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(author of Comedians of Country Music, The Carter Family: Country Music's First Family, Classic Country and The Best of Country: The Official CD Guide and contributor to Country Music Stars and the Supernatural  and The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture)

 

 

 

 

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Despite the a book sprinkled with such names as Sonny James, Gene Autry, Doc & Merle Watson, Emmylou HarrisKris Kristofferson, Johnny Paycheck, Juice Newton, Lyle Lovett and Chris Hillman, Off My Rocker: One Man's Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music is not a country-music book.

Rather, Kenny Weissberg has produced a coming-of-age music memoir that opens with the then-University of Wisconsin sophomore at the front of the line on December 10, 1967 to buy a $3 ticket for an Otis Redding concert.   Redding, of course, never made the 6:30 p.m. concert, perishing when his private plane plunged into a lake three miles from the Madison airport.

Weissberg, a (mostly) nice Jewish Jersey boy, who spent much of the Summer of 1967 as a hospital orderly at Newark's Beth Israel Hospital, would not let his summer job deter the "quasi vegetarian" from journeying to Woodstock where, during the Summer of Love,  Kenny was among those who bought a ticket before the music fest was turned into a free-for-all.

The long-hair's introduction to promiscuous sex, illegal drugs (Weissberg got high on mescaline, his drug of choice) and the new cultural norm of rock 'n' roll colored Kenny's politics.  The sociology major, who was enjoying his student deferment in 1970, was just short of graduating college in the Vietnam era when he learned there was no deferring his mandatory physical. 

Weissberg couldn't delay the indignity but he knew how to fail the physical, rewarded with the 4-F status he coveted.   

The California dreamin' South Orange native was then off to Santa Barbara, with a girlfriend along for the ride.  The move was off to a rocky start when, following a traffic stop, Kenny was arrested for predictable reasons and jailed.  Subsequently,  after he reluctantly plea-bargained, Weissberg was convicted of public intoxication, receiving a suspended sentence and a $250 fine.

Leaving Santa Barbara for greener pastures that briefly brought him to Orange, Boulder, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin before Kenny returned back home.  There, Weissberg's past (to that point), of “drug use, sex and bumdom,” duly recorded in his diary, came to Kenny’s mother’s attention, courtesy of some “diary pillaging.”  That, in turn, strained family ties to the point where, rejecting his parents’ offers to spring for psychiatric treatment and arrange an interview with a major brokerage firm, their wayward son headed for Colorado.

Back in Boulder (where Weissberg made his home from July 1971 to February 1984)  Kenny almost landed a part-time job in radio until his lies about past college radio experience and having an FCC Third Class license caught up with him.

Not long after, KRNW-FM’s owner, left in the lurch, offered 23-year-old Kenny an air shift, affording Weissberg the opportunity to play Kenny’s favorites (ranging from Otis Redding to Kristofferson), from an equally eclectic, underground radio station collection.   Two weeks later, when Weissberg ’s friend and colleague, Jason Sherman, told Kenny he was leaving KRNW for a better opportunity at a Denver radio station, Kenny got Jason’s air shift.

Six years later, though still in the “pre-AIDS era of the early 1970s," after adventures including indulgencing in sexual trysts and drugs while on-air and “juggling” his  “expansive harem” while in “perpetual coital motion,” Kenny met Helen.

Helen’s adulterous relationship with Weissberg was the  impetus for Kenny’s settling down with her. 

Professionally, Weissberg's radio career expanded.  He was still spinning records, but now, this master of networking was also interviewing artists (including Jim Croce and a drunken, Gram Parsons- accompanied by Emmylou Harris) on his show and even writing record and concert reviews for Denver’s underground newspaper when he wasn’t writing magazine articles, including an assignment from Rolling Stone, notable because it was “bumped.”  (Weissberg subsequently achieved greater success as a music critic, writing for a thousand magazine and newspaper reviews for CREEM and 16 other publications) .

By 1973, Tom Waits was another of the budding print journalist’s interview subjects and four years later, when KNRW had “morphed into” KBCO-FM, Kenny hosted a six-hour Sunday evening music/talk show while continuing his print journalism career as a weekly music columnist for a Boulder newspaper. Kenny was able to briefly land Bill Murray as a radio show cohost and in 1977 he co-founded Boulder’s first public radio station, KGNU.

By 1978, Weissberg was fronting Kenny and the Kritixs (a gig that lasted three and a half years).  As the group's popularity peaked, the experience overlapped a less euphoric period in Kenny's life; Weissberg having “quit or got fired from four part-time jobs in 1980.”

By 1985, Kenny had spent time in San Diego, playing music as the city's rockin’ rock critic.  Having raised his gay stepson and unwed stepdaughter back in Boulder, Weissberg,  two years into his latest career as a show promoter, was feeling the stress of marital strain as he and Helen opted for counseling in a mutually-desired effort to save their marriage.

In October, 1986  Kenny decided to break with an unscrupulous “boss,” ending not only his “cocaine binges” but 19 years of illicit drug use.  In 1993, Weissberg returned to radio, this time as the host of Music Without Borders, on San Diego’s jazz station, KiFM.  

Three years later, KiFM was sold and Kenny landed at KUPR Radio in Carlsbad, California (bringing Music Without Borders with him)  where he remained- for 10 weeks. 

In 1997, at age 48, Weissberg and MWB landed at San Diego’s 92.5 XHRM-FM- for eight months before spending the next six and a half years at San Diego’s KPRI.

His 20th century concert promotion career punctuated by his short radio stints, Kenny began the first years of the  21st century absent a part-time radio job until San Diego alternative rock station 91X came calling in 2005.  Two months after his December debut on 91X, Kenny writes “I was toast” (for the same reason as his earlier truncated stays- radio station consolidation).

Music Without Borders… aired on five different San Diego radio stations over a fourteen-year span,” Weissberg notes.  “I decided to give the show a rest.”

In 2006,  having produced, promoted and purchased talent for shows featuring such headliners as Whitney Houston, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, James Brown and Aretha Franklin, Weissberg ended yet another phase of his multifaceted career (the concert promotion and production portion marred by some admitted “box office chicanery”) with the satisfied realization that his 23-year “career as a concert producer was bookended by Miles Davis and Joan Baez.”

Realizing that “The party is over,”  Kenny, “down to a single key to my house and a smart key to my Lexus,” spent the much of 2007 “disoriented.” 

Eventually, Kenny resurfaced erratically; first as a music business consultant, then turning down job offers and, as his own boss, when he would so chose, becoming professionally “invisible.”

Having lived to tell the tale, Kenny proceeded to do so and Off My Rocker is the gripping, celebrity-anecdotal result.




A glance at Buck ‘Em’s cover would suggest that this hardback is Buck Owens’ posthumously-published, ghostwritten autobiography,

Buck ‘Em is being publicized and, in some sectors, reviewed as though it were indeed just that, but the reality is not quite that simple.

Buck wanted to tell his own story in his own words and deliberately set about preparing to write his autobiography over a period of several years by making audio tapes of his memories as they occurred to him.  There was also never any doubt that he would work with a collaborator and, over the years, several writers expressed interest in his life story.  

Kathryn Burke’s paperback titled The Dust Bowl, The Bakersfield Sound and Buck, touted as authorized biography, was published in 2008, Eileen Sisk notably had Owens’ confidence to a point, but that working relationship disintegrated to the point where Eileen’s massive research revealed such a gap between the facts and Owens’ narrative that, fearing retaliation, Sisk did not feel she could safely publish what became her warts-and-all title Buck Owens: The Biography until Buck’s passing.

Randy Poe got the green light from Owens’surviving family members because he was ultimately agreeable to a task more akin to that of a stenographer, under the watchful eye of the Buck Owens Private Foundation, Inc., which notably shares the Buck ‘Em copyright with Poe.

Randy admits to making grammatical changes to his transcriptions of the tapes, as well as a bit of profanity editing.  Save for those stylistic quibbles, and a misspelling of Charley Pride’s name, Poe does a great job of organizing Buck Owens’ reminiscences, enlisting additional reflections from Owens’ devotees Brad Paisley (who wrote the foreword) and Dwight Yoakam (who contributed the preface). 

Buck ‘Em’s whopping 135 chapters suggest a book much longer than this one’s 333 pages (including a much-appreciated index), but these numerically “titled” excerpts run only a few pages at most in what is largely an episodic presentation punctuated by rare photos, mostly from Buck's and his family’s private collection.   

Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr. was a Texas-born sharecropper’s son, fascinated to learn that his mother was older than his father. Buck, who explains the unremarkable derivation of his nickname, came to a darker family-related realization as, one by one, Owens' family members succumbed to various forms of the dreaded disease from which Buck himself was not able to escape: cancer.  (Though Owens underwent cancer surgery, Buck's actual cause of death was a heart attack.)

Owens' tapes reflect his feelings about his many professional accomplishments of which his decades’-long recording career (that launched a television career, beginning with local TV appearances leading to a Buck’s hosting the syndicated Buck Owens Ranch show and making appearances on network series that came to the attention of Hee Haw’s producers, who tapped Buck as a natural choice to team with Roy Clark, later joining Clark as a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee) was but one.

Without the benefit of much formal education, Owens took pride in his street smarts and ability to amass a multimillion-dollar fortune as a result of his entrepreneurial skills.

Buck found weaknesses in his recording and TV contracts that he was successfully (an in a few instances unwittingly) able to variously exploit or otherwise negotiate to his benefit. 

Underrated as a hit songwriter, entertainer, and philanthropist, Buck was also a music publisher, owner of radio and TV stations, the owner of Buck Owens Crystal Palace, Buck Owens Enterprises and numerous other investments with which he was able to support what turned out to be a handful or more of wives, his three acknowledged sons and some of their children.     

For monogamy, as Buck tells us in his own words, was not his strong suit: “I can safely say that at least ninety percent of the troubles I’ve had in my lifetime had to do with… trying to have too many women at the same time.”   It was easier for Owens to demonstrate loyalty toward business associates like his longtime booking agent and manager, Jack McFadden whom Buck championed after Jack, having made big promises, closed the sale, not only by keeping his commitments but also by doing so in a manner exceeding Owens’ expectations.

Buck’s other interesting relationships were with Merle Haggard and Roy Clark.  Owens contends that there were of issues of greater consequence in his relationship with the Hag than Merle’s marrying Buck’s ex-wife, Bonnie Owens.  Similarly, Buck claims his relationship with Roy has been misunderstood. Owens praises both men while, at the same time, relating incidents involving each that Buck remembers differently than they do, the various heroes and villains in the stories suggesting, as the entertainers signed off on their respective autobiographies, that each had a ax to grind..

Owens’ strongest personal relationships were reserved for his family of origin, his bandleader and lead guitarist Don Rich (lesser-known as a fiddler, Rich was the only one of Buck’s Buckaroos whom Buck regarded as a blood brother) and, to a lesser extent, Owens’ sons, Mike and Buddy. 

After Rich’s death, Buck fell into a depression.  Owens’ infidelities and attempts at reconciliation proved to be too much for at least one of his wives; after Phyllis’ release from an involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward, where she landed after a Valium overdose, she wanted out of the marriage.

These lesser-known bits of tabloid fodder preceded a well-publicized year in Buck Owens’ life during which Buck moved in with Jennifer Joyce Smith (whom readers are told was the love of Owens’ life), a few months before marrying Jana Jae, the mother of two.

Then, as always, Buck knew how to extricate himself from the mess he created, though not before his indecisive actions of filing for an annulment from Jana Jae, trying to retract the annulment and then appealing (publicly) for Jana Jae to return to him.

As it happened, Buck won back both Jana Jae and Jennifer Joyce. Two years later Buck married Jennifer and still later they renewed their vows.

Owens’s attempts to settle down seemed to succeed only after he quit recording, touring and writing songs.  But an improbable relationship with Dwight Yoakam resurrected Buck's career which he was once again able to enjoy, having reduced the pace, on his own terms.

In many respects, Buck Owens had a hard life.  But his talent for excusing himself when the going got rough served him well in the end.   He died just as we might all wish to: in his sleep.

 


     Ricky Skaggs and his ghostwriter, Eddie Dean cover a lot of autobiographical, musical and spiritual ground in these 337 pages.

      For instance, who knew that Rickie Lee Skaggs is the name on the birth certificate of the boy whose misspelled first name was inspired by his mother, Dorothy’s love of the I Love Lucy TV series- and of Dorothy Skaggs’ love of Desi Arnaz’ character, Ricky Ricardo?

      A child prodigy, Ricky Skaggs came from a musical family who recognized and encouraged their son’s talent early on.  Christianity was also woven into the Skaggs’ family fabric and Ricky became born again at age 13.

      Skaggs’ teenage years were highlighted by his meeting Keith Whitley.  The boys were close in age and their common interest in, and ability to play and sing, bluegrass became an early lifelong bond for the young collaborators who became friendly rivals. 

      Ricky reveals that his adolescence was marked by his failure to graduate from high school- Skaggs left school, one credit short of a diploma, to pursue his musical career.  During the years that followed, Ricky partook of road life, memorably taking his first drink as a member of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys band.

      The period was also eventful as it marked Ricky’s introduction to The Whites.  Though it would be several year before Ricky married into the White family, personally and professionally, Ricky reveals that his future wife, Sharon White’s sister, Cheryl dated Keith Whitley during that time.

        At the same time that Ricky was romancing Ralph Stanley’s daughter, Brenda (whom Skaggs met while performing at a campaign rally when Ralph was running for Dickinson County, Virginia treasurer), Skaggs was becoming burned out as a Clinch Mountain Boy.

      At that point, Ricky wanted to earn more money and to move to Manassas, Virginia in order to spend more time with Brenda Stanley.  This was fine with Ricky’s future father-in-law, though, as Skaggs notes, after Ricky left “it was years before Ralph hired another mandolin player.”

       When Ricky and Brenda married, Brenda continued to work in Washington, D.C. as a Daughters of the American Revolution secretary, while Ricky got a “real job” with the Virginia Electric and Power Company.  The problem was Ricky, then 18, hated his job from day one and “After flooding the basement” as the result of becoming preoccupied while taking a break to play banjo, Skaggs knew he was not cut out to be “a high-pressure boiler operator.”

       Ricky quickly returned to music.  He worked as a fiddler with The Country Gentlemen, sat in with The Seldom Scene and did session work before meeting Emmylou Harris (and passing on an offer to play fiddle in Harris' band).

      Finally, in 1974, a job offer from J.D. Crowe enabled Ricky to embrace music as an economically-justifiable career when Skaggs became a featured member of Crowe’s band, The New South, singing harmony and playing mandolin for $500/week.

       After leaving Crowe’s band, Ricky worked with Boone Creek, leaving Boone Creek when the opportunity arose to replace Rodney Crowell, who was leaving Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band.  (Skaggs refused Harris’ first offer because it was for a musician, not a musician and vocalist.)

      It was Emmylou Harris who coined the phrase “Picky Ricky” in order to describe what from then on became an oft-quoted, concise summary of Skaggs’ meticulous  approach to music.

      As Ricky and Brenda became parents, the births of Mandy and Andrew put further strain on family life that was already punctuated by Ricky’s constantly being on the road. 

      Marital problems could not be contained even as Ricky’s professional career was taking off, allowing him to move from the small, Sugar Hill record label to Epic Records, a major label on Nashville’s Music Row.

       No sooner had Ricky changed labels than Emmylou Harris told her Hot Band they were on their own (as she was electing to prolong her conventional maternity leave to spend more time with her growing family) and Brenda served Ricky with divorce papers..

       The product of a family that did not believe in divorce, Ricky Skaggs tried to rationalize that shared value with his reality.  His sorrow led him to rekindle his friendship with Sharon White.  Sharon, also a Christian who had married and divorced since she and Ricky first got to know each other, began to see Skaggs as more than a friend and, amid the couple’s awareness of its shared background and values,  romance was on Ricky’s mind as well.

       Ricky and Sharon married and produced a daughter (Molly) and son (Luke) of their own.

       As newlyweds, Sharon and Ricky’s new-found happiness was challenged by the news that seven-year-old Andrew Skaggs, a passenger in his mother’s car, had been shot by a trucker in a substance-induced act of road rage.

      Ricky Skaggs gives an honest and detailed account of that period in his life, devoting equal attention to the circumstances, and effect, of Keith Whitley’s sudden death.

       Ricky discusses other career milestone including his move from Epic to Atlantic Records, followed by the establishment of his own record label, Skaggs Family Records.

       Along the way, Ricky also formed his own band, Kentucky Thunder.    

       Readers will be interested in Skaggs’ discussions of his moves between bluegrass and country music and the reaction from his fans as well as the feedback from those Ricky admires.  Skaggs is similarly candid about his evangelizing from the stage, the ruckus it that has created, and as a result, Ricky’s attempt to find a balance between what he believes to be his mission  and how to best fulfill it.

      Eddie Dean’s success in capturing Ricky’s distinct voice wavers a bit in these pages, at times reading like Ricky, at other times reading like Eddie.

      Dean also might have also noted- and stylistically remedied- the contradiction in the words Ricky uses to express his love of his mother’s lard-laden fried chicken:  “Oh, my Lord, Mama’s fried chicken could bring peace to the Middle East.”

     Maybe so,  Eddie should have parenthetically noted, but only in the highly unlikely event Israelis abandon the dietary laws.

      Further, while Ricky’s narrative about his mostly-successful attempts to avoid temptation while on the road sounds sincere, this book makes no mention of- let alone any effort to perhaps set the record straight about- at least one suggestion to the contrary: a photo (in Phil Kaufman’s 1993 book, Road Mangler Deluxe) of  Ricky ogling a nude woman.

      There is also Dean’s identification of Oakley Stanley as “Ralph’s first or second cousin.”  The precise relationship of Oakley Stanley and Ralph Stanley, if in doubt, could have been easily researched.

     But my chief beef with this book is that it has no index.

     Hopefully, the paperback version will remedy that.

 

    The World Almanac® and Book of Facts: 2013  is the latest annual edition of "America's top-selling reference book of all time.

     Since 1868, this ready reference has chronicled history, geography, economics, science, education, entertainment, sports and other, sometimes highly statistical, areas of interest to the delight of those ranging from  researchers to trivia fans. 

    In the Internet age, when anyone can post any "information," sourced or not, with a frightening, sometime real, expectation that it will go viral and thus achieve authenticity, it is reassuring to know that, be it in the hardback, paperback or the Kindle edition, The World Almanac® and Book of Facts: 2013 has survived even the demise of bookstores that stocked previous editions.

     A section titled Country Music Artists of the Past and Present will be of special interest to country-music fans who will be interested to know if their favorite(s) made senior Sarah Janssen's uncharacteristically subject list that ranges from A (as in Roy Acuff) to Z (as in Zac Brown Band).  The Acuff entry includes the dates of Roy's birth and death, the instruments he played, the fact that he was a singer and songwriter and the title of his signature song.  The Zac Brown Band entry includes the names and birth years of of member of the sextet and the band's signature song.

     Another section devoted to televised awards shows by no means lists them all.  In fact, of all the exclusively country music awards shows, the only televised production that made the cut was the 2012 Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM).for 2012

     There's also the perennial issue of what is left out.  The Farewell section (which acknowledges Kitty Wells' passing) includes the mention and photos of only 23 other celebrities who died in 2012.  If there had not been such a rush to make the December 4, 2012 publication perhaps the Christmas Eve deaths of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning, as well as other celebrities who died in December, 2012,  would also have been noted in this evidently exclusive list.)

     (Can you spell space limitations?  After all, the paperback edition runs 1,008 pages! 

     For a project that, by definition, will never be all things to all people, year in and year out, The World Almanac® and Book of Facts... does an impressive job.  Any area of interest I do not readily find by simply flipping through the pages, if it is included, will be easily found by utilizing this reference's impressive index. (Compiling a readily searchable index, especially for a project of this size, is a monumental task; one reason, to the consternation of book readers and especially book reviewers,  many publishers abandon these often expensive- if compiled correctly- assists altogether.) 

      As I get older, the The World Almanac® and Book of Facts...' print seems to get smaller. But if Baby Boomers don't mind  springing for a magnifying glass, reading glasses or the like, they won't find a resource with which to entertain themselves and/or to impress their family and friends.   


      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 write 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...          



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