Kenny Rogers thinking about the future

From 2006: Kenny Rogers, not resting on laurels

Is there anyone out there who doesn't know at least one Kenny Rogers song? With 21 number one hit songs, and hundreds of millions of dollars in record sales, it's a pretty safe bet the answer is no.

But, at 68, Kenny Rogers is not resting on his laurels. His latest album, "Water and Bridges," was a surprise hit. This fall, he's got another on the way — a career retrospective called "The Journey."

CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell asks him what music fans are getting when they buy a Kenny Rogers album.

"I think you're buying where I am at my life at this time," Rogers says.

Where Kenny Rogers is, these days, when he's not on the road, is home in Atlanta, Ga., with his 2-year-old twins Jordan and Justin, and Wanda, his fifth wife, who happens to be an identical twin herself.

"When we first met, we decided we didn't want kids," Rogers says. "And then somewhere along the way — it was more than we bargained for."

Wanda was a 26-year-old college student working as a hostess in a restaurant when they met 15 years ago.

"I was on a date at the time," Rogers says. "Tacky, isn't it?"

Kenny liked Wanda's smile, he said, and asked the manager to give her his phone number. She thought it was a joke.

"I threw it in the trash," Wanda says. "And when they all dove after it, I knew, well, maybe it's not a joke."

It was no joke, in spite of their obvious age difference, and Kenny Rogers is the first to see the humor in that.

"The first date we went on, she had this little black dress with a big yellow bow on it," Rogers says. "I swear to God, she looked like she was 19-years-old. And I said, 'Look, let's make a deal. You dress a little older, I'll dress a little younger, and we'll meet somewhere in here. We can do this.'"

It's that good-natured honesty, combined with optimism, and hard work that's worked for Kenny Rogers ever since he was a kid. He grew up in Houston, the fourth of eight kids.

Rogers says his childhood was "great."

"You know, when you're poor and you have a bunch of kids in your family, you don't know that everybody's not poor. I had holes in my jeans well before it was fashionable. We lived in the poorest part of town, went to school in the richest part of town, but I didn't even know until I was in the sixth grade that there was a difference."

When he did notice, he set out to do something about it, earning $900 a week with the Bobby Doyle jazz trio when he was just 19-years-old. The only requirement, Doyle told him: he'd have to learn to play bass.

"I said, well, I already play guitar, and he said, yeah, but there's more demand for bad bass players than bad guitar players."

Next was a gig with the New Christy Minstrels and a chance to tour nationally.

"I went from avant-garde jazz to singing 'Green, green it's green, they say,' and I thought, 'Well, how mundane is that? But after I'd been at it a few months, I got it — now I was doing a show. Now I was making people laugh."

In 1968, Rogers and a few band members decided to form their own group, playing rock, instead of folk. They called themselves The First Edition. Success was instantaneous.

Mitchell recalls watching them on the Ed Sullivan Show.

"You know, Sullivan, for me, that was an epiphany," Rogers says. "I remember vividly a light bulb going off and saying, 'Wow, I've really done something with my life.' "

But that was just the beginning for Rogers. Superstardom was still ahead, after he had reinvented himself yet again, as a Nashville country singer.

"When 'Lucille' came out, it was just, wow," Rogers says. "No matter what I did, I could never be what I was before."

Nor would he want to be. Over the next two decades, Rogers became not only the richest country singer around, but one of the most popular entertainers of all time. In the '70s and '80s, he had hit after hit.

"I don't remember it, and I didn't do drugs," Rogers says. "It's a blur. I have awards right now that I do not remember walking on stage to get."

He does remember the "The Gambler." Who doesn't? It won almost every award there was to win and spawned five TV movies with Rogers in the starring role.

"I'd never acted in my life, but again, success gives you that opportunity to experiment at a very high level, so they surrounded me with a good director, a great cast, the movie looked good. All I had to do was be myself in different clothes."

He followed that act with "Islands in the Stream," a duet with another country superstar: Dolly Parton.

"When I left the studio after recording it, I could not get it out of my mind," Parton says. "Just singing it and singing it, and I thought, 'If this is not a hit song, I really don't know my butt from a biscuit.' "

Another great pairing was Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie, who wrote and produced another huge Kenny Rogers hit: "Lady."

"When I worked with Lionel, he came from an R&B place," Rogers says. "And I said, 'Lionel, I don't want to sing R&B. I want to be me,' and he said, 'Be you, but grow.' "

You might say that being able to grow, while staying true to his easy going, likeable self is the reason Kenny Rogers has stayed at the top of his game for nearly 50 years. That, and a keen eye for the joys, and the humor, of celebrity. A keen eye he brings to another passion of his: photography.

He's published three books of photographs, and, as you might expect, there's a story with every one, including the photos of his childhood hero, Ray Charles.

"I ran into him in the airport, two or three years before he died. I said, 'Ray, I'll tell you right now, I'm gonna shoot with a flash, but I'm gonna use a long exposure, and I'd like you do that little rock thing because I want to get the movement.' I told him the dirtiest joke I knew, and he rocked for 10 minutes. I got the greatest shot."

These days, you may be surprised to learn, Rogers' consuming passion is home decorating.

"More people think wagon wheels when they think country," he says. "And I guarantee you most country artists don't like wagon wheels. For me, there's a certain wow factor."

A wow factor that was certainly evident in Rogers' two-story bedroom, complete with a gazebo like trellis, faux skylight over the bed and a waterfall.

He's even got his own Design Store, inspired by his Atlanta home. One thing you learn pretty quickly about Kenny Rogers — he's always looking ahead. These days, he's building a new house better suited for a couple of rambunctious boys.

"I'm so totally future oriented that, for me, I don't know what the future's about, but I can promise you it's gonna be exciting," he says.

But for now, it seems, the present is pretty good. And it's just where Kenny Rogers wants to be.