Kenny Rogers made songs about love, life, and heartbreak. Here’s the story behind his first hit, Lucille.
Kenny Rogers’ mother didn’t like the song ‘Lucille’ at first
Kenny Rogers was proud of himself after he made the song Lucille. However, his mother didn’t feel so good about it after the song was first played on the radio. The biggest problem for her was that the song’s title was her real name.
Another issue Rogers’ mother had was the song’s lyrics. In his autobiography, Luck or Something Like It, Rogers said his mother expressed her displeasure during a phone call. He says their conversation started with his mother saying, “What in the world were you thinking, Kenneth Ray? What are people going to think when they hear you singing about your mother leaving her family to run off to some bar? And how dare you write about me having four hungry kids?”
In his book, Rogers says the song wasn’t about his mother at all. He told her he didn’t even write the song. He also tried to prove the song wasn’t about her by pointing out she had eight children, not four.
Label executives were slow to warm up to ‘Lucille’
Rogers had a tough time getting people to give Lucille a chance. He said some of the executives at his label weren’t optimistic about the potential for the song to become a success. “Some of the label executives had questioned the song when they first heard it, thinking it was all wrong for a Kenny Rogers release,” wrote the singer. He also said the executives thought the song was “too country” for his image, which they thought was “middle of the road.”
Rogers questioned the original ending of Lucille, but after the last verse was re-written, he felt the song would do well on the radio. He said his manager, Ken Kragen, started laughing when he first heard the single, and said, “This will either be written off as a novelty song, or it’s going to be the biggest song in the country.”
The success of ‘Lucille’
Although the tune was initially a tough sell, Lucille became Rogers’ first hit song as a solo artist after cutting ties with his group The First Edition. In 1977, the song reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s U.S. Hot Country Songs list and No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.
Rogers said Lucille took off after he performed the song on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Following the performance, 10,000 copies of the single were requested. “Seemingly overnight, we went from two shows on weeknights and three on Sunday in Las Vegas lounges to the main showrooms,” wrote Rogers in his book. “Lucille changed everything,” said Rogers. “It went to No. 1 and stayed there for two weeks. It won a Grammy, the Academy of Country Music Song and Single of the Year, and the Country Music Association Single of the Year.”
Rogers also took home the ACM Male Vocalist award in 1977 and the ACM Entertainer of the Year award in 1978. Fans loved the song so much they began selecting it on jukeboxes. Rogers said jukebox sales contributed to Lucille becoming so popular. Said Rogers, “It was listeners like that who grabbed ahold of Lucille and made it a monster hit.”
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