Kenny Rogers’ 2016 world tour will by no means be his swan song. The legendary entertainer announced on Friday that he’ll retire from the road after next year’s global travels, but that’s just one completed chapter of the long, unfinished book that is his multifaceted career.
“I’m an impulsive obsessive,” the 77-year-old Rogers, who has sold more than 120 million albums, tells Rolling Stone Country. “I impulsively get involved with something and then I obsess with it, just to see how good I can get at it.”
So with his tour bus parked and calendar cleared, the singer can spend 2017 obsessing about side projects he’s been doing all along — but to which he can soon devote a lot more time. Among those endeavors are two books of photography, a hotel and, of course, new music — with Pharrell Williams on his wish list of collaborators.
We sat down with the icon in Nashville to talk about all of the new ventures on his horizon, which also include his 34th Christmas tour and a new holiday album, Once Again It’s Christmas. Rogers tells us about the deep themes that run throughout the LP and about its superstar duet partners, including one whom he likens to Dolly Parton when it comes to their stage chemistry.
There are a lot of religious lessons taught via this album, such as in the title track and “Back to Bethlehem.” Was it important to you to make this more about the true meaning of Christmas and less about Santa Claus?
I’ve never been overtly religious, but I’ve always been deeply spiritual. . . I listened to the whole album the other day with my wife and kids, just to get in the spirit. And I’m very proud of it.
The record company told me something I didn’t know: If someone goes to buy a Christmas album and doesn’t see songs they know, they won’t buy it. So I did “Little Drummer Boy” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Jennifer Nettles. And I did a beautiful song with Alison Krauss called “Some Children See Him,” which is about how different races of kids see Jesus different than white people do. It was a thought-provoker, and anything Alison sings is going to be special.
Did you and Jennifer strike up a friendship after singing together at the 2013 CMA Awards?
We did. She’s one of the few people since Dolly that I really felt a connection to when she sang. I felt like she really cared about what she was singing and enjoyed it. We’ve talked 20 times about doing duets, but I’ve done this a long time and know you never start with a partner. You find a song and you say, “Who can sing this well?” Because if you force someone to do a song, you’re not going to be successful. But when I heard that song, I knew Jennifer would be perfect for it.
And now Jennifer is playing Dolly’s mom in the movie about her life. Do you know if someone will play you in that movie?
I hope not! But if so, let’s go with Brad Pitt. [Laughs]
You were really hands-on with this album, working with your producers to make its instrumentation unique. But at this point in your career, you could’ve just emailed your vocals and called it a day.
Well, I did, actually.