“In all honesty, I can say this is the best album I’ve ever recorded,” Rogers says of his surprisingly varied new Warner Bros. album, You Can’t Make Old Friends.
A fresh and creative foray into new musical territory, You Can't Make Old Friends may just be Rogers' equivalent to Elvis Presley's popular 1961 recording, Something For Everybody. Yes, there are the captivating story songs and the sincere love songs Rogers' fans have come to expect and love throughout his nearly five decades of Country and Pop superstardom, but the soon-to-be member of the Country Music Hall of Fame also shows his versatility with flavors of Rock and Roll, Zydeco, Soul, Gospel, Southern Rock, and sounds of the Southwest interspersed throughout this bold recording.
"It's by far the most diverse album I've ever done and somewhat by design," Rogers said. "There are really only two ways that I can compete. One is to do what everyone else is doing and do it better, and I don't like my chances. The other is to do something no one else is doing and invite no comparison, which is where I feel most comfortable."
Featuring 11 new songs recorded in Nashville, You Can’t Make Old Friends reunited Rogers with Dolly Parton for a touching duet on the album’s title track – as well as producers Kyle Lehning, Warren Hartman and Dann Huff. Lehning and Hartman produced Rogers’ acclaimed 2011 Gospel album, The Love Of God, and Huff produced Rogers’ 2006 release, Water and Bridges, which garnered a Grammy nomination.
“What a thrill it was to be working with Kyle, Warren and Dann again,” Rogers said. “Once again, they did such an amazing job creating something we can all take great pride in.”
From the tender, stirring performance by Rogers amidst a warm steel guitar and luminous strings on Bryan Adams’ “When You Love Someone,” to the sweeping, cinematic sorrow of "Dreams Of The San Joaquin" – a story song about the plight of migrant farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley in the early 20th Century – You Can't Make Old Friends is a true artistic statement.
Somehow hearing Rogers sing the words “You Can’t Make Old Friends” in the album’s title track is especially comforting – as if the familiar, gravelly voice of the music legend, an old friend in and of itself, was meant to sing the song. Certain to be a "new classic" in the esteemed body of work by Rogers, the emotional sentiment of "You Can't Make Old Friends" took on an entirely new meaning when Dolly Parton joined him on a February night in a Nashville studio for a magical recording session, making this rare event reuniting two superstars, longtime friends and duet partners, one for the ages.
"I can't think of a more perfect song for Dolly and I to sing together," Rogers said of "You Can't Make Old Friends," one of the first songs that was recorded for the record. "Out of everyone in the business, she is my best friend, so naturally it has special meaning for the both of us. It was so good to be back in the studio with her. I’m thrilled to have our relationship documented this way.”
Parton added, “There is just something about our chemistry with each other – our friendship – that people really sense what we really feel. To do a song that fits so many people, and certainly us, was an honor. It’s been a wonderful journey, and I’m so glad I’ve been able to walk this road with Kenny.”
Written by Songwriters Hall of Fame member, Don Schlitz (“The Gambler”), Caitlyn Smith and Ryan King (son of The Commodores' William King), "You Can't Make Old Friends" marks only the third time since "Real Love" hit No. 1 in 1985 that Rogers and Parton have recorded a song together. The two also shot a video for “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” filmed at the historic War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville – the first time they've shot a video together (their video for “Real Love” was created using performance footage from a live concert special). The moving “You Can’t Make Old Friends” comes 30 years after the release of their No. 1 worldwide smash, “Islands In The Stream,” widely considered one of the greatest duets of all time in any genre and CMT’s Greatest Duet of All Time.
Explaining the story behind how “You Can’t Make Old Friends” came to be, Rogers related, "I ran across Ryan King in California, and in telling me his story of being a child and visiting my farm in Athens, Georgia, he finished by saying, 'I realized then, you can't make old friends.’ I was so touched by that statement and knew it would make a great song. The next day I was in New York City singing for Don Schlitz's induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and when I told him about that, he asked for a chance to write it. Literally one day later, I received this incredible piece of music that captures so much truth and so much emotion that Dolly and I have always had for each other."
On the edgy, anthemic "Turn This World Around," Rogers is joined by rising artist and hit songwriter, Eric Paslay, who co-wrote the song with Andrew Dorff and Jason Reeves, for a supercharged performance that harkens back, at least in terms of vocal styling, to Rogers’ "(Just Dropped In) To See What Condition My Condition Was In" days with the First Edition. A centerpiece of the album, “Turn This World Around” is a timely piece of music – a different sort of social commentary story song with an ambitious production from the realms of Rock.
"This is a unique song that I just love,” Rogers says of “Turn This World Around.” “It's almost a child's whimsical look at the problems of the world, but there is this powerful underlying message of hope that love can turn the world around – if we all work at it. I called in Eric Paslay to help me, who already had such a connection with it as one of the song’s co-writers, and he gave it both depth and validity. I'm very proud of it.
"In the somber “You Had To Be There,” when Rogers sings, "you had to be there … and I'm talking from day one – that's the only time a dad should talk through glass to his new son,” it's one of the most emotional moments of the album. The song tells the story of a misguided child who was shortchanged on his childhood due to a father’s selfish choices. The father, who had been AWOL for years, shows up one day in an effort to make amends with his son, who is doing time in prison, but receives a cold reception as the son battles bitter memories of hurt and abandonment.
The free-swaying, Ray Charles-esque "'Merica" showcases a sweet spot in Rogers' voice for Southern Blues and Gospel expression, and the driving Southern Rock feel of "It's Gonna Be Easy Now" includes one of the hardest guitar riffs in The Gambler's recorded repertoire.
Legendary Nashville tunesmiths Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet contributed "Don't Leave Me In The Night Time," a Zydeco-flavored sing-a-long complete with an appealing mix of tenor and baritone saxophones and genuine touches from the Bayou country courtesy of Buckwheat Zydeco, who recorded the accordion part at Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana.
"One of the great things I've always loved is finding people who I don't know personally but who I know musically, and when we did 'Don't Leave Me In The Night Time,' from day one in my mind, it was meant to have a Zydeco feel. I'm thrilled to have Buckwheat Zydeco play on the song to give it its rightful Zydeco authenticity. What a talent he is."
The surprises keep coming around every bend for the listener as they hear You Can’t Make Old Friends and "Neon Horses,” an intriguing piece of Dave Loggins-penned blue-collar barroom nostalgia, is no exception. "All I Need Is One" is a “traveling light” feel-good about the important things in life. And what Kenny Rogers album would be complete without a song from Grammy Award-winning songwriter Mike Reid? In this case, the composition is “Look at You” – a beautiful ballad delivered masterfully by Rogers in only the way he can.
“I am a big fan of Mike’s work,” Rogers said. “Every album I do must have at least one Mike Reid song on it. His songs are so real and fall right within my comfort zone. This guy can write!”
Rogers said he loves to shake it up a bit and break new ground with each album he records, but knows at the same time it’s important to maintain a certain familiarity.
"I think you learn from every project you do, and I think style is developed by response," Rogers said. "If someone loves what you're doing, you tend to want to do it again. If they don't, you distance yourself from it, and I think over the last 40 years, I've listened to what people have said and have tried to respond accordingly. It's every artist's goal with each new project to stay contemporary in some form or another, and I think we've managed to record some great songs and styles that hold up to today's scrutiny and today's music.”
With a plethora of sounds on display, You Can’t Make Old Friends is yet another remarkable accomplishment in the career of an international icon – quite fitting for one who has conquered the worlds of Jazz (The Bobby Doyle Three), Folk (The New Christy Minstrels), Rock (Kenny Rogers and the First Edition), Country, and Pop during his 56-year career.
Impressively, Rogers has charted a record within each of the last seven decades, beginning with “That Crazy Feeling” (as Kenneth Rogers) in the late 1950s, through The Love Of God (2011), which became his 21st Top 10 Country album. He has scored a hit single in each of the past six decades, including his first No. 1 hit, the Grammy Award-winning “Lucille,” in 1977, which launched one of the most successful solo careers in the history of music, and the No. 1 hit “Buy Me A Rose” in 2000, which made him the oldest solo artist in the history of the Country singles chart to reach the top spot (he was 61 at the time). Not many artists, if any at all, can lay claim to those extraordinary chart accomplishments.
Rogers has been a trailblazer for Country Music as an innovative recording artist, distinctive vocalist, and consummate entertainer for decades. He was the first Country artist to consistently sell out arenas in the late 1970s, paving the way for many other Country artists to take their music to the masses. Because of his widespread crossover success (his 28 Billboard Adult Contemporary Top 10’s is sixth-best all-time and fourth-best among men, trailing only Elton John, Neil Diamond, and Elvis Presley – and five of Rogers’ eight AC No. 1’s were also country No. 1’s), he has attracted more people to Country Music, playing to millions of fans around the world.
“I love many kinds of music,” Rogers has said. “But I’m a Country singer. This music is where the pain is, and where the happiness is.”
With 24 No. 1 songs, 12 No. 1 albums and numerous hits (including timeless duets with Dottie West, Dolly Parton and many others) to his credit, Rogers is the RIAA’s 8th best selling male artist of all time with sales of more than 120 million albums worldwide, including 1 Diamond album, 19 Platinum albums, and 31 Gold albums.
He has won many awards for his artistry and charitable contributions, including three Grammy Awards, 18 American Music Awards, 11 People’s Choice Awards, eight Academy of Country Music Awards, and five Country Music Association Awards. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Entertainment Buyers Association, is a recipient of the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music, and in 1990, was honored with the Horatio Alger Award, given to those who have distinguished themselves despite humble beginnings.
Adding to that rich legacy of accolades, it was announced on April 10, 2013, that Rogers would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Bobby Bare and Cowboy Jack Clement, during a Medallion Ceremony in Nashville in October 2013.
"Where do you start?” Rogers said of the highest honor Country Music has to offer. “It's not just an award for best song or album of the year. This is a lifetime achievement award with some of the best in the business. It doesn't take long to walk around (the Country Music Hall of Fame) and see what it really means. I’m glad it happened at this stage in my life … it's now more of a personal reward than a professional reward because of my kids. I can get a chance to share it with them and let them see what I did with my life."
Rogers has been a fixture of Pop Culture through the years as well – from guest hosting The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, to hosting televised “Kenny Rogers Classic Weekends” with the best athletes of the day. He starred as Brady Hawkes in The Gambler (and four subsequent Gambler TV movies) which were viewed by over 100 million viewers and became the longest running miniseries franchise on television. He has starred as himself on Reno 911, and his famous vocal chords have made an appearance as a narrator on How I Met Your Mother. He is a renowned photographer and has published three books of his works.
Yet, music remains his first love, and there is no other place this legendary artist would rather be than entertaining from the stage or working on projects like the historic 1985 recording by supergroup USA For Africa of “We Are The World,” which raised millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa.
One of an elite few whose voice is instantly recognized the world over, Rogers continues to receive critical acclaim and praise from fans thanks to his amazing songs, honest performances, and intuitive storytelling ability. He remains one of the most enduring singers and entertainers of our time.
Authenticating his rare staying power, Rogers’ 2013 Through The Years World Tour includes stops in the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, Morocco, Canada and the U.S. Notably, Rogers will perform as a headliner at the world's premier Rock festival – Britain's Glastonbury Festival – alongside the Rolling Stones, Mumford & Sons, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, and others on the Pyramid Stage. He will also headline a show at Festival Timitar (a World Music festival), in Agadir, Morocco. In June 2013, Rogers was a surprise guest of the Zac Brown Band during their CMA Music Festival performance in Nashville.
In 2012, Rogers was the only artist to play both the CMA Music Festival and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. His much buzzed-about Bonnaroo debut received glowing reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone, SPIN, and Billboard, and he was one of the most talked about performances at the sold-out Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California, with over 55,000 fans attending each day.
Rogers’ busy 2013 fall includes a steady run of U.S. tour dates, in addition to the release of You Can’t Make Old Friends; a novel called What Are The Chances, co-written with Mike Blakely (September 3); and the paperback version of his New York Times Best Selling autobiography, Luck Or Something Like It – A Memoir (September 24). Rogers will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October and will depart on his 32nd annual Christmas & Hits Tour in late November to wrap, as is the tradition, two days before Christmas.
Few artists who have enjoyed such impressive heights of success as Rogers can say that at this stage in their life they are still making some of the best music of their career, but that is something the genuinely humble native Texas son confidently says is true for him with You Can’t Make Old Friends.
"My last two albums, Water and Bridges and The Love Of God, are two of my favorite records I’ve ever done, so going into the recording sessions for this project, I wanted to really stretch my boundaries and do something a little different,” Rogers says. “We came out on the other side with something I'm very excited and thrilled about. I hope the fans, who have been so gracious to me, will feel the same way.”
“After all these years, I still have something to say. I'm still creating what I hope is relevant music and loving every minute of it."