Kenny Rogers recorded the definitive version of “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” with his band The First Edition in 1969, taking it to No. 6 on both the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts and No. 2 in the UK.
Rogers definitely embodies the term “icon.” The country legend has enjoyed a successful career that spanned to over sixty years, which has been filled with more hit songs than we can count. And “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” is just one of the many songs that helped bring him into the mega-stardom he eventually achieved.
Did You Know The Song Is A Real-Life Narrative?
Written by country star Mel Tillis, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” tells the story of a wounded soldier who went home to a woman who showed him little sympathy. She left him to go out at night, which he believed is going in search of a lover. All he can do is beg Ruby to stay home and keep him company, but his pleas just fell on deaf ears.
Contrary to what many believe, the song was not written about the Vietnam war, even though it was recorded during that era and contained the line “It wasn’t me that started that old crazy Asian war.” But what’s surprising was the fact that Tillis has based the song on a couple who lived near his family in Florida. Yes, Ruby is a real woman.
“Ruby is a real-life narrative about a soldier coming home from World War II in 1947 to Palm Beach County, Florida,” Tillis said. “The soldier brought along with him a pretty little English woman he called ‘Ruby,’ his war bride from England, one of the nurses that helped to bring him around to somewhat of a life.”
The soldier had recurring problems from his war wounds and was confined mostly to his wheelchair. Tillis continued, “He’d get drunk and accuse Ruby of everything under the sun. Having stood as much as she could, Ruby and the soldier eventually divorced, and she moved on.”
While the song is most closely identified with Rogers, fans of Tillis regard it as perhaps the finest, and probably most enduring song among the hundreds he’s written that have been recorded. Tillis was the first to release this song, including it on his album Life’s That Way in 1967. The Statler Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Goldsboro, and Johnny Darrell recorded the song later that year, with Darrell’s version reaching No. 9 on the Country chart.
But many controversies surrounded “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” when it became a hit for Kenny Rogers in 1969. The Vietnam War was raging, and the song was often assumed to be about a soldier who came home crippled from that war.
Whenever Rogers would perform the song in a jovial manner, the crowd would often cheer and sing along, while some found it disrespectful to veterans. Rogers defended the song in an interview with Beat Instrumental in1970. The country legend said: “Look, we don’t see ourselves as politicians, even if a lot of pop groups think they are in the running for a Presidential nomination. We are there, primarily, to entertain.”
“Now, if we can entertain by providing thought-provoking songs, then that’s all to the good,” Rogers added. “But the guys who said ‘Ruby’ was about Vietnam were way off target – it was about Korea. But whatever the message, and however you interpret it, the fact is that we wouldn’t have looked at it if it hadn’t been a GOOD song. Just wanna make good records, that’s all.”
Check out Kenny Rogers’ amazing performance of “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” in the music video below.