Formed in 1967, this US band originally comprised Thelma Camacho (vocals), Mickey Jones (b. 10 June 1941, Houston, Texas, USA; drums), Mike Settle (b. 20 March 1941, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA; vocals), Kenny Rogers (b. Kenneth Donald Rogers, 21 August 1938, Houston, Texas, USA; vocals/guitar), and Terry Williams (b. 6 June 1947, Hollywood, California, USA; vocals). Of these, all but Jones had met when they were members of the New Christy Minstrels. They took their name from the flyleaf of a book and developed a newsprint motif, dressing in black and white and appearing on black and white sets.
Swiftly signed by Reprise Records, the band enjoyed pop success with ‘I Found A Reason’ and a cover version of Mickey Newbury’s minor psychedelic classic ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’. The latter reached the US Top 5 in 1968. The First Edition was in the mould of the Association and the 5th Dimension, but they had developed their own style by The First Edition’s 2nd. The album did not produce a hit single and was not released in the UK, but the First Edition returned to the US charts with Mike Settle’s ballad ‘But You Know I Love You’, which was also recorded by Buddy Knox and Nancy Sinatra. The band then enjoyed a huge transatlantic hit with their bold cover version of Mel Tillis’ ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town’.
Camacho’s departure in 1969 brought in Mary Arnold and now, capitalising on the popularity of Rogers, the unit became known as Kenny Rogers And The First Edition. The band had more successful singles, including ‘Reuben James’, about a coloured man who was blamed for everything, and a cover version of Mac Davis’ sexually explicit ‘Something’s Burning’. The b-side, Rogers’ ‘Momma’s Waitin’’, incorporated the major themes of country music - mother, prison, death, God and coming home - in a single song. Despite the success of their singles, the First Edition’s albums sold poorly. Hard to pigeonhole, they included elements of country, rock and psychedelic pop.
When Settle bowed out he was replaced by Kin Vassy (b. Charles Kindred Vassy, 16 August 1943, USA, d. 23 June 1994; guitar/vocals), who made his debut on the 1970 album Something’s Burning. The follow-up Tell It All Brother included Williams’ ‘I’m Gonna Sing You A Sad Song Susie’ and Vassy’s ‘Heed The Call’. During the early 70s, songs such as ‘Someone Who Cares’, ‘Take My Hand’, ‘Spirit In The Sky’ and ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ enjoyed moderate US chart success. The band performed the music for the Jason Robards movie Fools and appeared on television’s Rollin’, gaining more fans, although the beautifully packaged double album The Ballad Of Calico, written by Michael Martin Murphey and dealing with life in a silver-mining town, was a flop.
Early in the 70s, Jimmy Hassell replaced Vassy and keyboardist Gene Lorenzo was added to the line-up. Although their next albums were more successful, the band was not progressing towards the big time in the USA, although elsewhere their albums sold well. In deciding how to handle their future the band showed signs of dissension. In 1974, they made The Dream Makers, a television film in which they appeared as a group named Catweazel. They also responded to huge popularity in New Zealand by releasing a new album, I’m Not Making Music For Money, and a compilation disc. The following year, Williams left and Vassy returned but after one performance quit again.
Towards the end of 1975, the band folded, with all members going on to other things; in the case of Rogers, this was to superstardom on the country circuit. Arnold married and managed Roger Miller; Jones, Settle, Williams and Lorenzo worked in the music industry, either as performers or producers.