Rogers moved to Los Angeles in 1966, and joined the New Christy Minstrels, a folk-pop group formed in 1961 which featured solo players. The band included such members as the Byrds’ Gene Clark, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Jerry Yester, Kim Carnes, and Barry McGuire, who had a hit singing P.F. Sloan’s apocalyptic protest song “Eve of Destruction.”
Rogers formed The First edition with New Christy Minstrel’s Mike Settle, Terry Williams and Thelma Camacho in 1967. They added the “Kenny Rogers and” to the band name in 1969. Their cover of Mickey Newbury’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” hit number 5 in 1968, and their version of “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” hit No. 6 in 1969. The group broke up in 1974.
Rogers’ first solo hit was the country ballad “Lucille,” which crossed over to the pop charts in 1977, and won a Grammy. He recorded the song he is most associated with, “The Gambler,” written by Don Schlitz, in 1978. The song spawned a hit TV movie and several sequels featuring Rogers as professional gambler Brady Hawkes. In 2007 the England national rugby union team adopted it as their unofficial 2007 Rugby World Cup anthem. Rogers played “The Gambler” with Phish at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival On June 10, 2012. The song was preserved by the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2018.
1980 was a major year for Rogers. He sang “You and Me” with Lynda Carter on the Lynda Carter Special, ad teamed with former Christy Minstrel singer Carnes for the song “Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer.” That was also the year Lionel Richie wrote and produced Rogers’ song “Lady,” which hit number one. Rogers and Richie re-recorded the song as a duet on Richie’s 2012 album Tuskegee. Richie also produced Rogers’s 1981 album Share Your Love, which produced three top 20 pop chart hits: “I Don’t Need You,” “Through the Years,” and “Share Your Love with Me.”
He also had a hit with Sheena Easton when they paired up for a cover of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight.” Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees produced Rogers 1983 album Eyes That See in the Dark, which included his duet with Dolly Parton “Islands in the Stream,” which the producer wrote with his brothers, Robin and Maurice.