♫ Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town ♫

I first played this one back in March 2020 as part of my ‘tribute week’ after the death of Kenny Rogers at age 81.  For some reason, I’ve had both Bill Withers and Kenny Rogers on my mind most of the day … interesting, for Rogers died in March 2020 and Withers in April 2020.  Hmmmmm … 🤔

As part of this week-long tribute to Kenny Rogers, one of my all-time favourites, each night I plan to include a bit of trivia.  In 2017, Kenny Rogers did an interview with Southern Living magazine.  One of the questions he was asked was to recount his favourite memory of Dolly Parton, his long-time friend and singing partner.  Kenny said his favorite moment was in 2013 while they were recording their final duet together called You Can’t Make Old Friends. At one point, he looked up and saw Parton was no longer at her microphone. Suddenly, she appeared by his side, and put her arms around his neck. “Kenny, I think you should know, I could never sing at your funeral.”

Rogers laughed at the memory. “I went, ‘So we’re assuming I’m going first?’ ” He chuckled again. “But I love her for that. You never know what she’s going to say, but it always comes from love.”Kenny-DollyWhen I first mentioned that I was considering Ellen’s idea for a week-long tribute to the late Kenny Rogers, you guys started giving me ideas, letting me know your favourites, and I jotted them all down.  The #1 favourite, with four requests, is this one … Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town.

I had no idea that Mel Tillis had written this song!  The song tells the story of a wounded soldier who has returned home to a woman who shows him little sympathy, leaving him to go out at night and enjoy the company of other men. All he can do is beg her to stay home and keep him company, but his pleas fall on deaf ears.

Tillis based the song on a real-life couple who lived near his family in Florida. In real life, the man was wounded in Germany in World War II and sent to recuperate in England. There, he married a nurse who took care of him at the hospital. The two of them moved to Florida shortly afterward, but he made periodic return trips to the hospital as problems with his wounds kept flaring up. His wife saw another man as the veteran lay in the hospital.  The real couple’s story had a tragic ending:  the man killed her in a murder-suicide.

I also didn’t know that Tillis was the first to release this song, including it on his 1967 album Life’s That Way. Waylon Jennings, Johnny Darrell, The Statler Brothers and Bobby Goldsboro all recorded the song later that year, with Darrell’s version going to #9 on the Country chart. Kenny Rogers recorded the definitive version with his band The First Edition in 1969, taking it to #2 in the UK and to #6 in the U.S.

A lot of controversy surrounded this song when it became a hit for Kenny Rogers in 1969, as the Vietnam War was raging and the song was often assumed to be about a man who came home crippled from that war. Rogers would perform the song in a jovial manner, and the crowd would often clap and sing along, so to some it was seen as disrespectful to veterans. In a 1970 interview with Beat Instrumental, Rogers defended the song, saying:

“Look, we don’t see ourselves as politicians, even if a lot of pop groups think they are in the running for a Presidential nomination. We are there, primarily, to entertain. Now if we can entertain by providing thought-provoking songs, then that’s all to the good. But the guys who said ‘Ruby’ was about Vietnam were way off target – it was about Korea. But whatever the message, and however you interpret it, fact is that we wouldn’t have looked at it if it hadn’t been a GOOD song. Just wanna make good records, that’s all.”

I’ve included two versions here.  The first is Kenny with The First Edition back in 1972, and the second is Kenny sans The First Edition, some thirty years later.  They are both good, I think my preference is the second, however.

Kenny Rodgers

You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The shadows on the wall tell me the sun is going down
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town

It wasn’t me that started that old crazy Asian war
But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore
And yes, it’s true that I’m not the man I used to be
Oh Ruby, I still need some company

It’s hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed
And the wants and needs of a woman your age really I realize
But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town

She’s leaving now cause I just heard the slamming of the door
The way I know I heard its slams one hundred times before
And if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town

Oh Ruby, for God’s sake, turn around

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Mel Tillis
Ruby lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

26 thoughts on “♫ Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town ♫

  1. 👎to the message in the song, but 👍 to the anti-war sentiment. I preferred Kenny with the First Edition, and my favourite song is Reuban James, which I don’t think was ever released as a single. Also love Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In).
    (In answer to your question, everything normal today.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Better than your comment last time I played it! Ah yes … I did like Reuben James, too … have I played that before? I think so, but I’ll check.

      Hmmmm … I must be losing my memory, for I don’t recall my own question! Anyway, I’m glad all is normal today!


  2. Like others, I was conflicted about this song and that final line, but I understood it. It’s a bad situation. They need to stay together as many do for complicated reasons. He still loves her but can’t be the person she needs. What a tale.

    And it starts with him being socialized and victimized — he didn’t start that war, but he had to do his ‘patriotic chore’. Know a lot of guys who were there, including Dad, uncles, Bro-in-law, and friends. But the song tells about the human fallout and impact wars have. We’ve seen it repeated so many times since Vietnam — Iraq, Afghanistan, now Ukraine. Just a small sampling. Hugs and cheers, M

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure why, but through the decades I’ve known this song, the lyrics never pinged my conscience until people started pointing it out. I typically just like or dislike music based on the way it sounds, and don’t pay a lot of attention to the lyrics.

      Yes, the story has no doubt been repeated thousands of times throughout the years of warfare in the world, and … it ain’t over yet. All we need to do is look at Ukraine. Hugs and cheers, dear friend!


  3. I was never really sure what I think about this song. Like Keith I feel for both of them, but the line “And if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground” always disturbs me. However, finding out it was based on a real veteran who went on to murder his wife and then himself has confirmed that I don’t like it. (And I was surprised to hear that it was a hit in the early 70s….I would have put it much later.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many people have found that line offensive, but I just think he’s venting his frustration, not that he really means it. But you’re right … it was written based on a true story where that did happen. Sigh … I guess I just like the music … and Kenny Rogers, of course!


  4. Pingback: ♫ Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town ♫ — Filosofa’s Word | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  5. It may surprise you to know that I’ve played this in a Tuesday Tunes set. It may surprise you even more that I bought the single when it first came out.

    Mary Arnold, the owner of those legs in the first video, had recently joined the band: she won the audition ahead of Karen Carpenter. The audience destroy that second version. So crass.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Funny. When I saw the title, I thought … “That isn’t right! It’s Ruby, Don’t Take Your GUNS to Town.” But then I did a little research and yes, this one is Kenny’s song. The “guns” one was by Johnny Cash and didn’t include the name “Ruby.”

    Interesting how the memory works, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

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