Kenny Rogers talks farewell tour and family

When some artists embark on a farewell tour, it’s often more of a suggestion than a determination.

Yes, we’re looking at you, Cher and KISS.

But Kenny Rogers is feeling no hesitation or uncertainty that “The Gambler’s Last Deal” tour, which pulls into Chastain on Sunday, will be the last time fans see him on stage.

“Age pays a tremendous part in the decision,” Rogers said earlier this week from his Atlanta home. “I’m 77. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be alive. I knew I wanted to do this as best I could and spend as much time as I could with my boys.”

Jordan and Justin, Rogers’ twin sons with wife Wanda, turn 12 next month. Between the exhausting pace of tending to tweens and a desire to fish with them without having to pack a suitcase every few days, Rogers knows the time is right.

He isn’t overly sentimental about saying goodbye – hopping on the bus and having a pizza is his typical post-show ritual – but he does admit that seeing the photos of all of the people he’s toured with during a video montage of “You Can’t Make Old Friends” near show’s end sparks the nostalgia embers.

Rogers is about a dozen concerts into the tour, which will play about 55 dates this year – including shows in Asia and Europe -- and 55 next. He only performs a couple of days each week, preferably weekends to maximize his family time, which his band of 40 years, Bloodline, appreciates as well.

“I think they feel the same way I do,” Rogers said of road retirement. “It’s a little bit scary, but they’re getting older, too, and want to spend time with their families. When you’re young, you don’t think about that. When you’re young, there’s a fine line between being driven and selfish and I think I’ve crossed that line a few times. My movement is not good onstage, so I go out and sit on a stool and say (to the audience), ‘Trust me, if I stand up it’s going to be an important song.’ You can be self-deprecating and people think it’s sweet. If you don’t tell them (why you’re sitting), they’ll start to wonder.”

Kenny Rogers will deliver a career-worth of hits. Photo: Piper Ferguson

Even if Rogers is sitting, fans will likely be gratified by hearing a timeline of his music performed, including his 1950s-era doo wop and jazz phase, his work with ‘60s R&B-rockers The First Edition and his storied Nashville career, which is bronzed from hits including “Lucille,” “Coward of the County” and “The Gambler,” as well as lite-pop crossovers “Through the Years” and “She Believes in Me.”

Joining Rogers throughout his concert is Linda Davis, the powerhouse singer perhaps best known for her powerhouse 1993 duet with Reba McEntire, “Does He Love You.”

“She is awesome,” Rogers said of his onstage counterpart. “She is always energetic and positive and looks beautiful. And she’s OK if I throw her a curve. I tend to not know what I’m going to say next – that’s the beauty of what I do – and I’ll hit her with things sometimes and she’ll look at me like, ‘Are you crazy?’ We call her a road dog – and that is intended as a great compliment. She gets on that bus with my band and she never says, ‘I don’t have any privacy’ and never (complains) about the little things.”

While Rogers enjoys interacting with fans and presenting his material live for the final time in each city, a pragmatic response is given to the question of whether he will miss performing any of his iconic songs.

“No. I think I love one song as much as the other because they’re so different. They touch so many people and I think I can always hear them on the CDs if I want,” Rogers said. “I’m not a sentimental person like that. The history is preserved. My boys were asking me about the Country Music Hall of Fame and why it took me so long to get in (Rogers was inducted in 2013). I said, ‘It’s not when (I got in), it’s that.’”

With his legendary career preserved, Rogers will tend to his fine-art photography hobby and his family, though plans for an area theme park/hotel dubbed Kenny World have stalled . Rogers said he was going to engage in a deal with Atlanta real estate developer Jim Jacoby, but, “I don’t know if he couldn’t get his permits or what, but it’s kinda cooled off. It’s a shame, because it was a good idea.”

Rogers has also had his Sandy Springs mansion for sale for more than a year . He and Wanda would like to stay in Atlanta in a smaller house with a bigger yard for his sons, but Rogers isn’t interested in dumping his multi-million-dollar house in a fire sale.

“If things don’t work out with the sale, I’ll just stay. I don’t want to get into low-balling. I find it offensive,” he said.

On Sunday, he won’t have to travel very far to perform his final Atlanta concert at Chastain. But only one thing could potentially disappoint him.

“It’s not Chastain,” he said, “if it don’t rain.”


Kenny Rogers

With Joe Robinson. 8 p.m. June 19. $30.50-$60.50. Chastain Park Amphitheatre, 4469 Stella Drive N.W., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, .

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About the Author

Melissa Ruggieri
Melissa Ruggieri
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for the AJC. She remembers when MTV was awesome.