So Kenny Rogers is an American country icon, right? Definitely. But in another life, Rogers’ career could’ve gone very differently. In fact, for a long time, it did.
That’s because Rogers actually built his musical career as a psych rocker before he went country. Heck, he even had some hits! The Houston native kind of embodied every decade he made music in, funnily enough.
He started in a jazz trio in the 1950s called The Bobby Doyle Three, before eventually falling in love with 1960s counterculture. In the mid-1960s, the jazz trio fell apart and Rogers spent all of one year in a large folk ensemble called The New Christy Minstrels.
Because the obvious step between jazz trio and psych rock is folk ensemble. Ah, the 1960s.
So anyways, Rogers and a few of his other Minstrel mates left and formed The First Edition in 1967. And just one year later, they landed their biggest hit, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” Yeah, it’s a mouthful.
Can you recognize the young Rogers? Here’s a hint: he’s that handsome bearded gent who still sounds exactly like Kenny Rogers. (Fun fact: Glen Campbell also played guitar on this track).
Now, to be fair, The First Edition often took a few steps into the folk and country world. The members came from a folk band, after all. He even released a few old First Edition songs when he struck it big, like “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” a Mel Tillis tune.
But Kenny Rogers’ psych rock phase actually kind of rocked. Of course, we’re all very happy he eventually transitioned to country (and pop). His contributions to the genre and spreading it to the rest of the world were pretty huge. But The First Edition (and later “Kenny Rogers and The First Edition”) made it work for a full 10 years.
In that time, they earned praise from rock heroes like Jimi Hendrix. He said the solo on “Just Dropped In” became one of his favorites. They also hosted a television show called Rollin’ On The River and appeared in a TV movie as the fictional band “Catweazel” (seriously).
But by the mid-1970s, all the TV appearances in the world couldn’t save the band’s dwindling popularity. Their few top-10 hits weren’t enough to sustain them through the disco phase. Band member Terry Williams actually initiated the split when looking for a solo career (Williams tried to revive The First Edition in the 1990s, to little success).
Rogers didn’t have much of a promising future ahead, given he already hit middle age with significant streaks of grey in his beard. That all changed with 1977’s “Lucille,” a massive hit across the globe. From there, Rogers full left his psych days in the past and embraced a long and successful career as a pop country superstar.