Kicks are for Kid


March 12, 2004


Romeo, Mich., native Bob Ritchie has taken a lot of strange twists and turns during a career that began when he rechristened himself Kid Rock and made his recorded debut way back in 1990. Kid Rock’s recent self-titled album is not one of his best. This time around, the genre-busting synthesist who merged Southern rock, country and hip-hop with considerable melody, imagination and wit, focused on one narrow element of his sound - positioning himself as a modern-day Lynyrd Skynyrd, and with less than stellar results.

But live performance is where Kid Rock has always been at his strongest, and the sensory assault of his concerts - complete with fireworks, go-go dancers and a kicking nine-piece band - remains one of the most entertaining spectacles in modern rock.

I spoke with Ritchie - who is hard-working, endlessly amusing and much smarter than he ever gets credit for - as he geared up for a tour that brings him to the Allstate Arena tonight. It was chat that wasn’t supposed to happen - Ritchie had blown out his voice ans was supposed to be conserving his vocal cords - but, as usual, nobody tells Kid Rock what to do.

Q. I hear that all of the singing on this tour is putting a strain on your voice.

A. The tour's going great, but it's just like you said -- I 'm trying to conserve my voice. I'm just not that good at f------ shutting up!

Q. The new album seemed like a real left turn for a lot of us longtime fans, with all of the singing and hardly any rapping. Do you see this as a natural evolution?

A. Yeah, kind of, but I'm sure I'm no different than anything else -- it's just a cycle. I'm sure it will all come back around. Whether this is the end of the phase or not, I don't know. I'm just having fun doing what I'm doing, making music. I really think we're best when we perform live, and I guess it's just having the right ammo or the right guns to take out a city -- having enough diversity and stuff that it not only keeps me entertained but it keeps the crowd entertained, to be able to have a good blend of everything that I enjoy and that I'm into and that I've worked hard to perfect my craft at.

Q. Do you think the new material has been influenced by you playing so much with this band?

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A. For sure. There are a lot of things you learn from having played however many hundreds or thousands of dates. The thing that I think I do best is really from being a DJ. I went from being a DJ to becoming more of a musician and really having a lot of great teachers around me, and then kind of perfecting that whole trait, with the piano and the steel guitars. But to understand BPMs [beats per minute] and the art of mixing songs together, and to also have the knowledge of how to go from A to E, or how to take a minor [chord] and fit it into another song, also having the knowledge of music behind me, that separates what I do from a lot of other people. I can jump from one thing right to the other and have it almost be seamless.

Q. The music media always tends to put everyone in narrow pigeonholes, but you've always had a lot of elements in your mix.

A. Yeah, I really have. Even [on the 1990] "Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast" record, there's a lot of stuff you can hear, but there was also stuff that I couldn't get cleared, from Jim Croce samples on down. But I guess it's been a natural evolution -- I'd like to think that I've kind of gotten better.

Q. When do you know you've written a great song?

A. That's tough. I guess I kind of know it in the early stages, whether it's on a guitar or a piano or in the middle of the tour. I spend a lot of time, late nights, drinking with friends and playing music. I probably spend more time doing that than [being] onstage. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's

bad; I can blow my voice out very easy doing that. It's not so much playing the shows, it's what happens after the shows and during that in-between time on the road. I'm always playing some sort of music somewhere with somebody and having a great time doing it. I think during those stages, especially coming in contact with so many great singers and songwriters, whether it's hip-hop guys or rock guys or country guys, just being able to be in the elite of each circle, it really helps you not write too much bad stuff, because you're always sitting around playing for somebody. In those circles, you kind of get to decipher what's good.

Q. "Kid Rock" finds you collaborating with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Sheryl Crow, and covering Bad Company and Bob Seger. What have you learned from meeting and working with some of your heroes?

A. Just to kind of be able to get a forecast for the future. In terms of business, the friendships are unparalleled, I guess you could say. That's just incredible in its own right, to be somewhere and look up to somebody as a kid and to watch them onstage and buy their records, then become a friend of theirs, beyond the music and the business -- it's just mind-blowing. I feel very blessed, and it's very rewarding. But as far as having a forecast for the future, you can see what to do and maybe see what not to do, and have the insight of things that never get said to people like yourself -- sharing those little hidden truths.

I've been talking about doing a really good hip-hop record next with Uncle Cracker; a really fun, old-school hip-hop record. And there's a record I want to do with Sheryl Crow that we've been talking about; I don't know what it's going to be, but we want to say, "F--- all the politics and just do some good songwriting and make some good music." I'm also looking forward to a live album; I don't think there's been a great live record in years. I've been listening to the CDs every night after the show, and I've got nine people on stage now -- I've got Seger's old girls back there singing and a pedal steel lap player -- and I'm, like, "Man, we've got a great live album here."

Q. As someone who's known you for quite some time, I know that there's a real difference between the Kid Rock we see on stage and in videos and the Bob Ritchie who remains a regular-guy music geek. Do you ever worry about this persona you've invented consuming you?

A. I've seen that happen, and I've tried to be a little bit careful of it, but the day I start not having fun, then I'm not gonna do it. I dare say without sounding like too much of a d--- that I probably have more fun than anybody else I see out there.

Q. So many people who've been hugely successful in music -- whether you're talking about a 50 Cent in hip-hop or an Eddie Vedder in rock -- seem really miserable, but that just isn't you.

A. A lot of people are miserable, because there are a lot of things that are just intangible -- cliched stuff that you can say over and over again. People say, "How could you get tired of that?" But the bottom line is you do, so if you're not surrounded by good friends and if it's not a way of life that you really enjoy, then it's all going to mean nothing.

Q. How do you keep that perspective?

A. I think the main thing is just having to work so hard for everything I've had; it's just made me appreciate it that much more. Nowadays, the climate of the music business, A&R guys are scared to sign bands, record companies are scared to nurture and develop bands and let them find out who they are. That's why we're getting all of this mediocre music.

Q. I have to ask you about your performance at the Super Bowl. I got dozens of e-mails criticizing the halftime show, and most of them were about Janet Jackson's breast, but there were also a fair number about you wearing the American flag as a poncho. You even caught some crap on Capitol Hill, with Senator Zell Miller of Georgia calling you "this ignoramus with his pointed head stuck up through the hole he had cut in the flag of the United States of America."

A. I really don't think a lot of people took offense to that. I understand maybe some of the older cats taking offense to it, because they were raised that way. I wasn't raised that way, and anybody who knows me knows exactly what I stand for, so I refuse to comment on somebody as ignorant as Zell Miller, or the things that came out like that. There's something that James Carville said in one of his books that my brother quoted me, and it was something like, "There's no right or wrong way to express your patriotism." Going against somebody who expresses their patriotism maybe in a different manner shows their total lack of patriotism.

Anybody that knows me knows what I'm about. At first I was like, "I'm gonna take this guy out at the f------ knees, this ignorant senator!" But it was just a joke. There are a lot of people that hate Kid Rock -- I'm out there having a great time, and I love it. I'm sure that pisses a lot of people off, and that's where the letters came from. But I've gotten letters here at the house from Marines who were on the front lines who've stuck up for me, and I know that enough people understand that I'm not worried about it.

It's all about shock value today. That's reality TV. I don't even flip on the TV to watch it with my son that much, unless it's "America's Funniest Home Videos" or certain cartoons. Everything is a reference to a boob job or a b--- job or sex. As a parent, I try to monitor what my son watches and what he doesn't watch. That's up to me to do that, and I think if everyone just talked to their kids and hung out with them, it wouldn't really be a problem.