Country Music and Identity: a Case Study, "The Gambler"

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Kenneth Ray Rogers, commercially known as “Kenny Rogers”, is a country artist as well as a songwriter and producer. Kenny rogers is most known for his impact on Country Audiences, which earned him a spot in the Country Music Hall of fame. Even though Rogers has had a lot of success with the Country genre, he also was able to branch out and be successful on other charts and genres such as pop. In doing so, he has cemented himself as one of the best-selling performers ever. Rogers was Born in Houston Texas and grew up with seven other siblings. His parents struggled financially. Rogers knew from a very early point that music was his passion, and immediately began chasing his dream. His first step was starting a high school rockabilly band known as the “Scholars”. His first hit was a song called “That Crazy Feeling”. Later on he shifted towards a pop-folk style. He formed a band called “Kenny Rogers and the First Edition” which combined elements of country, rock, and folk. The group produced a following but Rogers ultimately decided to break apart in 1974 and further his solo career. In doing so, he put his musical efforts more towards country music. His efforts were a success as he scored chart topping hits like “Love Lifted Me” and “Lucille”, while also earning his first Grammy for best male vocal performance. After these hits, he followed up with what arguably would be considered his best project, “The Gambler”, which was released in 1978. This earned Rogers yet another Grammy and catapulted his career into mainstream success. Rogers had other successful projects such as “Kenny” (1979), however the impact that “The Gambler” had was vital to how hugely successful Rogers is perceived in musical history, and without it he may not have been the same artist he is today.

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The album “The Gambler”, proved to be very successful as it charted to number one on the billboard top country albums, as well as first on the Canadian RPM country charts. Overall it reached the highest as twelfth on the US Billboard 200. This Album established him as one of the most accomplished artist of the seventies and eighties. This is also due to the success of one individual track which was titled, “The Gambler”, which was the same as the album title. This song also saw high rankings on all of charts and scored number one on the US Hot Country Songs.

The Content of the song is what made is so popular and well received. It spoke about two individuals sitting in a train late at night. Both individuals cannot fall asleep, so the gambler strikes up a conversation with the narrator. The gambler states that the narrator is “Out of Aces”, and that for some whiskey he will give him some advice about increasing his luck. The gambler explains that In order to survive, one needs to know what to keep and what to throw away, and the best advice he has is to never count your money while sitting at the table. He also mentions that it is key to know when to “hold’em” and know when to “fold’em”. One darker and grittier detail was the gambler states “the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep”. After this is said the gambler goes to sleep. What struck the listeners after this song is whether the gambler lives or dies.

The song had a wide variety of musical features which help enhance the meaning of the lyrics. The texture of the song is homophonic. This means throughout the song, there is a melody with the accompaniment of chords. As for the melody, until the chorus begins, notes on the various instruments were played singularly, but there were multiple instruments being played. Once the song reaches the chorus, chords began to be played, and this is what gives the homophonic sound. Regarding the Dynamics and Rhythm, the start of the song was very soft and slow. Collectively, the song picks up and seem to get louder and the beat continues to progress. The loudness and the beat progression happen when the chorus begins and the song gets very loud and layered vocals are clearly heard. However, after the chorus ends the song does get softer, but not as much as the opening segment. Overall, after the first chorus, it seems that the rhythm and dynamics fluctuate throughout. The timbre of the song can be described as light. There are parts of the song, such as the start of the song which have a more eerie and unknown feeling that stems from them, but when the chorus approaches the timbre becomes very light and somewhat happy-like. The timbre is this way due to the instrumentation. Throughout the song, the Bass guitar, Acoustic guitar, drum set and clear pronounced vocals can be heard. At the start, the only thing that can be heard is the vocals and the soft acoustic guitar. Then as the song progresses there is a build up where the bass and the drum set are included. As the chorus hits, the loudness intensifies on all these instruments as they are all combined. This is a verse chorus song which follows an introduction, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, and a chorus (IVCVCBC). The chords used in this song are the one, four and five chords.

These musical elements overall reinforce the gamblers advice, which is basically to be resourceful and alert. These musical elements, from the rhythm to instrumentation give the song a adventurous like sound.

“The Gambler” perfectly exemplifies country music through its stylistic features. It has clearly enunciated lyrics and they are simple to follow. The story that rogers tells is easy to go along with and the message is clear cut, and the message of the song can be related to oneself. The accent of Rogers sounds traditionally southern. The instrumentation of the song is easy to identify. The rhythm is not too fast or too slow and it changes pace throughout the song to amplify the meaning that Rogers wants the listener to grasp.

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