Kenny Rogers Offered ‘The Gambler’ to Willie Nelson: Here’s Why

by Josh Lanier

There are few songs as attached to an artist as “The Gambler” is to Kenny Rogers. It’s hard to imagine anyone else crooning about life lessons learned at a poker table. But Rogers originally wanted someone else to sing it.

He thought the song was best for Willie Nelson, Nelson told the TODAY last year. Nelson said Rogers approached him with the idea and even sang him the song. But Nelson passed on it. It was a great song, but Willie was already doing a song every night that was long. He worried about adding another long song to the setlist.

“I was doing every night a song called ‘The Red Headed Stranger’ which has 100 verses in it, and it’s a long song,” Nelson said. “And I said I just don’t want to do another long song, and I can’t quit doing ‘Red Headed Stranger.’ So he said, ‘Okay, I’ll record it myself.’ And so he did, and there it is.”

Rogers, undeterred, took the song and turned it into one of the biggest country music hits of all time.

Friends, Colleagues Pay Respects to Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers died on March 20, 2020, of natural causes. He was 81 years old. Since then his fans and friends have performed countless tributes to him.

Dolly Parton played their song “Islands in the Stream” last week at a music benefit for COVID-19. Afterward, she tweeted how much she missed her dear friend.

“You never know how much you love somebody until they’re gone. I’ve had so many wonderful years and wonderful times with my friend Kenny, but above all the music and the success I loved him as a wonderful man and a true friend.”

Lionel Ritchie performed “Lady” at the Grammys earlier this month.

Rogers was asked in 2005 how the song came to be.

“To say that ‘Lady’ changed my life is an understatement,” Kenny Rogers said. “The thing that I’ve loved most about our relationship is that we became friends through that song.”

“I heard the ‘Ray Charles’ Modern Sound of Country Music’ and I thought how clever it was that he was singing R&B to country tracks,” Rogers said. “So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I sing country to R&B tracks?’ And I had heard The Commodores’ ‘Three Times A Lady’ and ‘Still’ which, to me, are wonderful country songs.

Rogers said reached out and “Lady” the two got to work.

They explain the song writing process in a 2005 episode of CMT Crossroads.