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Dann Rogers is determined to keep the torch of “The Gambler” burning.
The singer/songwriter, who is the nephew of country music icon Kenny Rogers, has led a successful decades-long career pursuing the family business of making music. At 15, he impressed John Lennon and went on to write for numerous artists, including legends Glen Campbell and Dottie West, among others.
Most recently, the artist has released a single and music video for “Lesson in Love,” which he said focuses on the difficult and complex decision surrounding abortion. It was a risky topic for Rogers to take on, but he was compelled to share his emotions through song – something he has done all his life.
Rogers spoke to Fox News Digital about what it was really like growing up with an icon, how he carved out his own identity in the music industry and why Campbell insisted he had the most expensive garbage can in the world.
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Fox News: You come from a musical family. Looking back, what inspired you to become an artist?
Dann Rogers: My father was an R&B record producer. He eventually owned a record company. So I had all these famous R&B artists in my house and my life. Growing up, my dad would take me to the recording studios or radio stations where he was promoting a song. I grew up in that environment. But I knew at 11 years old that I was going to be a songwriter. And that’s all I wanted to do since then.
At age 15, I wrote my first hit for Johnny Nash called “My Merry Go Round.” John Lennon sent me a personal message through Johnny Nash stating that it was the most beautiful song he had ever heard in his life. So when you get a message from a Beatle at age 15, you know you’re onto something. I like to kid around and tell people, “I started at the top and worked my way down.” Where does a young kid go when he gets a message from a Beatle? I mean, that really set the bar for me. And I had to take my craft seriously. Billy Cox, Jimi Hendrix’s bass player, I’ve known him since I was 17. And he said to me, when I was 17, “You don’t have a choice.” And he was right.
Fox News: As the nephew of Kenny Rogers, were you worried that music critics would cast you in his shadow?
Rogers: That’s a natural process I experienced when I was young. In the beginning, when they would compare me to him, it just felt so unfair. But as I grew up, I realized that he was out there opening doors for me. And I just have to be smart enough to know how to react and how to handle myself. And he was a huge influence – how could he not be? He and my dad were my two heroes.
Fox News: How would you describe your relationship with Kenny Rogers?
Rogers: We were very close. If I ever needed to talk to him, he was there. We were family. We knew each other all of our lives, so I looked at him differently. I never called him Kenny. I called him “Uncle Money.” *laughs*. But our relationship was like any other between uncle and nephew. We supported each other.
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Fox News: Do you remember the last time you saw him?
Rogers: … I remember we were alone. And I knew it was the last time I would ever see him because he looked really bad. He was really worn out from being on the road. I said to him, “I want you to know that you’ve spent a lifetime creating a great name for our family. And I promise you that I will do everything in my power to keep our family name good.” He was touched. He almost teared up. He said, “Thank you.” Family was so important to him. We hugged. I told him I love him. We took one picture together. And I knew that would be the last picture I would ever take with him. That was the last time I ever saw him. It was touching, but it was very beautiful.
Fox News: You must have many, but what’s one memory of your time with Kenny Rogers that makes you smile whenever you think about it?
Rogers: My favorite story I like to tell people is when I was 5 years old, he came to our house in his brand new Buick Riviera. Kenny always had style. Even when he was very young, he was determined to have style and look good. So he came to the house and asked my mom if he could wash his car on the driveway. She said, “Sure.” He looks at me and goes, “Come on Danny, you can help me.” He threw a rag at me and I was washing the wheels while he washing the car *laughs*.
Afterward, he said, “Come on, I’m gonna take you to Dairy Queen and buy you ice cream for helping me.” We go to Dairy Queen and he said, “Tell her what you want.” And I said to the lady, “I want the biggest ice cream you’ve got!” He just looked down at me, grinned and said, “I knew you were gonna say that.” And he tells the lady, “Give me the biggest ice cream you have.” And sure enough, I got the biggest ice cream I’ve ever seen on this cone. I was trying to eat it so fast. I went to get in his car and he goes, “No, no, no, no!” He made me sit outside and eat the whole thing before I got in the car because he didn’t want me dripping ice cream all over the car. *laughs*.
There’s that other time when The First Edition broke up. He called me and asked if my band could back him up on his first four shows as a solo artist. We did. Standing on stage with him was a major highlight for me. It was a moment of pride because he was one of my heroes that I looked up to. Great memories – I have many of them… I remember the times I spent with him riding horses out at the ranch that he had… I can’t wait to see him again.
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Fox News: What advice did he give you on making your mark as an artist?
Rogers: He sure did. The first thing he told me was to always be nice to people. If people like you, they will go out of their way to help you. And the second thing he said was the more success you have, the prettier the girls get.
Fox News: I’m sure that was a huge motivator for you.
Rogers: It was! *laughs*
Fox News: Is it true that Glen Campbell ended up recording one of the songs that you initially threw in the trash?
Rogers: Yes, that’s true. I’m sitting in my apartment broke one Friday night. One of my close friends that played in my band was writing for Glen and playing in Glen’s band. Apparently, he played some of my songs to Glen. I get this phone call at night. It was Glen Campbell. He goes, “I just heard some of the songs you’ve written and I think you’re incredible. I was wondering if you could come up to my house and play me some more.” I said, “I’d love to, when do you want me?” He goes, “How about right now?”
I got in the car and went up to his house and stayed there for three days. Then one day he calls and says, “I’m in Vegas, why don’t you come to Vegas?” One of my other band members, my keyboard player, was playing in his band at the time. So we ended up in his room during a break between shows. He started playing this riff on a keyboard. I leaned over and started singing a lyric. We got halfway through it. I said, “Oh this isn’t any good.” I crumpled up the lyrics I wrote and threw them in the garbage can. I went downstairs and [songwriter] Steve Hardin, who I wrote it with, pulled it out of the garbage can and played it for Glen.
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Six months later, I get a call. Glen was looking for me. He was doing my song on “The Tonight Show.” I asked, “What song?” I was told the song I wrote with Steve, “Hang on Baby.” I said, “I never wrote anything with Steve.” And they said, “Yes, you did. Glen said you did. And he’s looking for you. That’s his new single.” I was certain they got the wrong guy. I hung up and 20 minutes later, it came to me. It was that song I started writing with Steve and then threw in the garbage can. I then get a call from Glen and he said, “Whatever you do, don’t you ever throw another song until I hear it. I think you’ve got the most expensive garbage can in the world!”
Fox News: Tell us about your single “Lesson in Love.”
Rogers: This is a song I wrote about 12 years ago while I was doing a 40-day fast. I hadn’t written anything in a few years. I wanted to put my spirit above my stomach and get myself in a spiritual state and see if I could still write again. I got hungry for the truth. About eight days into the fast, I started writing and I couldn’t stop.
This song is about a woman contemplating abortion. And I didn’t write it from a controversial standpoint. I wrote it from a standpoint of empathy of a man looking at what a woman is going through emotionally. The great thing about this song is we haven’t received negative feedback. Hopefully, it’s serving a higher purpose for women who are going through this. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a woman to go through this and contemplate this decision.
Fox News: Why were you so compelled to explore the complex decision surrounding abortion through song?
Rogers: I can’t say that I was compelled. I just picked up a guitar and played. If I latch onto a musical passage, I’ll sit there, play it and sing some melody. Once I have the melody of music to inspire me, I’ll write the first line of the song. And then the song writes itself. I had no intentions of sitting down and writing a song about a woman contemplating abortion. The first line just came out of me. “She stares at the night alone in her room.” I thought, “What’s that about?” And the song began to unfold. And because I had gone through the abortion process with a girlfriend many years ago, I was able to relate to the feelings and the emotions. So once I realized what I was writing about, the song wrote itself.
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Fox News: Some artists would be wary of wanting to explore such a controversial topic. But you’ve described how listeners have been accepting of the song. How do you feel about that acceptance?
Rogers: Relieved. I did a focus group before I released the song. It was 50 people – not one negative comment. And I think it’s because of the way I wrote it. I wanted the listener to draw their own conclusions. I wanted the message to speak to them personally. So I’m very relieved that it hasn’t offended anyone. That’s why I didn’t record this song for 12 years. I left it alone. I thought it was too controversial of a subject.
But about 10 months ago, I just started getting this nagging feeling that I needed to record this song. I was really concerned because I never want to offend anyone. But as an artist, I have to be true to my art and myself when I write it. It was time for this song to be heard. I’m just hoping it helps one person who hears the song. Then it will have all been worth it.
Fox News: What else do you have in the works?
Rogers: Well, I was just out on a farm in Nashville for two weeks with my producer. We’re getting ready to release a song with a new video this summer… I released a double album, “Life.” It was supposed to be released in late March 2020. Kenny passed away and I put a stop to it. I didn’t release it until September. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t release a record and go out there and talk about myself while I was grieving the loss of one of my heroes. Now, I feel ready to go out there and carry on the family name. I want to spend more time taking the music to the people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.