Keith Bugos Talks Kenny Rogers’ Last Deal

Keith Bugos, longtime production manager for Kenny Rogers, reflects on the country star’s farewell tour and 46 years in the industry.

Kenny Rogers
Owen Sweeney /
– Kenny Rogers
American Music Theatre, Lancaster, Pa.

Few have spent as much time on the road as Bugos, who has been with Rogers since the beginning.

He was there when Rogers was still with The First Edition, and when the country star broke after the success of 1978’s “The Gambler.” The two have worked together longer than most in the industry, and have become good friends along the way.

Now, Bugos is accompanying Rogers on one last routing – his farewell tour aptly called “The Gambler’s Last Deal.”

Bugos spoke to Pollstar about his friendship with Rogers, touring with Dolly Parton and his life on the road. Click here to see Rogers’ tour dates.

How does it feel to be at the end of this long journey?

It’s kind of bittersweet. I’ve been with Kenny for 46 years. I first started with Kenny in The First Edition back in 1971. He always took me under his wing a little bit, he showed me the ropes and gave me advice and helped with odds and ends from time to time. We’ve become really, really good friends. I think it’s going to be more of missing the friendship than missing the touring life.

How has touring changed for you in those 46 years?

Quite a bit, obviously. The technology has changed tremendously. The amount of gear people carry, the concept of video walls, digital information and consoles and all that. Just the size of touring has changed.

When I started with The First Edition – if you had one semi full of gear that was a lot. There wasn’t a lot you could really carry. You just had a PA and you had some lights. Now you have 10, 12 trucks. I think the scale and the size of everything has been the biggest change.

Kenny Rogers
Michael Duffy
– Kenny Rogers
Bright House Networks Amphitheatre, Bakersfield

Do you miss anything about the early days?

It was simpler. The most extreme example was when I was with The First Edition. We had our band gear flying around – our guitars and our drums and amplifiers. You’d go to an airport and we had our little Hertz truck with about 30 pieces of gear in it.

The people at the airline ticket center would say, “Hey, we’re not going to handle that here, drive your truck around to the plane and we’ll unload right off the truck and onto the plane.” I don’t know how many times I did that with The First Edition. I’d be in the back of the plane with the baggage guys and we’d push stuff all around, make sure it fits. You’d never ever be able to do that again.

Any special memories of your days on the road with Kenny?  

There’s just been massive changes in these years. When I started with The First Edition it was just them and me. Six people in the band and myself. It was real close knit. We were together all the time, always flying together, always in the same hotels. We always spent a lot of time together, and it was always a good, fun time.

Once it became more successful, things changed. We had time playing golf on wonderful golf courses around the world. The dinners were fun and Kenny was always a down-to-earth person so he was generous as far as making sure we had a good time. The friendship grew to be a really special thing for all of us.

Do you have any specific stories?

Kenny was always straight forward and never surprised us a whole lot, but there was this one time we were at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. We had like two or three shows that night and between shows we would go to the coffee shop.

It was Kenny’s birthday so I asked the hostess if we could get some ice cream or something special for him. They brought out this huge ice cream in this big salad bowl that had like 12 scoops of ice cream. So, we sang “Happy Birthday” and he said, “Gosh guys, we don’t know how to thank you.” And then (he) just buried his face in this huge bowl of ice cream. He pulled his face up and it just shocked all of us, he had the ice cream beard with syrup and everything.

Plenty of great times – playing golf, being back stage with Dolly Parton in Australia and singing around the piano. Dolly would come in the room and she would sing with the guys in the band, and sing with Kenny. So that was special to us.

Kenny Rogers
© Curtis Hilbun /
– Kenny Rogers
Dollywood Celebrity Theatre, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

What was it like touring with Dolly Parton?

It was great. That was the height of Kenny’s career and kind of the height of her career too. She had maybe 40 or 50 shows in Australia. She was always great to work with.

She would come back stage and hang out. Dolly and Kenny were very close and always had a great relationship of teasing each other and joking around. She was fun to talk to. She’d always be the first one to laugh at herself. She’s just a big colorful individual. The bands and the crews got along great. And the crowds were unbelievably fantastic as far as size and enthusiasm. It was always electric when it came time for the show to start. Kenny and Dolly were always fantastic together.

What are your favorite cities to tour?

Oh gosh, there’s a lot of those. The Australia tour was great. We did Sydney, it was fantastic. Back in the days when we did all the festivals – we did the early days of Farm Aid and we did concerts at the Kansas City football stadium where we had 80,000 people. Kenny was always headlining those things. It was always exciting to have that large crowd of people.

What are you doing to make Kenny’s last tour special?

It’s based on a chronology of Kenny’s career. We have a lot of video clips that go way back to his high school days, his time with (The New Christy Minstrels), when he played in a jazz band and when he was part of The First Edition.

If you see his show now it’s a real synopsis of everything Kenny has done in all the different genres. And of course, he plays all the current hits and all the thing like that. The show itself is surreal. It’s a history of Kenny’s life.

What has the reaction from the crowd been like?

Very enthusiastic. People realize that this may be the last time they get to see him perform and there’s always a standing ovation for songs like “The Gambler” and things like that. He doesn’t sing as great as he always did when he was younger but they still love it and they appreciate it. He’s getting older, but he doesn’t try to fool anybody and act 24 years old. He still sings the hits and tells stories and people appreciate that he’s being upfront and honest.

Kenny Rogers
Donn Jones/Invision/AP
– Kenny Rogers
Receives the prestigious CMT Artist of a Lifetime Award at the 2015 Artist of the Year Show in Nashville, Tenn.

What are your plans after the tour?

I’m pretty much done with the road work; 26 years is a long time. I’m also the front of house sound engineer, so I enjoy mixing sound for the show. I think if someone like Paul McCartney or the Eagles gave me a call I’d probably mix sound again but as far as being a production manager and having all the day-to-day duties, I think that’s done.

It would take something exceptional to get me back on the road again. But I’m not just going to be sitting around on the couch. I’ll be working with some companies and some friends I have here in Nashville.

What has all these years on the road taught you?

I’ve worked in countries all over the world, doing shows everywhere. Basically, what I’ve learned is that people respect you if you show them enough respect also. Everyday we’re setting up scenarios for meeting new people. They have expectations about what Kenny is like and that has to translate down to my crew as well. Let them know that you’re there to let them have the best day possible and they’ll let you have the best show possible.

Treat them like human beings and not like you’re some person who’s going to be demanding. You’re going to get a much better reaction from people, much easier and more comfortable if you just have that attitude.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We have a lot of guys that have been working with Kenny for 30 years or more, like me, and it’s because of the person he is. He’s genuine, cares about everyone individually, cares about family and what’s going on in everyone’s lives. He treats everyone as if they’re a part of his family. He recognizes the importance of everyone working on our tour.

There’s never a time when any one felt slighted, and it’s because the kind of person he is. And he’s enjoys the fact that the people working for him care about him too.

(Editor’s note: On July 18 Kenny Rogers announced his final duet with Dolly Parton will take place Oct. 25 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena during an all-star evening that will include performances by Little Big Town, Alison Krauss and others.)