Before Kenny Rogers became a highly acclaimed country singer, with a career that spanned six decades, he first became popular during the late 1960s as a pop/rock artist for the band Kenny Rogers and The First Edition.
The group, which was billed as The First Edition, was an eclectic rock band featuring a style that ranged from rock and roll to R&B, folk, and country. In addition to Rogers as the lead singer and bass guitarist, its core members were Mickey Jones, Mike Settle, Thelma Camacho, and Terry Williams.
How did Kenny Rogers and The First Edition get started? Let’s go back to the band’s great run as a famous recording and touring act in the 1960s and 1970s.Embed from Getty Images
The Beginning of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition
It was in 1967 when The First Edition was formed by several former members of the New Christy Minstrels, a famous folk-pop vocal group.
Though Rogers, Settle, and Williams were enjoying their time in the New Christy Minstrels, they were disappointed by the fact that they can only record and perform cover songs; most especially when Settle started writing pretty impressive songs.
“They wouldn’t let us record our own songs,” Rogers said, “and they wouldn’t let us sing on the records because they didn’t want to pay us royalties. We didn’t really see a future there for us.”
This led to Settle and Williams quitting New Christy Minstrels. Rogers followed and asked his former bandmates if he could join them. However, he was two to three years older than the others and Settle and Williams wanted to form a younger group that would fit into the youth-oriented rock and roll style during that time.
Rogers had to grow his hair longer. He also got an ear pierced for an earring. It is his way of showing that he could relate to the rock audience. “Terry and Mike said, ‘OK, you’re in,'” Rogers recalled. “The rest is history.”
Later on, the three men decided to add a woman to the group, so they tapped another New Christy Minstrels’ member Thelma Camacho. They also asked drummer Mickey Jones to join them. The five of them became the original members of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition as there were several personnel changes along the way.
The band’s national breakthrough came in 1968 with hit song “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a psychedelic pop song with a cautionary message about the dangers of using LSD. The song peaked in the Top 5. It was written by Nashville singer-songwriter, Mickey Newbury, whom Rogers met when both lived in Texas.
However, after the band’s first three albums, Camacho was dismissed from the First Edition for disputed reasons. In Rogers’ book, “With Luck or Something Like It,” the country singer revealed that Camacho was “let go because she had fallen in love, was tired of touring and perhaps didn’t agree with certain decisions.” Camacho then retired from the music business, and her spot was taken by her roommate, Mary Arnold.
Yet, the band went on to record a string of top hits and many albums through the early 1970s. Some of their country-rockers were “But You Know I Love You” (1969), “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” (1969), “Something’s Burning” (1970), “Heed The Call” (1970), and the gospel-infused “Tell It All Brother” (1970).
Kenny Rogers and The First Edition Disbanded After Nine Years
Declining sales, new musical trends, and creative differences eventually undermined the band.
In late 1974, the band made a last-ditch effort to jumpstart their domestic careers. They filmed a television movie called “The Dream Makers,” a drama about the music business. Kenny Rogers and The First Edition played the group Catweazel for a small role, with only Rogers and Jones speaking any major lines. However, despite the film giving them an opportunity to perform their recent songs, the exposure did not halt their decline. They decided to disband in 1976.
Within the year, Rogers had his first No. 1 solo single, the narrative-driven “Lucille.” Jones also continued honing his acting skills. He found a huge audience in the ’90s on Tim Allen’s family sitcom “Home Improvement.”
Jones, on the other hand, focused on his career as a character actor and has made many appearances on film and television. Settle now works as a journalist and music critic in Nashville.
Williams was the last original member to leave the band. After the band’s break-up, Williams continued the act as “Terry Williams and The First Edition.” He continued working with Rogers and has appeared on several Rogers’ albums. Williams also operated Rogers’ Lion Share Recording Studio during the ’80s.
In 2010, the group reunited for the first time in years. They performed during a TV special in Rogers’ honor. Though The First Edition was only together for nine years, the bonds the bandmates formed lasted a lifetime.
kenny rogers, The First Edition