There are so many topics and themes that country music is based on, from love and loss to boom and bust.
Some older countries also refer to the Wild West, the days of outlaws, six shots and poker. The latter was a card game that became incredibly popular in western bars, so much so that a game in Tombstone, Arizona became famous. It lasted a total of eight years, five months and three days and is widely regarded as the longest poker game of all time. While many other games have taken place across the country, few have permeated pop culture quite like it.
However, poker is a great subject for country songs, both past and present. With so many life metaphors packed into its strategy and format, it’s a wonderful vehicle for making a point while talking about something else.
We’re going to round up some of the best poker-relevant songs from the country scene, starting with perhaps the most famous of them all. Keep scrolling for the top four country songs that have poker references and let us know your favorites by leaving a reaction at the bottom of the post or sending us a tweet at @CS_Country.
“The Gambler” – Kenny Rogers
In the late 70s, country legend Kenny Rogers catapulted the genre into the mainstream when he released The Gambler. The life metaphor here is strong, suggesting that in poker as in life, you have to ‘know when to hold ’em, know when to fold’. For fold in poker is to put your hand down and start over, and the advice Rogers’ character was getting suggested that you need to know how to react to all of life’s situations. It’s a great track, and one of the country music legend is perhaps best known for (although Coward of the County is up there!).
“A good streak of bad luck” – Clint Black
Clint Black’s song is also heavily poker-based, but this time juxtaposed with chasing a good lady. The video is heavily influenced by poker, opening with a camera spinning around a table littered with cards. The 1994 release appeared on the soundtrack of a modern Western film, the Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster film Maverick. Black even claims to be a “high roller even when the chips are low,” suggesting he was aiming high even when it looked like he was on a bad run, good run at that.
“Two of a kind, working on a full house” – Garth Brooks
A double, or a pair, is not a good hand in poker. Some people might go overboard on this; others would recognize it for what it is, a weak hand. This is the premise of Brooks’ song; he claims it, and his partner is a couple very much in love. In poker, a full house is a better hand, consisting of three of a kind and a pair; in this case, Brooks uses the meaning literally, suggesting they’re working on a family. It’s a clever use of poker, imagery that everyone knows, in a love song context.
“Losing in Las Vegas” – Merle Haggard
Haggard is another country legend, having been influenced by seeing Johnny Cash during his incarceration in San Quentin. Like his hero, he had a huge impact on country music, and this song about getting lucky in Vegas is one of his lesser known. Let’s face it, for everyone who wins in Vegas, a thousand loses, and Haggard uses that as the heart of his song, while trying to reflect the loss of the battle of love. “I thought I finally won a hand,” he sings, a feeling that many poker players have had over the year. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work; ‘So everything I had planned fell through. This is probably the real poker experience for too many people!