There’s a key lyric toward the end of Kid Rock’s new album, “Born Free,” when the erstwhile, self-proclaimed Early Morning Stoned Pimp and Devil Without a Cause sings that “For the first time in a long time/I’m done paying my dues/For the first time in a long time/I don’t feel used.”
“That couldn’t be more honest,” a T-shirted Rock says, reclining on a couch in the building on his Clarkston compound that houses his recording studio while a video crew sets up outside to begin shooting the clip for the title track and first single of “Born Free.”
“They don’t give you a playbook of how to operate when you gain a little fame and get success. It’s like learning how to walk. You’ve got to figure it out on your own.
“And like everybody else who’s been through it, I’ve surrounded myself with some bad people at times, went through some situations ... And I really feel like now all the bull*** and drama’s out of my life, from girls to friends to anything. And I’m not gonna let it back in.”
There’s no question that as he prepares for the Tuesday, Nov. 16, release of his eighth studio album — the follow-up to 2007’s triple-platinum “Rock N Roll Jesus” — Rock, 39, (real name Bob Ritchie) is a guy who’s navigated the perils and pitfalls of his chosen profession well. The occasional high-profile romance and odd Waffle House assault incident rear their heads from time to time, but they’re eclipsed by his hit-making track record, ambitious business interests that include the Made In Detroit clothing line and his American Badass beer brand, and Rock’s community involvements both public and private.
What he’s actually created, not unlike rock veterans such as Alice Cooper and even Ozzy Osbourne, is a duality — a side of himself that lives an image, and a side that lives a life.
“Kenny Chesney texted — it was really early” in the morning, Rock recalls. “After I texted him back, he’s like, ‘Holy s***, I’m not gonna tell anybody Kid Rock is up this early.’ And I texted him back, ‘Kid Rock is not up this early. Bob Ritchie’s up this early. It’s his son’s first day of school ... ’
“Then I said, ‘Kid Rock, make no mistake, is passed out in a ... hotel room with some scantily clad (women) right now. That’s what he’s doing, but Bob Ritchie is taking pictures of his son going to school.’ ”
SLOWING HIS ROLL
With “Born Free,” however, Rock brings those two aspects of himself a bit closer together.
The 12-track set is light on libido and downplays debauchery. The only rap comes from guest T.I., who forms an unlikely pair with country singer Martina McBride on the socially conscious anthem “Care” (Mary J. Blige has recorded a vocal for an urban radio version of the song.) Rock certainly gets his rowdy on in songs such as “God Bless Saturday” and “Rock Bottom Blues,” but that takes a back seat to an earnest thoughtfulness that’s more in keeping with the Midwestern heartland songwriting of John Mellencamp and Rock’s friend and hero Bob Seger, who plays piano on “Collide.”
And, tellingly, it’s his first album to be released without a Parental Advisory sticker.
This direction is not without precedent, of course. Rock has covered more serious ground in the past — including tracks such as “Lonely Road of Faith,” “Only God Knows Why,” “Amen” and “Roll On” — but they’ve felt like adjuncts to his outsized “Cowboy” persona. Now, he acknowledges, it’s his first and foremost concern.
“It’s kind of where I’ve been headed,” he agrees. “I kind of look at my self-titled record (2003’s ‘Kid Rock’) and ‘Rock N Roll Jesus’ as teeing it up to do this record.”
And, Rock adds, credit goes to Grammy Award-winning producer Rick Rubin, who he finally worked with after dancing around the idea for several years.
“It was all about the songwriting for him,” says Rock, who co-wrote all of the tracks with Twisted Brown Trucker guitarist Marlon Young. “He really got me to focus on writing good, great, relevant songs that were from the heart. He didn’t tell us what to write about or how to write about it. He said, ‘I know you can do this. I know you’ve witnessed a lot of this. The music that you love ... you can do it. Get in there. Come on, keep focus, stay focused, write these songs ... ’ ”
The back-and-forth process with Rubin, in fact, was the most time-consuming part of making “Born Free,” Rock says. The album itself was done in just two weeks of four-hour-a-day sessions in California, usually recording two songs per day — a sharp change from the long, exacting sessions Rock was used to while making his albums at home.
“I didn’t know what ... to do with myself,” he says with a laugh. “I got in plenty of trouble. I was out in Malibu. I didn’t have the responsibility of a kid; he was back in Michigan. I have a nice house, girls. I was out of my mind ... ”
Nevertheless, the job got done — and done not with Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band but rather with an all-star group of players that included Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer and fellow Detroiter Chad Smith, Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers on keyboards and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo on guitar.
“It’s unbelievable how easy it was,” Rock recalls. “I’m used to pulling teeth, pulling my hair out, 15 hours a day in the studio back here ... and then to go out there with those guys and, even if it’s not like I hear it in my head it’s better. They’re just that talented. It made me better just being around these guys.”
But, he remembers, it took some getting used to.
“Marlon and I were like little kids, just asking Chad, ‘What’s gonna happen?’ ” Rock says with a laugh. “The first day in the studio we’re like, ‘What are we gonna do? How does this work?’ and he’s like, ‘We’re gonna sit down and just start jamming the songs.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean start jamming the songs?! Who does that?!’ I was totally freaked out.
“But as soon as it started, I’m like, ‘I get it. I understand this.’ It took one song and I got it. I’ve been beating myself over the head for 20 years, making this harder than it really is.”
Rock welcomed others into the “Born Free” fold as well, getting T.I. before the rapper went to prison on a weapons conviction and educating both he and McBride about each other. “T.I. couldn’t tell you one Martina song, and Martina can’t tell you one T.I. song — but her kids can,” Rock says. “I just felt like, ‘Wouldn’t this be really cool to throw a very classy country singer into here with a rapper, not for the sake of having people go, ‘Oh, he’s got a country singer and a rapper on the song!’ but because it works.”
“Collide” reunites Rock with “Picture” partner Sheryl Crow — “People say, ‘You’re never gonna have a bigger song with her than ‘Picture’ ... and I’m like, ‘I’ll do it. Watch me,’ ” he says — but getting Bob Seger to play the piano part was an even greater adventure.
“I called and he loved the song, and then I didn’t hear from him for three weeks,” Rock recalls. “I’m thinking maybe he’s had second thoughts and doesn’t want to tell me ... And then he finally calls me on a Saturday and is like, ‘Hey, can I come lay that song down for you at the studio?’ And he comes in and I’m like a little kid, here’s Bob Seger playing piano to one of my songs.
“I told him afterwards, ‘Dude, you scared me ... You hadn’t called me back in awhile.’ And he was like, ‘I was at home, practicing.’ Practicing! That blew my mind, too.”
Having Zac Brown sing on “Flying High,” Rock says, was also a no-brainer, given their close friendship and Rock’s guest appearance on the Zac Brown Band’s live album “Pass the Jar.” He considers himself “their biggest groupie” but confesses to an ulterior motives for the collaboration.
“I wanted a go-to song ... so that every time I’m trailing them around and I get up (on stage) with them we can play ‘our’ song and not Marshall Tucker’s or something,” Rock explains. “That’s as unselfish as I can be is to give away a part of a song that I know is great with just me doing it. To share it with someone else, that’s why I’m in this, man.”
KID ROCKIN’ IN THE FREE WORLD>
Rock will be sharing “Born Free” with concert audiences, of course — but not immediately. While he has TV appearances planned around this week’s album release, an actual tour will wait until the new year for the new music “to sink in” with his fans.
“I want to go out in January, after people have had it for two months,” says Rock, who’s announced plans for a Jan. 17 Comedy Central roast at the Fox Theatre to celebrate his 40th birthday with a coinciding concert at Detroit’s Ford Field. Rock and Twisted Brown Trucker are also rumored to be the halftime act for the Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving Day game.
“I’ve got my fan base, and I’m very happy with it. I want to let these songs sink in a little bit and put together this awesome tour that’s ... different from anything I’ve done before, with a stage set and everything. I don’t know what we’re going to come up with yet, but there’s some great ideas being thrown around, and I’m really ... excited to go out and play this new (stuff) live.”
Kid Rock won’t start touring to support “Born Free” until January, but he’s lined up some TV dates to let the world know the album is out. Tune him in on:
*CMT’s “Top 20 Countdown,” 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 14.
*Fuse TV’s “On the Record:” 11 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 14; 4 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 21; and midnight Nov. 22.
*“Conan,” 11 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17 on TBS.
*The American Music Awards, 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21 on ABC, WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) in Detroit.
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