“The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers was written by the Country Music Hall of Famer, Don Schlitz, in 1976.
Schlitz was only twenty-three then, working as a computer operator on a graveyard shift. Moreso, it took him two years pitching the song all over Nashville until it found its home to country singer Bobby Bare, who recorded it for his album Bare.
Unfortunately, Bare’s version wasn’t released as a single at all. So Schlitz decided to record it himself only to fail making it to the top 50 of the country charts. But on the brighter side, the song caught the attention of other country singers – including Johnny Cash, who recorded it for his 1978 album Gone Girl.
And when it was Kenny Rogers‘ turn to record the country ballad, he made it into a mainstream success – taking the top spot of the country music charts almost immediately and even making its way to the pop charts when country-pop crossovers were not still very common. The song then appeared on charts all over the world.
Rogers released “The Gambler” in 1978 as the title track off his album of the same name. Despite the song’s name, it’s actually now about a card game – instead, it’s about how one would handle what life gives you.
It tells the tale of a man who met a gambler on one train ride, who offered him some advice for a taste of his whiskey – in which he happily obliged. The gambler then gave him the advice and the secret to surviving – in the form of poker metaphors – before he goes to sleep. Soon enough, he died in that train, in the middle of his sleep, as he had hoped for.
Schlitz revealed that he wrote the song in honor of his late father. Though both men never played poker nor were gamblers, the song became the songwriter’s way of sorting out the relationship he had with the older man.
Schlitz won a Grammy for Best Country Song for “The Gambler.” With the song’s success, he was able to quit his regular job and began working as a professional songwriter. Rogers, on the other hand, was already making a name for himself at that time – thanks to the success of his song “Lucille.”
Still, it is “The Gambler” that became his signature song, helping him earn a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. He was also able to develop an old-west gambler persona into a character for the successful series of Western television films, The Gambler.
Indeed, the song became widely known, and to this day, it continues to speak to listeners and fans all over the world. You can also read the 10 Best Kenny Rogers Songs in our previous article.
You can listen to “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers in the video below.
Don Schlitz, kenny rogers
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