Its core members were Kenny Rogers lead vocals and bass guitar , Mickey Jones drums and percussion and Terry Williams guitar and vocals. The band formed in , with folk musician Mike Settle guitar and backing vocals and the operatically-trained Thelma Camacho lead vocals completing the lineup. For the next six years, the First Edition moved between country rock , pop and psychedelic rock , enjoying worldwide success.
By the mids, frontman Kenny Rogers had embarked on a solo music career, becoming one of the top-selling country artists of all time. The exception was Mickey Jones, who had been part of Bob Dylan 's backing group on his first electric world tour. In , with the help of Terry Williams' mother, who worked for producer and executive Jimmy Bowen , they signed with Reprise and recorded their first single together, "I Found a Reason", which had minor sales.
Like much of the work by the original lineup, this was a distinctly contemporary composition with an intensely performed Mike Settle vocal. Settle had first come up with the idea of forming the band as his work took on the characteristics of rock.
Over the previous seven years, Settle had been writing decidedly more folk-oriented songs, most notably the oft-covered "Sing Hallelujah". The single, with an arrangement by their producer, Mike Post , had Glen Campbell playing the backward guitar intro and Mike Deasy providing various psychedelic sounds.
It became a hit early in , climbing to No. Terry Williams played the solo that later led Jimi Hendrix to tell Rogers that it was his favorite record. The group's next three single releases failed commercially, as did their second album. The release " But You Know I Love You " composed by Settle possessed a distinctive brass-tinged country-folk sound, broadening their fan base.
In the group's rendition on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour that aired on 8 December , the audience was unwittingly fooled into applauding too soon, right after the false ending but way before the real ending. The record peaked at No. According to Mickey Jones' book That Would Be Me , Thelma was fired from the group in late soon after the release of "But You Know I Love You" and the aforementioned Smothers Brothers television appearance, but before the record would chart on the Hot , after missing too many gigs and rehearsals.
For her part Thelma did not see it the same way. She has stated that while she always loved being with them in the studio, the road was too hard on her from a health and personal standpoint.
Slowly growing apart from the others, Camacho began to feel restricted by the band in a number of ways. All agreed that the situation could not continue, and she was replaced by her roommate, Mary Arnold , an Iowa-born singer who beat out newcomer Karen Carpenter for the job. Arnold made her debut on "Reuben James". By the end of the decade Rogers had long brown hair, an earring, and pink sunglasses. Known affectionately in retrospect as "Hippie Kenny", Rogers had a notably smoother vocal style at the time. The song was the global hit and established the First Edition's longevity in the business.
Mickey's drumming was part of the hook. At Rogers' shows the song was often clapped along to, or joked around with, but it was meant seriously at the time. Telling the graphic story of a crippled veteran was admirably daring at the height of America's involvement with the war in Vietnam.
The song lyrics were originally meant to address the Korean War , albeit in such a vague way that it could have referred to Korea, Vietnam, or even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The song was picked up by some of the more attuned disc jockeys, and there was suddenly great demand to release the final track recorded for, and included on, the First Edition '69 album. When "Ruby" became the hit, the name stuck. Terry later said that this made him feel like one of Gladys Knight 's Pips.
A man Rogers at first took to be a rude fan first pitched "Reuben James" to Rogers at a golf match. The man, who turned out to be a song pitcher for American songwriter Alex Harvey, followed him around the greens singing the song until Rogers listened. Rogers loved the song's look at a black man raising a white boy and agreed to record it.
During his absence he was replaced by Kin Vassy. Vassy's style was a little more edgy than Settle's, allowing the band to explore different areas. It was now that Kenny and Terry, by default, became the leaders of the band. Kenny was in charge of the records, and Terry would take control of their stage presentation. The group continued to record country, rock, and folk by fairly equal measures, blurring the lines among the genres.
Along with Jerry Lee Lewis , Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley , their records in the late s brought country music to the city and rock and roll to the country. Even if Jones had not also discovered Don Henley , the First Edition should get credit for being pioneers of a more modern blend of rockabilly called country rock. A blatantly sexual song, it was slightly hindered chart-wise by the controversy surrounding it.
Regardless, Kenny's soft voice on verses and rock shouting on the chorus earned the group much acclaim. Meanwhile, Terry Williams had begun to record some solo singles. A number of folk rock songs met with little success. He later switched to a more teen-oriented bubblegum sound that their manager Ken Kragen felt would appeal to his fans.
The title track also written by Harvey , which dealt with love and brotherhood, was a national top 20 hit and topped WRKO 's August 13, top 30 survey for one week. It was the first of many songs Kenny would sing e. Released a month or so after the Kent State shootings , the song drew a standing ovation the night it debuted live. In addition to the band's continuing frequent appearances on television, songs by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition were featured in two films.
First up was the never released on record "If Nobody Loved" for the camp political comedy Flap. The Fools soundtrack was released in Another song about the need for brotherhood, it was seen as an uptempo counterpart to the balladry of "Tell It All Brother. Though scoring high on the easy listening charts, "Someone Who Cares" failed to reach the pop top fifty. This ushered in a period during which the First Edition attempted to retool its image. Keyboard player John Hobbs was briefly in the lineup, but, though he played on future recordings, was not in the group long enough to appear on any album covers or publicity photos.
The special provided an unusually in-depth look at the group, all of whom were at ease speaking in front of the camera. In mid the First Edition released a gospel single called "Take My Hand", which barely scraped into the bottom of the charts. After the success of a pilot shot in late , the fall of saw Kenny Rogers and the First Edition become hosts of their own television series Rollin' on the River.
Later to be shortened to Rollin , this was a variety show that was taped in Canada taking advantage of recently imposed Canadian content requirements which geared itself toward rock, blues, and folk performers and groups. The show also gave the First Edition a chance to do the comedy Kenny and Terry had long made a part of their act.
Though it got good ratings, Rollin did have one ill side effect: the First Edition were now seen as television personalities instead of recording stars. It was the first First Edition 45 not to chart since Recorded over six months in , and released in March , The Ballad of Calico was written by future star Michael Murphey and the First Edition's musical director and arranger Larry Cansler.
Cansler replaced Hobbs on stage during this period, but despite his large creative role here, and on Rollin' on the River, he was not promoted on either as a member of the group. The album was a country rock opera about a late 19th-century mining town, but unlike most like-minded projects of the era, all of the songs were based on fact. The sleeve and booklet of this two-LP set had genuine and period-styled photos depicting the era, with all of the lyrics presented in hand-written script. The music was critically well received, with all of the group outside of Mickey taking at least one lead.
The song chosen for a single was "School Teacher," an acoustic rhythm and blues song with a lead by Kin. In retrospect it's easy to understand the probable reasons the artistically valid "School Teacher" didn't get past No.
Putting out a First Edition single where Rogers was not prominent had already shown itself to be a gamble, plus lyrics written to reflect the sexist views of the 19th century sounded odd outside of the LP's concept. Frustrated by the falling sales the album hardly sold at all , Vassy began to let a drinking habit get out of control.
Jimmy Hassell joined the group about six months later to replace Kin. Lorenzo was a keyboard and piano virtuoso. Hassell was a hard rock singer similar to Vassy, and physically resembled a friend of Terry's, actor Gary Busey. Both fit in well, without making the public impression of the original members. Around the time the new members hopped on board, Rogers formed his own label, Jolly Rogers distributed by MGM , Rogers retained the name when he started his own publishing company as a solo artist and the group left Reprise. The third single from the album, a version of Merle Haggard 's "Today I Started Loving You Again" reached the lower regions of the country charts in mid Then came a soundtrack from Rollin'.
Now in its second year, an album of live versions of the "Calico" songs and hits like "Ruby," "Reuben James" and "Just Dropped In" could have sold quite well, bringing proven hits to the Jolly Rogers label at the same time.
The album did not check the group's declining sales, and the TV show was soon canceled. The group increasingly played on the county fair circuit. It was decided that a new image far away from their TV persona was required.
Monumental tried to give them just this. Combining a wide variety of styles, it ranged from a Rogers-written rocker about prostitute "Morgana Jones" later rerecorded by Rogers for his album The Gambler in to the nostalgic "42nd Street.
As he would continue to do in his solo career, Rogers cloaked some mature subject matter with a gentle delivery. The Dr. Though in tune with other music of the day, Monumental was one of their biggest sales failures in the United States, but in New Zealand it went gold.
Following on the local success of "Rollin'" and the understated ballad "Lady, Play Your Symphony," Kenny's rocking nursery rhyme "Lena Lookie" went to number six, and the group embarked on three New Zealand tours over the next two years.
As their domestic popularity continued to decline, Terry wanted to focus on the hard rockers that had done so well for them overseas. Kenny disagreed, wanting a more conservative agenda.
Kenny admitted in his book Making It with Music, that he perhaps should not have complained about MGM's poor distribution on a radio show, but despite their mounting problems, New Zealand continued to consider the First Edition as superstars. The problem was that they had to go halfway around the world to benefit from their success, and travel expenses ate a big chunk out of their profits.
The US LP was basically going to be the same but with two new cuts replacing the two songs reused from "Monumental. A mix of new songs and remakes possibly done because some songs were not available in New Zealand , "Love Woman" was now a hard rock jam featuring Jimmy on lead.
This arrangement was borrowed from the band's stage performances of Bill Haley 's "Rockin' Through the Rye". It was the band's ironic last single. It charted well, but again only in New Zealand.