For everyone out there who has explored the entire catalog of country-rockers Kenny Rogers & the First Edition (that’s not only me, right?) — you are not done yet. The recently released Live Vegas ’72 is a compilation of tracks recorded by the band on the stage of the Las Vegas Hilton. It presents the flip side of the band’s personality as displayed on their Rollin’ television soundtrack, released around the same time as this was recorded.
Rollin’ showcased a sort of glitzy Tinseltown pop product, with covers of the Beatles and Beach Boys, as well as then-contemporary hits by Nilsson, Cat Stevens and America. Live Vegas ’72 proves the First Edition could also play it much heavier when left to their own devices. The song selection wisely includes some of the group’s own hit singles, including “Ruby,” “Reuben James,” “Heed the Call” and “Tell It All Brother,” as well as a crunching version of the freakout classic “Just Dropped In.”
Of course, this is the First Edition holding court in Las Vegas, so some current cover material is to be expected. Again, though, the selection picked for the album is well-chosen and contains some surprises. They take on Crow’s biker hit “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll,” in an odd arrangement cross-bred with “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Singer Mary Arnold takes on Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” not a song I would have expected, and Rogers does a nice job on “Me and Bobby McGee.”
The tapes were unearthed by new indie label Maplewood Records, which was also behind probably my favorite reissue of 2015, the expanded Electric Band by the Glass Family. It turns out there’s a connection there; the album was put together in the ’70s for the First Edition by Jim Callon, aka Ralph Parrett of the Glass Family. But the band decided to shelve the project at the time, which in hindsight seems unfortunate; it would have made a more worthwhile addition to their discography at the time than the all-covers Rollin’. (Maplewood Records MWR00002, 2015)