Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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The Gambler

Written and first recorded by Don Schlitz (C&W #65 1978).
Also recorded by Bobby Bare (1978), Johnny Cash (1978).
Other hit version by Kenny Rogers (US #16/C&W #1 1979 |UK #81 1985 |UK #22 2007).

From the wiki: “‘The Gambler’ was written by Don Schlitz who first recorded it in 1978, and charted at #65 on the Billboard Country chart with it. Kenny Rogers released his cover version in November 1978 as the title track from his album The Gambler and would go on to win the Grammy award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980. ‘The Gambler’ was one of five consecutive songs by Rogers to hit #1 on the Billboard country music charts.

“This song had a huge impact on Schlitz’s career. He was able to quit his day job (actually a night job – he worked the graveyard shift) and become a full-time songwriter. Some of his other songs include ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter, and ‘On the Other Hand’ by Randy Travis. Schlitz wrote the song in 1976 when he was 23 years old. It took two years of shopping the song around Nashville before Bobby Bare recorded it on his album Bare at the urging of Shel Silverstein. Bare‘s version didn’t catch on and was never released as a single, but other musicians took notice and recorded the song in 1978, including Johnny Cash, who put it on his album Gone Girl.

“Before he recorded it himself, Kenny Rogers offered ‘The Gambler’ to Willie Nelson, who turned it down. Nelson recalls, ‘I was doing a song every night called ‘Red Headed Stranger’ which has 100 verses in it. I just didn’t want to do another long song, so [Kenny] said, ‘Okay, I will record it myself,’ so he did.’

“The song charted twice in the UK, first in 1985, peaking at #81, and again in 2007, peaking at #22, after being popularized by the England Rugby team. During the Rugby World Cup, prop forward Matt Stevens warmed up for games by performing the song in the dressing room on his guitar and the England team subsequently adopted it as an unofficial anthem during their successful run to final of the tournament.

“Rogers also performed ‘The Gambler’ on a 1979 episode of The Muppet Show. The Muppets were not solely for kids, but you rarely saw such a combination of alcohol, cigarettes and death in a show with such a large audience of children. It was one of the few skits where the Muppets had human hands, as the gambler Muppet needed them to handle his cigarette. At the end of the sketch, the ghost of the gambler appears and joins in the chorus. Many kids remembered this one for quite a while.

“Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’ was one of 25 recordings inducted in 2018 into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, ‘for their cultural, historic and aesthetic importance to the American soundscape.’ Upon the song’s induction, in an interview shot at the ASCAP office in New York City, Schlitz relates the story of its creation and how Kenny Rogers’s classic recording came to be.”

Don Schlitz, The Story of “The Gambler”:

Bobby Bare, “The Gambler” (1978):

Johnny Cash, “The Gambler” (1978):

Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler” (1979):

Kenny Rogers & the Muppets, from The Muppet Show “The Gambler” (1979):