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Kid Rock's ready for classical collision with Detroit Symphony

for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

Kid Rock acknowledges that he may not have been in the clearest of minds when he agreed to play with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra last year for this weekend's benefit concert at the Fox Theatre.

He was actually backstage after an early 2011 concert in Louisville, sharing a drink with one of the heirs of the Jim Beam family, making him a bit susceptible to Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert's pitch to try to raise $1 million for the orchestra. "Yeah, I had a little whiskey in me, a little bourbon," recalls the Clarkston-based rocker. "I said 'yes.' I kind of committed to it that night, which I'm not sure I should've.

"But I'm glad I did."

The collaboration comes to fruition on Saturday when the proud Devil Without a Cause meets the DSO at the Fox Theatre for orchestra-enhanced renditions of some of Rock's best-known songs. Suffice to say that the likes of "Bawitdaba" and "Cowboy" have never been heard this way before.

"I thought it would be something different, to play with an orchestra," explains Rock (real name Bob Ritchie), 41. "I want to do stuff that does fit and I want to do stuff that absolutely doesn't fit and...do stuff differently. It's not going to be how people have seen me before at all, in any regard. It's going to be a complete 180. I'm just gonna try to make it something that people have never see and probably never will see again.

"All I can guarantee is it'll be interesting."

And, he adds, it will be for a good cause. Even though he's never attended a DSO concert itself, Rock says the orchestra -- which is still feeling the after-effects of the six-month 2010-11 musicians' strike as well as a challenging economy -- "is important to me, of course. As a musician, a cultural institution like that in Detroit is important, and I thought I could do something to help."

The show places rock in a lineage of pop and rock musicians who have taken on large-scale projects with orchestras, ranging from the Moody Blues to Rock's good buddies in Metallica. The biggest difference from his normal way of working, he says, is that "there's a lot of people involved. I've seen these conference calls go on with 14 people on the phone. I'm trying to stay out of all that and just be involved with what I do best, which is entertain people."

Rock's chief creative aid de camp is Rob Mathes, the veteran producer, arranger and composer whose lengthy resume includes Sting, Elton John, Tony Bennett and many more, and serving as musical director for the Kennedy Center Honors. Mathes has also collaborated with DSO music director Leonard Slatkin on those as well as projects for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra.

"Leonard's great," says Mathes, whose involvement was so crucial that the Rock-DSO concert was scheduled to fit his availability. "He's so game for this stuff. He's one of the great champions for new American music. Many other conductors would look at something like this and go, 'OK' and be really stiff. Leonard Will have a great time."

But, Mathes adds, the 12- and possibly 13-song show is still a challenge for all concerned.

"It's such a fascinating idea to do Kid Rock with an orchestra -- it's impossible, in a way," he explains with a laugh. "I mean, how the hell do you put orchestra on 'Devil Without a Cause' or 'Rock N Roll Jesus,' not only musically and sonically but in the language of the music?" Mathes' mantra in that regard is to use the DSO for impact rather than "playing every single bar of every single arrangement," which he says is the mistake most pops concert orchestras make.

"I think the good idea is to let the audience hear the band rock and use the orchestra to enhance what the band is doing," Mathes explains. "I want to use the orchestra as another member of the band -- albeit an extraordinary one -- and let them shine in their glory at times but not just let them be this carpet over everything." He checked out a number of live tapes from concerts by Rock and his Twisted Brown Trucker band and also attended a show Tampa "so I could really write the orchestra to the way they play live, not just on record."

Among the parts Mathes has created for the orchestra are an Americana-flavored -- but "not too sentimental, not too syrupy" -- opening for the Detroit tribute "Times Like These" and fiddle-styled violin parts for "Cowboy." For the harder-rocking selections, meanwhile, he's treading a tricky line to find the proper balance.

"You can't really teach that kind of (rock band) groove and swing to an orchestra. It just can't be done," he says. "But what you can do is take the things that are amazing about an orchestra -- the power of the brass, the beauty of the strings, the virtuosity and the grandeur -- and use that to really add to the songs."

Saturday's concert will be taped, though there's no commitment to release it in any way yet. Right now Rock, who will return to finishing his next album for a hoped-for release later this year, is focusing on what will happen on the Fox stage that night.

"I want to make something people aren't only proud of but they walk away from going, 'Wow, that was worth a high-dollar ticket price," he says. "That's where the pressure is on me. Even though I'm not putting a dime in my pocket, I feel the pressure on the ticket price. I feel it on the $300 VIP piece we do at Comerica (Park), so for the ($1,500) or whatever that some of these people are playing, we better make it pretty...special."

Kid Rock & Twisted Brown Trucker perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra 8 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. A limited number of VIP tickets remain and can be purchased through the DSO at 313-576-5111 or www.dso.org.


Five other notable rock band/orchestra collaborations:

* The Moody Blues, "Days of Future Passed" (1967): A concept album with the London Festival Orchestra, which recorded its parts separately from the group.

* Deep Purple, "Concerto For Group and Orchestra" (1969): Keyboardist Jon Lord composed this piece, which was recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

* Elton John, "Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra" (1987): The title says all about this December 1986 concert, which sent its version of "Candle in the Wind" to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

* Grand Funk Railroad, "Bosnia" (1997): The March 1997 concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills was immortalized on disc, with arrangements by Paul Schaffer and guest appearances by Peter Frampton and Alto Reed.

* Metallica, "S&M" (1999): The late Michael Kamen oversaw the San Francisco Symphony arrangements on this headbanging two-disc set.

Web Site: www.dso.org

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