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Country legend Kenny Rogers still gambling, this time with Utah Symphony

Interview » Country legend will perform with Utah Symphony.

By Kathy Stephenson

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jul 03 2014 09:23 am • Last Updated Jul 03 2014 03:39 pm

Kenny Rogers may be happy about his upcoming performance with the Utah Symphony, but here’s betting The Gambler’s sons Justin and Jordan don’t feel the same.

The July 5 show, part of the Deer Valley Music Festival in Park City, means Rogers — a 2013 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame — will miss the identical twins’ 10th birthday.

At a glance

Kenny Rogers at Deer Valley fest

Country music legend Kenny Rogers performs with the Utah Symphony and principal pops conductor Jerry Steichen.

When » Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where » Deer Valley Resort’s Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater

Tickets » General admission $42; reserved seating $80 at 801-355-2787, ArtTix or deervalleymusicfestival.org.

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"Some of us have to work," said the 75-year-old country legend during a recent telephone interview from his home in Atlanta.

And those who have followed Rogers’ career know he’s no coward when it comes to hard labor.

He’s had a hit record in each of the past six decades, with 24 No. 1 songs and 12 No. 1 albums. He has won three Grammys, eight American Country Music Awards and a host of other accolades.

And at an age when most people are slowing down, Rogers still believes in trying new things.

In 2013, he released his latest album, "You Can’t Make Old Friends," which reunited him with duet partner Dolly Parton for the title track. He still performs about 100 times a year. "I just filmed a Quicken commercial," he said.

Rogers also answered questions about his Utah show, the future of country music and a musical regret.

What can we expect to hear at the July 5 show?

I’m of the old school. When I go to see someone, I want to hear their hits. I’ll put a few new songs in between my familiar songs. But if you give people something new, they have to work. They have to listen harder. They have to think, "Do I like the song?" "Do I like what it says?" With a song they’ve heard, they don’t have to do that. And the good news about doing hits: They work every night, and I’d hate to be that guy that has to go there without them.

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What do you enjoy about performing with a symphony orchestra?

I’ve played with symphonies hundreds of times in my career and I love it. The sound is so rich. I’ll be singing along and forget they are back there. So many of my songs, like "She Believes in Me" and "Through the Years," are such lush ballads that it works.

The new album, "You Can’t Make Old Friends," is different than what you usually sing. What inspired that?

It’s the first time that a record company has said to me, "Don’t worry about hit songs or worry about radio; just go cut 10 great songs." That takes the pressure off. I was able to reunite with Dolly on the title track and try a New Orleans Cajun sound with "Don’t Leave Me in the Night Time" (featuring accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco).

Are there any songs you turned down that became a hit for someone else?

The Bette Midler song "The Wind Beneath My Wings." At the time, the phrase "my hero" just stuck out to me. It seems silly now. But I regret it. I wish she’d give it back to me.

On the flip side, are there any songs that you were initially skeptical about but that became surprise hits?

"Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town." My manager said, "You’ll never get this played on the radio." And I said, "But if we do it will be huge." I thought the story [of a Vietnam veteran] was so fascinating. We really promoted it. The Smothers Brothers were big fans of ours and asked us to perform it on their show, which was a huge help.

Are you drawn to songs with a message or story?

I have two categories of songs: What every male would like to say but can’t. But also story songs that bring about social change. "Reuben James" was about race, "Ruby" about Vietnam, "Coward of the County" about a rape. The stories are interesting. They’re not just gibberish, not just lyrics.

Do you feel that’s missing in country music today?

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