Did you know that Kenny Rogers originally asked Willie Nelson to record “The Gambler”?
Nelson made the revelation during an interview with Jenna Bush-Hager on The Today Show on July 2. Over the years, Rogers and Nelson were both friends and collaborators until Rogers’ death in March.
“Through the years, him and I were big pals,” Nelson shared. “In fact, he tried to get me to record ‘The Gambler.’”
What Willie Had to Say
“We were somewhere, I don’t know, and he was like, ‘I’ve got this song, I think you should do it,’ and he played it for me and I said, ‘You know, I think it’s a great song, but I don’t think I’ll do it,’ because, I was doing, every night, a song called ‘Red Headed Stranger’ which has 100 verses in it,” he recalled. “I said ‘I just don’t want to do another long song,’ so he said, ‘OK, I will record it myself,’ and so he did and, you know, there it is.”
Furthermore, even with the song’s giant success, Nelson doesn’t regret giving Rogers the song. “That was Kenny’s song all the way,” Nelson concluded.
All About ‘The Gambler’
The song debuted on November 15, 1978 and reached No. 1. It even took home the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980.
Don Schlitz wrote the song in 1976 and the song was recorded by numerous artists before Rogers decided to record it. Johnny Cash even recorded the song to act as a B-side on his album, Gone Girl.
Schiltz wrote the song when he was 23-years-old after he just moved to Nashville, Tennessee. “It was a hot August day,” he reminisced to the Library of Congress. “I didn’t have a car and I’m walking home in the heat and carrying my heavy guitar case and I wrote [“The Gambler”] in my head…. I’m just making up this story song; I’m good at rhymes and meter, so I’m putting that into it,” he explained.
Once he got home, he saw down at his father’s typewriter to write the song he just created, excluding a final verse. “When I was done, I knew it was too long and it didn’t have a love angle, and it wasn’t up-tempo; and it was a pretty linear melody,” he admitted.
Schiltz played it at a handful of writer’s rounds before it gained traction. Hugh Moffatt and Michael Twitty recorded versions of the song. Schiltz decided to record his own version as well. Schiltz’s version reached No. 61 on the Billboard Chart along with Moffatt and Twitty’s versions also on the chart at the exact same time. Both Rogers and Cash got ahold of the song at about the same time and both recorded their versions, with Rogers’ more uptempo than the original.
H/T The Today Show