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Kenny and John make it big, strike it rich

By Robert Loy, September 2004

Page 2...

"Last night, we were performing in San Francisco," Big Kenny says, "and we were in the middle of "Save a Horse" and all of a sudden we started chanting 'It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes'."

"Then we stopped, and the audience singing the words to that song was so loud, I could not believe it. And I go, 'Y'all aren't supposed to know that. What's going on here?' So then we went into Ludacris 'I want to lick lick lick you from your head down to your toes.' Turned the microphone around again - they knew every word of it. What's happening out here is that people are no longer listening to just one format."

"I have a buddy in the car business, and when people trade in their cars, he checks the radio station presets. He says 90 per cent of the people have a country station, a classic rock station, a rap station, a top 40 station. They're just constantly flipping back and forth trying to find good music. Everybody's just looking for a good song, man."

Maybe Big Kenny understands these better than most because he grew up looking for good songs, and when he found one, he was too busy listening and enjoying to worry about where he should mentally file it.

"I was born on a cattle farm in Virginia that's been in my family forever. We were at the end of a long dirt road. And there wasn't much music. A little bit on TV. I could remember sitting on my father's lap watching the Lawrence Welk Show with him. There was never a stereo in the house - just a little radio on the table, and at lunchtime, Dad would listen to Paul Harvey and the livestock report - and there was a radio in the car but the only station we got back then was WCVA AM1490, and they played whatever ' was popular at the time. You could hear "Strawberry Fields" and then hear "Strawberry Wine" or George Jones. Then when my brothers got cars, they started exposing me to music. And then being in construction, the shop foreman always had the radio on country so I got exposed to all of it in these crazy different ways.

"That's why we were so lucky to find somebody like Paul Worley at Warner Brothers who said 'Boys, I don't want you to do anything different than what you're already doing. Just concentrate on making a great record, and let me worry about what to do with it after that. Cuz he just believed that if we got in front of people and started playing, they'd get it cuz that's the way we'd earned our stripes already. We were both doing our own thing, playing different kinds of music, but we liked all of it. I always said, "Okay, I finished making this rock record, now I want to make a country record or a swing record - I'm gonna call it 'Let's Be Frank' - or blues or opera."

This all-encompassing approach to music makes some people nervous, but Big Kenny says there's nothing to be afraid of.

"It all comes back to country music. Always. And the reason is because, by God, when music started in this country, it started with banjos and fiddles. Country music was the Genesis of everything."

Wherever one stands on the issue of rap in country music, it's obvious that in order for country music to thrive in the decades to come, it has to hook a new generation of fans.

"Kids come up to us all the time and say, 'Ya know, I hate country music, but I love y'all's record.' That's great, we don't care how they get it, just so they get it. Music has became fractionalized and compartmentalized, and what we're doing is getting rid of some of that."

And Big Kenny is not bothered by Big & Rich's detractors.

"You can either fight the darkness or you can be the light, and I choose to be the light," he explains. "You know I could sit here and I could talk about the typical stuff, damning this, damning that, saying this ain't right - you know what, who cares? I'm not going to argue with somebody saying that kind of stuff. I'm just going to make music and tell people to love each other. Everywhere I go. That's what it's all about...People should grasp the best in life and shoot for that and let go of this bullshit and the prejudices that we've been brought up around. And especially let go of prejudices when it come to music. People need to realize that we have this great gift out here called music. And I'd rather spend my time listening to what I love than just complaining about anything."

"Be the light. Just shine. Whatever your shining star might be, I'm sure that if you just keep stepping toward it, one foot in front the other every day, sooner or later you're going to get there."

It is profundities like that have given Big Kenny the nickname "Nashville's Universal Minister of Love," but not for long.

"I'm changing it to "Nashville's Universal Ambassador of Love." I think the word ambassador is more all-inviting. I don't want people to feel like I'm pontificating. I'm not doing that. I want to show them the light, the joy and the love of the music that I've found. So I want to be an ambassador. I want to carry the flag for love."

In his other hand is the flag for country music without prejudice, and if anybody can make us all stand up and salute, it's John Rich and Big Kenny.

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