The first domino in Mike Dekle's long line of songwriting successes, from Tracy Byrd's Top 10 single "Don't Love Make a Diamond Shine" to numerous co-writes with fellow Georgian Brantley Gilbert, fell in 1983 after Kenny Rogers made "Scarlet Fever" a crossover hit.
Rogers' Top 5 country song reached a respectable No. 94 on Billboard's all-genre Hot 100. For Rogers, it sustained his spot in pop culture in between two well-known duets: "We've Got Tonight" with Sheena Easton and "Islands in the Stream" with Dolly Parton. Another crossover hit from Rogers' We've Got Tonight album, "All My Life," directly preceded "Scarlet Fever."
For Dekle, a veteran insurance agent living in the musical hotbed of Athens, Rogers' success with "Scarlet Fever" was a needed pick-me-up creatively and professionally.
"Music was a dream for me, and Kenny Rogers made it come true with one song," Dekle told Wide Open Country in April 2020. "I will always be beholden to him. Every time I'm ever doing a writer's round, I always thank Kenny Rogers because he changed my life financially. Even more than that, after 18 years of writing and not getting anything recorded, he recorded one."
Dekle wrote and first recorded the song, which was inspired by a sign he saw at a Missouri nightclub during his stint in the Army. It became a hit in Northeast Georgia, where Rogers lived with his fourth wife, Marianne Gordon.
"His wife at the time was a classmate of mine in high school, and we were having a 15 or 20 year reunion," Dekle said. "My record of 'Scarlet Fever' had been on the radio here locally, and Kenny lived within 15 miles of my home. My classmates had heard me on the radio, and my record was huge locally in an eight or 10 county area. People thought I was a star. I was a star in eight counties, and that was about it. And 'Scarlet Fever' was a big hit in the Billboard magazine, and I got up to like No. 36 in the charts with me singing it. It was an amazing record for me. I thought I was going to be another Kenny Rogers.
"(Rogers) contacted me one Monday morning after he'd heard it on the radio," Dekle continued. "Marianne had given him my phone number, and he called my office. He said, 'I just heard your record on the radio. Do you think it's a hit?' I said, 'Kenny, I'm going to be honest with you. I think the song is a hit, but I don't think it'll be a hit with me singing it because I got no record deal and I got no promotion money.' He said, 'Bring me a copy out to the farm this afternoon, and I'll see what I can do with it.' I carried it out to his place, and his place was 1,300 acres of Shangri-La. I dropped it off for him. I didn't hear anything, and I called my publisher in Nashville, ATV Music, and told them that I'd talked to Kenny Rogers, and of course they didn't believe that."
It's easy to assume that any country music songwriter would've immediately said yes to the global superstar known for "Sweet Music Man," "Coward of the County," "Daytime Friends," "Love Will Turn You Around" and "The Gambler," but Dekle had his reservations.
"He called me two weeks after I'd given it to him and said he wanted to cut it," Dekle recalled. "I called the publisher immediately and said, 'I'm not sure I want him to do that. I want that to be my signature song.' They said, 'You must be a fool.' After he cut it and it became a single, that's when I understood a lot more about music because of the financial implications of it once you have a hit record with a huge artist."
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Rogers later encouraged Dekle to pursue songwriting over a solo career to maximize his chances of personal happiness and country chart success.
"Kenny told me I was too old to be an artist. I was 33 years old," Dekle said. "I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'First of all, I think you're good enough to make it and you'd be a big artist, but you'll lose your wife. You'll be divorced in six months, and your kids will get grown and won't know who their daddy is.' That was the hardest thing in the world for me to accept. He said, 'Your songs will make you a rich man if you keep writing the kind of songs you write. Those earthy, heartfelt songs that reach in and touch people in some kind of way.'"
Dekle followed the earthy, heartfelt song game plan, and the Dekle-Rogers connection continued into the '90s with "Two Hearts One Love," "People in Love," "Someone Must Feel Like a Fool Tonight" and "Some Prisons Don't Have Walls."
"Scarlet Fever" Lyrics
I stood outside the Lucky Star
Staring at the flashing sign
It read: come on in and watch young
Scarlet's body come alive
Let her dance for you and catch your spell
You'll swear you can believe her
Be careful not to catch the scarlet fever.
So I paid my fare and walked down front
And found an empty chair
As I settled in young Scarlet took the ribbons from her hair
The moves her body made while the music played
Were the likes I've never seen
And she became the envy of my dreams.
One by one her teasing movements
Brought the crowd out of their seats
And all at once young Scarlet
Danced straight up in front of me
From the moment that her eyes found mine
I've never been the same
Scarlet locked another heart upon her chain.
Now I get Scarlet fever every time I see her
But she's a night club teaser
Not paid to notice me
Yes, I get Scarlet fever
If she knew how much I need her
She'd place her hand in my hand
And dance away with me.
She looked 25 but I was told
That she was just 16
She had a way of making a man believe
She danced for only him
As she tantalized I fantasized
And felt the sound of my heart beat
And every night I'd dream
She'd fall in love with me.
Then one night while driving in
My eyes begun to tear
'cos the sign outside the Lucky Star said: Scarlet isn't here
She'd left that day to find a life
Of bigger and better things
And she left behind my chain of broken dreams.
But still get Scarlet fever
In my mind I still see her
Out there dancing somewhere
To another fool like me.
Yes, I get...