JR's "Son of A Preacher Man" is Getting Great Reviews
John Rich charges ahead with new solo album
By JOHN GEROME, AP Entertainment Writer
Monday, March 23, 2009
John Rich plops into a chair, asks for two bottles of water and downs them both.
"I'm trying to recover from a trip I just made to Los Angeles that was insanity, 36 hours of absolute insanity," he says, then goes into a story about drinking with actor Mickey Rourke, who appears with Kris Kristofferson in the video for Rich's latest hit, "Shuttin' Detroit Down."
It's no secret that Rich, half of the duo Big & Rich, likes to play hard and work hard. His latest project is a solo album, "Son of a Preacher Man," out Tuesday.
"That's who I am," says Rich, who grew up a preacher's kid in West Texas. "I've got a King James in one hand and a Crown and coke in the other. I think we all know Jesus didn't turn the water into Dr Pepper."
"Shuttin' Detroit Down" may be the fastest-rising song of his career, currently No. 13 on Billboard's country chart after seven weeks. It expresses his frustration with Washington's bailout of Wall Street.
"I think it's a way for people to vent," Rich says. "It shows what they are thinking so clearly and accurately that they crank that volume knob."
The idea came to him backstage at a concert with ZZ Top. He was thinking that fans — not the CEOs and politicians — are the ones who represent the real America.
"I turned to my friend right before I walked on and said, `Remember this line: In the real world they're shutting Detroit down,'" he recalled.
The 35-year-old singer, who recently married his longtime girlfriend Joan Bush, has the coiled energy of the kid at school that you knew was going to get you into trouble, but you couldn't stay away.
"John has a really unique personality. He has a way of talking about something and getting you excited about it," said singer Jason Aldean, who worked with Rich as a songwriter at the same publishing company. "He's done things that he's taken a lot of heat for, and then turned around and done things that made him look like a genius."
Indeed, Rich seems to court controversy. He offended gays by speaking out against gay marriage. He's stumped for Republic candidates (in 2008 he released a song for Sen. John McCain called "Raisin' McCain"). He scuffled with heavy metal bassist Jerry Montano in a Los Angeles hotel room. He riled an entire Nashville neighborhood by building a huge, incongruous house dubbed the "Villa Rich."
It doesn't take long to find bashers if you Google his name and check the blogs.
"You find two different kinds of people: People who will lay down on the railroad track for me, and people who want to tie me down to the railroad track," Rich says. "Hopefully, more people are on my side, and there are. But some don't like it when a guy as loud and raging as I am comes blasting through town."
Rich's first solo album, recorded before Big & Rich and after five years with the group Lonestar, was shelved in the late '90s and released later without much success.
"I was all about the art of it and didn't realize I was being too brainy with the lyrics, saying stuff that people didn't care much about," Rich says.
He decided to do "Son of a Preacher Man" after his partner, "Big" Kenny Alphin, was sidelined for a year by neck surgery, the result of being hit by a drunken driver in 2001.
With the new disc, he revisits the traditional country he remembers growing up the eldest of four kids in a doublewide trailer in Amarillo, Texas — a twist since Big & Rich give traditionalists fits with their fusion of rap, rock, pop and country.
"What I bring to the Big & Rich equation is country, straight-ahead, hard-core country music. I wanted to make a record like that," he said. "I had a lot of subjects I wanted to talk about that are personal to me that would never have found their way on a Big & Rich album."
The record isn't as old school as Rich makes out. He closes with a quirky big band nod to Frank Sinatra called "Drive Myself to Drink" about a guy who puts a bar in his car.
"You're probably talking to one of the biggest Frank Sinatra fans on earth," he says. "One record I want to make before I die is `Let Me Be Frank.'"
Rich has written hits for Faith Hill and Aldean, produced hits for Jewel and Gretchen Wilson, and sung hits with Big & Rich ("Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,""Lost in This Moment").
Throw in his gigs as a judge on "Nashville Star" and host of Country Music Television's "Gone Country," and it can seem like he's everywhere.
"John is an artist, so he's eccentric. He's a writer, so he's going to be fiery and passionate and full of contradictions," said Jewel, who co-produced her 2008 album, "Perfectly Clear," with Rich and was a judge with him on "Nashville Star.""I think writers, especially, tend to want to feel their emotions because that's where they write from. He's certainly that way."
This summer, Rich and Alphin will return to the road as Big & Rich and begin work on a new album.
Rich says he's spent his life wanting to do exactly what he's doing and has no intention of letting up.
"This is not a hobby. This is not a steppingstone to something else. This is my destination and all I care to do," Rich said. "The last thing I want to do is take a vacation from it."
John Rich channels populist outrage on solo album
NEW YORK (Billboard) - The medical needs of his primary musical partner gave country music star John Rich an opening to record his second solo album.
Rich told Billboard.com that in late 2007, Big Kenny Alphin, his partner in Big & Rich, asked for 18 months off the road in order to address the lingering effects of a neck injury he suffered when his car was struck by a drunk driver in 2001. "That's a long time (off) for me," said Rich, who releases "Son of a Preacher Man," his first solo album since 2006's "Underneath the Same Moon, on Tuesday (March 24).
"I had a lot of songs I'd written that would never be on a Big & Rich record," he noted, "'cause they're too personal to me -- songs about my dad, songs about my family, songs about personal views I have. So I took that 18 months and went and recorded a solo project."
Some of the tracks on Rich's "Son of a Preacher Man" date back a decade, he said, and many mine his upbringing for inspiration. "When your dad's a preacher and you have a song on the radio called 'Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,' that makes for an interesting conversation," Rich said with a laugh.
But there's no joking around on the album's first single, "Shuttin' Detroit Down," which is currently No. 13 on the Top Country Songs chart and takes a decidedly populist look at the current U.S. financial crisis and government attempts to deal with it.
"The reason I wrote the song was not politically motivated," said Rich, who co-wrote the tune in January with John Anderson and filmed a video for it last week. "It was written as an outraged American, outraged at the government for giving massive sums of our money to people that misused it. I think when you say, 'His pension plan's been cut in half and he can't afford to die,' that's about as hard-core truth as it gets. People are feeling that way all over. As a tax-paying American I take offense to it. As a country songwriter, I wrote a song about it ... and I used Detroit as the emblem for all hard-working Americans."
Rich plans to play "Shuttin' Detroit Down" and other songs from "Son of a Preacher Man" when Big & Rich return to the road this summer. "I think I'll play two to three of them," Rich said. "People are coming there to see Big & Rich. We'll just see how it goes, see how the fans are digging it and adjust from there -- they may want more of the solo stuff, for all I know."
Billboard CD reviews: Wynton Marsalis, The Decemberists Back
ARTIST: JOHN RICH
ALBUM: SON OF A PREACHER MAN (Warner Bros. Nashville)
Despite his haute-hillbilly couture -- think fur coats and plenty of bling -- John Rich is a working man at heart. He's the country side of the genre-bending duo Big & Rich, and this fine solo debut proves it. The single "Shuttin' Detroit Down," which tackles corporate greed ("In the real world, they're shuttin' Detroit down/While the boss man takes his bonus pay and jets on out of town"), is an anthem for middle America. "Son of a Preacher Man" is Rich's true life story ("All-nighters with cheaters and liars can sometimes test your faith"), and "Everybody Wants to Be Me" is an in-your-face look at his ascent to stardom. Rich, who wrote or co-wrote every song and produced the album, offers a closer look not just at who he is, but at who we all are.