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The Gambler by Kenny Rogers

Album: The GamblerReleased: 1978Charted:
16
  • "The Gambler" was written by the Nashville songwriter Don Schlitz. With the classic chorus lines, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," the song is told from the first-person perspective about a conversation with an old poker player on a train. The card shark gives life advice to the narrator in the form of poker metaphors, before presumably dying in his sleep. Schlitz doesn't play poker, but the song isn't really about a card game - it's about handling what life gives you, what some would call "playing the hand you're dealt." The "hold 'em/fold 'em" phrase became a common saying, and is one of those lyrics that sounds like it must have already existed in the collective consciousness, but Schlitz insists he had never heard it before when he came up with it.
  • When he was trying to make it as a songwriter, Don Schiltz had a much more sensible job as a computer operator at Vanderbilt University. The songwriter Bob McDill, whose popular compositions include "Good Ole Boys Like Me" (Don Williams) and "Gone Country" (Alan Jackson), was his mentor, and Schlitz says it was on a walk home from McDill's office when he wrote most of this song. He typed out the words when he got home, but didn't have an ending. It took him about 6 more weeks to complete the story with the old poker player drifting off at the end.
  • Don Schlitz wrote this song in August, 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. It was Kenny Rogers who finally broke the song loose, in a version produced by Larry Butler. His version was a #1 Country hit and even made its way to the Pop charts at a time when Country songs rarely crossed over.
  • This song had a huge impact on both Kenny Rogers and its writer Don Schlitz. Rogers had three #1 Country hits under his belt, but "The Gambler" gave him the title track to his biggest-selling album. Schlitz 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.
  • This song spawned a franchise, mostly with the 1980 TV movie Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, where Rogers played the seasoned poker player Brady Hawkes, and Bruce Boxleitner starred as his apprentice. It was the highest-rated TV film of the year, and Rogers reprised the character in four more made-for-TV movies, the last called Gambler V: Playing for Keeps in 1994. There was also a popular "The Gambler" slot machine sold to casinos.
  • Kenny Rogers won a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, and Don Schlitz won the award for Best Country Song.
  • Rogers performed this song on a season 4 (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.
  • This entered the UK charts for the first time in 2007 after being popularised by the England Rugby team. During the Rugby World Cup the 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.
  • This song was the punch line in a Geico commercial that debuted in 2014. "Playing cards with Kenny Rogers gets old pretty fast," a man says, before the scene cuts to Rogers playing poker while singing this song as his exasperated playing partners look on.
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Comments: 15

On October 29th 1978, "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #84; and seventeen weeks later on February 25th, 1979 it peaked at #16 {for 1 week} and spent 22 weeks on the Top 100...
And on December 10th, 1978 it reached #1 {for 3 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart; it was his third #1 record of the year, the other two were "Love or Something Like It" for 1 week and "Every Time Two Fools Collide", a duet with Dottie West, for 2 weeks...
The song's composer, Don Schlitz, released his own version earlier in 1978; it peaked at #65 on the Hot Country Singles chart.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Am I the only listener who ever wondered if the narrator murdered the gambler? ;-)Scott - Bothell, Wa
- Dean, it's a JUKE Box as in "from a Juke Joint"Luke - Manchester, United Kingdom
A grand song and one that has got me through 32 years in an aggressive workplace, by knowing when to duck.Shaun - Warrington, United Kingdom
An old simple CW tune that speaks to many people.Jim - West Palm Beach, Fl
This song is played/ sung on the Hit TV show King of The Hill not once but twice!Hank Dahling - Fort Wayne , In
Just great one regardless of its meaning as of poker or life. cuts both ways.Pep - Mexico, Mexico
I know this is a poker anthem, but this song is not about poker; it is about life. The bridge is the thematic part of the song. It is saying none of us were dealt winner of loser lives. Our lives are what we make of them. You have to know what and who to throw away and what and who to keep. You have to know when to go for it, when to fold, when to walk away, and when to run. Classic song with a great message.Shawn - Green Bay, Wi
I didn't know The Gambler died in his sleep.that's the way to go in your sleep.One of my favorite songs! It was used in the Muppet show,I want all seasons of The Muppet show,Kenny Rogers,Star Wars,Lynda Carter,Cheryl Ladd,and Christopher Reeve.Jennifer Harris - Grand Blanc, Mi
What a great song to put on the duke box in the pub. A real drinking ditty. P.S. Guy, they don't 'hurry' the last bar, it's a syncopation which I don't think works as well recorded as it would in a live performance.Dean - Sydney,
One of my dad's friends sings this everytime there's karaoke at a cookout or party and it got me addicted to this song. I'm not a big country fan or a big Kenny Rogers fan, but I love this song. I'm 18 and I sing it every time I play poker w/ my friends and they just stare at me.Scott - Boston, Ma
This song is the reason I started playing poker about 25 years ago. I was a very impressionable 6 yr oldJeff - Austin, Tx
Only compared to a few songs in my walk down Memory Lane...in my Grampa's car which I was in near every day, he would play that too often, and whenever we played cards together. The metaphors in this mean nothing to me-just the beat, the sound and the good memories. Every time I hear this song I just stop what I'm doing and listen.Josh - Toronto
Weird how they hurry the dialog on the very last phrase.Guy - Woodinville, Wa
Fun story song. Replete with evey poker metaphor on earth. Still, kind fun & catchy.Guy - Woodinville, Wa