A Kenny Rogers Memory

“In his final words I found an ace I could keep.”

Creative Commons. Photo credit: John Mark Smith,

Kenny Rogers was savvy. When the Sixties psychedelic rock thing was happening he produced a hit single that went like this: “I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

In one way it was nothing different from many entertainers at the time. Sonny & Cher got a stellar hit with “I Got You Babe” because Dylan had made the word “babe” popular in a couple songs, including “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” [Cher: “Sonny, can you write a hippie love song with the word babe in it?”]

Country star Rogers leveraged his crossover hit and became a brand with hits like “The Gambler” and his famous duet with Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream.” Only after reading his obit did I learn he had produced 65 albums and sold more than 165 million records during his lifetime.

He actually began recording in the late 50s, and like many other 60s artists he’d spent years honing his talents to later become an overnight sensation. Petula Clark and the Beatles come readily to mind.

In 1966 Rogers joined the New Christy Minstrels, catching the tail end of the folk era, and a year later left with several of the Minstrels to form the First Edition, where he garnered that first big hit.

When we moved to Duluth in 1986, Susie and I became friends with Ed and Cheryl Beaver whom we met at the Presbyterian Church downtown here. Cheryl and Susie were both roughly seven months pregnant, and both Ed and I shared the same first name, plus our last names each had six letters and two syllables, and Ed and I were both writers.

Ed was also a piano tuner, which is where this whole story is going. Because of Ed’s occupation he was occasionally called in to tune the pianos that performers shipped in for concerts. On one occasion Ed tuned a piano for Johnny Cash, and at another Duluth concert at the DECC Ed tuned Kenny Rogers’ white piano.

Entertainers can sometimes have a reputation for being egotistical jerks. Ed said Kenny Rogers came in while he was tuning, and was just a super nice down to earth guy.

Here’s a song that Rogers wrote, and sang during that concert, with life advice that every one of us can relate to.

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
’Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
in your sleep

And when he finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep

That’s how I’ve felt about most of the great books I’ve read, great movies I’ve experienced, seminars I’ve attended or great songs that speak to one’s heart. Even if the philosopher is out of sync with your own convictions or faith, there’s almost always an ace you can keep, an insight to tuck into your breast pocket for future redemption.


You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Here’s a live performance of Kenny Rogers’ first superhit: Just Dropped In

And here’s the original recording. (OK, this photo is The Dude, not Kenny R.)

*Photo credit: John Mark Smith,

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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