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Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers Hang in a Tent, Recall the Birth of ‘Lady’

Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers / Photo by Ysa Pérez

SPIN went backstage with Das Racist, chauffered the Black Lips, pitched a tent with EMA, and visited the campgrounds with Danny Brown at Bonnaroo this year, but we weren’t knocked nearly speechless until we were standing in a small tent with Kenny Rogers and his special guest, R&B legend Lionel Richie. We sent a few nervous texts to our parents (mom freaked, dad wondered if Richie remembered meeting him in Vegas a few years ago), fiddled with cameras, and remarked on the Tennessee mist. Then we realized these dudes are old friends and they pretty much interviewed themselves.

Today on Richie’s 63rd birthday, we’d like to give you a gift. Read on for the tale of how the two first met:

Kenny: “He’s Lionel. People get us confused all the time.”
Lionel: “Ahhh my little brother here just has a little problem.”

SPIN: “How did you two first meet?”
Kenny: “I called him on the phone 32 years ago, it was 1979.”
Lionel: “Goddang!”

Kenny: “I asked him to write me a song and he said he didn’t really do that. So I told him it would sell 5 million copes and well, that changed his mind.”
Lionel: [Laughs] “I said I’d be right over. When I did show up it was so strange because I had never pitched a song before.”

Kenny: “He comes to me and says the he tried to do this with the Commodores and starts playing ‘Lady’ and I told him I couldn’t believe they turned that song down!”
Lionel: “All I really played were the first few notes and he just looks and tells me to finish it and meet him in the studio in a week.”

Kenny: “So we’re in the studio and I’m doing the first verse and I’m looking to…”
Lionel: “Oh, I knew he was going to bring this up!”
Kenny: “I’m saying, ‘Where’s the second verse?’ Then someone tells me Lionel’s in the bathroom writing it because he works best under pressure.”
Lionel: “Do you hear what he’s saying? Do you hear what he’s saying to the world? Well the answer to that is that it’s true. The most important part was that I didn’t know we would do ‘Lady’ that night so I was warming up a second song called ‘Going Back to Alabama’ and Kenny walks in the studio and tells me he doesn’t feel like doing that one and he wanted to do ‘Lady.’ Well that’s great, but I hadn’t finished the record! So when the time came to do the second verse I wasn’t ready so… I had to go down the hall and finish it.”

Kenny: “There was another song you wrote me, too.”
Lionel: “I made the mistake of telling this brother I had another song I wrote for him that I produced with James Carmichael…”
Kenny: “You didn’t bother telling me about James Carmichael!”
Lionel: “It was ‘Endless Love.’ “
Kenny: “He tells me I’ll love it and then two weeks later he’s on the air with Diana Ross and that song!”

Lionel: “If that wasn’t bad enough I then wrote him a second song, it was ‘Stuck On You.’ “
Kenny: “I didn’t get that one either!”
Lionel: “I made that mistake with him now he’s gonna use that until my grave and let everyone know that should have been his song.”
Kenny: “I’m offended.”

Lionel: “To redeem myself I have to come back now with a hit record for Kenny. I’m putting this out there, it’s coming soon!”
Kenny: “I don’t even care if it’s a hit. Just write me a song!”
Lionel: “Oh Kenny you care if it’s a hit. C’mon, let’s not get careless!”