As the 1980s began, country superstar Kenny Rogers was fast becoming that genre’s most successful pop crossover artist. In September 1980, after a streak of major hits helmed by producer Larry Butler, Rogers enlisted songwriter Lionel Richie, of the Commodores, to write him a song. “Lady,” also produced by Richie, would soon become the biggest hit in Rogers’ solo career and one of the best-selling songs of the decade.
Not long before he died last month at 81, Rogers would record his last on-camera interview for the upcoming A&E Biography: Kenny Rogers special. Premiering April 13th, the episode features Dolly Parton, Chris Stapleton, Reba McEntire, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Jamey Johnson, and others recalling the impact of Rogers’ career. In the exclusive clip above, Richie recounts the genesis of their first collaboration, which would eventually result not only in a six-week run at the Number One spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 but a lasting friendship between the two.
“I’m not used to pitching songs, but I had this song called, ‘Baby,’” Richie says. “I land in Vegas and all I prepared is the first verse, the way I would normally do it for the Commodores.” Rogers’ former road manager, Garth Shaw, then picks up the story, noting that he told Rogers “there’s some songwriter out here and he wants to play you a song.”
As Richie starts playing an out-of-tune piano in the dressing room, Rogers begins talking to him about having recently married his fourth wife, Marianne Gordon. “I married a lady, a real lady,” he tells Richie. “A country boy like me from Houston, Texas, what I am doing with a lady… she’s got such taste, such class, such style and she’s such a lady. Oh, by the way, what’s the name of your song?” “I said, ‘Lady,’ Richie says with a laugh. “I’m no fool.”
The two-hour Biography: Kenny Rogers, which also includes live performances and behind-the-scenes footage from the Country Music Music Hall of Fame member’s 2017 farewell concert in Nashville, premieres Monday at 9 p.m. ET.