It took several tries before Kenny Rogers became a star. As a member of the First Edition (and the New Christy Minstrels before that), he shared in some million-sellers, among them "Reuben James" and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," an excellent Mel Tillis song about a disabled veteran. But superstardom lay ahead for this Texan, and it arrived in the late '70s. His experience with the two previous pop groups had prepared him well: he knew the easy listening audience was out there, and he supplied them with well-done middle-of-the-road songs with a country flavor. Having gone solo, in 1976 Rogers charted with "Love Lifted Me." But it was with an outstanding song by writers Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum, "Lucille," that his star shot upward.
The rest (as they say) is history: award-winning duets with Dottie West and Dolly Parton, 12 TV specials, another song of the year with "The Gambler," "Daytime Friends," "Coward of the County," "We've Got Tonight," "Crazy," "Lady" (his first pop number one), etc., etc., etc. And that's just the musical side of Rogers. In 1980, the made-for-TV movie The Gambler blasted the competition, followed quickly by Coward of the County, then enough sequels to The Gambler to get him to Roman numeral IV. Throughout the '80s, Rogers remained a celebrity, even when his sales were declining. Even during the '90s, when he rarely charted, his name, face, and music were recognizable in a series of concerts, television specials, films, and even fast-food restaurants.
Rogers released a handful of singles on Mercury, all of which failed. Once Mercury dropped the singer, he joined the New Christy Minstrels in 1966. He stayed with the folk group for a year, leaving with several other bandmembers -- Mike Settle, Terry Williams, and Thelma Lou Camacho -- in 1967 to form the First Edition. Adding drummer Mickey Jones, the First Edition signed with Reprise and recorded the pop-psychedelic single "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." The single became a hit early in 1968, climbing to number five. Within a year, the group was billed as Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, and in the summer of 1969, they had their second and final Top Ten hit, "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." The country overtones of the single hinted at the direction Rogers was taking, as did the minor hit follow-up, "Ruben James." For the next two years, the First Edition bounced between country, pop, and mild psychedelia, scoring their last big hit with Mac Davis' "Something's Burning" in early 1970. By the end of 1972, the group had its own syndicated television show, but sales were drying up. They left Reprise the following year, signing to Rogers' new label, Jolly Rogers. None of their singles became major hits, though a version of Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again" reached the lower regions of the country charts late in 1973. Rogers left the group in 1974, and the band broke up the following year.