When Big & Rich are “Comin’ to Your City,” they have one thing in mind. And no, it’s not that.
“We have a pinnacle of a mountain we’re climbing towards; we want to be the greatest show on Earth,” says Big Kenny (ne Alphin), who formed the country group in 1998 with former Lonestar member John Rich.
“We promise to blow lots of things up.”
That ambition has resulted in a twangy three-ring spectacle filled with characters and curiosities — from the 6-foot-5 rapper Cowboy Troy to the championship “chair rider” Tim the Electrician, the midget Two-Foot Fred and Santana the beer-drinking macaw. Big & Rich even made a quick trip up to Minneapolis recently to check out Aerosmith’s concert production and pick up tips for their own future shows.
“We’re constantly focusing on things we’re going to integrate into the show to make it better and take the next step,” says Big Kenny, 43.
All that might render Big & Rich a gimmick if it weren’t for the fact that they take their music as seriously as their showmanship. And the audience has certainly noticed; both of the duo’s albums — 2004’s double-platinum “Horse of a Different Color” and last year’s platinum “Coming to Your City” — topped Billboard’s country chart, and they’ve scaled the chart with hits both spirited (“Save a Horse” (Ride a Cowboy),” “Wild West Show”) and poignant (“8th of November”).
“I don’t think (the music) is obscured at all by the hijinks,” says Big Kenny, who led a band called luvjOi before hooking up with Rich. “We spend a lot of time working on the music; we might cut a song once and think ‘That’s cool’ but want to try a different way, try a different groove. Even when things blew up and we started going 90 miles an hour all the time, we blocked off time to make sure we’re doing that.
“That’s what’s important to us, that when this music goes out people are getting their money’s worth and feel like we’ve gone over and above the call of duty to make great songs.”
That goes beyond Big & Rich’s own material, too. In 2000 they formed the Muzik Mafi a, a Nashville-based collective of musicians, writers and producers who started out by gathering for Tuesday night jam sessions and have since expanded into an empire that’s included one bona fi de star (Gretchen Wilson), a solo album for Cowboy Troy and an array of other artists such as James Otto, Jon Nicholson and Shannon Lawson.
And even though Rich says he and Big Kenny are “country as dirt,” they designed the Muzik Mafia to never have any boundaries on its hit list.
“It’s just wide open, man,” Rich, 32, explains. “I love OutKast and Kid Rock and Ludacris and Nelly. I also love George Strait, Aerosmith and (Frank) Sinatra. That’s all in my iPod.
“We love all kinds of music and we bend it to fit into our brand of country music. We want Big & Rich music to appeal to all those people, no matter what color you are or where you’re coming from.”
The duo also gives props to Detroiter Kid Rock, who keeps a residence in Nashville, as one of the Mafi a’s favorite associates.
“Early on he knew what the principles of the Mafi a stood for and was very supportive of it,” notes Big Kenny. “He set up a few Mafia events to take place around his tour dates, took some Mafia artists out on the road with him. He’s been a real friend and supporter, and we try to do the same thing for him.”
These days Big & Rich are starting to get 2007 in their crosshairs. They’ve been recording their third album, with 13 songs tracked and probably another seven to go, and they’re also putting the fi nishing touches on a book, “Big & Rich: All Access,” both of which will be released on May 15. More touring will follow, while Big Kenny is also working on a pair of outside projects — a musical called “Code Name Rock Star” and “Milk and Beer: Pirate Songs for Sons and Fathers,” which he plans to start as a film and than adapt into a stage musical as well.
“We’re gonna do anything, dude — and everything,” Big Kenny says with a laugh. “Anything you can create and have fun creating it, we’re gonna try to get to it at some point in time. You just watch us.”
Big & Rich headline WYCDFM’s Holiday Concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (December 16th) at The Palace, Lapeer Road north of I-75, Auburn Hills. Cowboy Troy, Josh Gracin, Michael Carroll and Rushlow-Harris are also on the bill. Tickets are $50 and $30. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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