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Kenny Rogers can thank fellow star Mel Tillis for helping kick off his country career. On July 19, 1969, Kenny and his group The First Edition debuted on the country charts with "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," written by Mel.
The song about a crippled war veteran and his wandering wife was based on a couple that Mel had known as a youngster in Florida. "He was a GI who had been wounded in Germany," Mel recalls. "He married a nurse named Ruby and brought her to my hometown. They'd argue all the time -- he was always accusing her of cheating on him." Kenny and The First Edition took the tune to country's Top 40, but "Ruby" actually fared better on the pop charts, reaching the Top 10.
That crossover success told Kenny that there was definitely a market for his smooth pop-country blend, and in 1973 he forged ahead with a solo career. Kenny would go on to score 21 Billboard No. 1 country hits, including "The Gambler" and "Buy Me a Rose," and sell more than 46 million albums.