m very flattered that they care that much and they’ve shown it for that many years and I do appreciate it. I think the greatest respect I can show them is to do this farewell tour and let them know that I’m not coming back; this is going to be it.
Well you deserve to spend your time with your sons and your wife.
I really want to do that. I think that's something, like I said before, I missed with my other kids and it gives me a chance to do things on my bucket list with my boys and my hope is that they look back at it someday and they say, “my dad took me there.”