The Story Behind The Song: ”Coward Of The County”

Kenny Rogers Coward Of The County
Kenny Rogers

Billy Ed Wheeler earned a brief bit of glory as a performer in 1964 by hitting #3 on the Billboard country chart with “Ode To The Little Brown Shack Out Back.” Though he continued his recording career, he has been much more successful as a songwriter. In 1963, The Kingston Trio picked up a pop hit with Wheeler’s “Reverend Mr. Black,” in ’67 his song “Jackson” delivered a Grammy award for Johnny Cash & June Carter and Elvis Presley scored with “It’s Midnight,” a 1974 Top Ten record.


By ’79, Wheeler was writing with Roger Bowling, and they came up with an interesting idea for a song which they targeted for Kenny Rogers from the outset. The idea began during a drive along a mountain road, as Bowling hummed a chorus he had titled “The Promise.” It was a pledge from a son to his father with religious overtones. Wheeler felt that a story with an underdog theme might work and he and Bowling tried to fit that idea with “The Promise.” It proved to be a difficult task and they wrote three different versions before they finally created a storyline they were happy with. In fact, they continued making changes just before Kenny Rogers recorded it for the album “Kenny.”

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