Ten minutes before a phone call is due, an old joke comes to mind: How do you know Kid Rock isn’t really hip-hop? Punch line: His shows start on time.
Five minutes before the appointed time, the phone rings. On the other end, Kid Rock sounds sleepy and groggy, but he’s ready to talk. For 15 minutes. Calling early for a phone interview could also mean that you’re not really rock `n’ roll, either, except these days Kid Rock is as rock as he has ever been.
His latest album, “Rock `n’ Roll Jesus,” is a mix of classic rock, hard rock, Southern rock, Heartland rock, country rock plus a country ballad or two. Resemblances to his first and best-selling album, “Devil Without a Cause,” are minor and rare: not much rap-rock and even less macho-pimp braggadocio (and not as much low-brow wit, either). Just lots of heavy riffs and party anthems.
In 2008 Robert Ritchie, 37, has stepped away from his alter-egos. These days he is more interested in showing off the music and performers he grew up with - the sounds influenced by Bob Seger, AC/DC, Skynyrd, Warren Zevon, Hank Jr., Run-DMC.
So when it came time to tour on “Jesus,” Rock decided it was time to turn down the porno, turn off the pyro and just play some taproot music. Sunday night he brings his “Rock and Roll Revival Tour” to Sprint Center, and instead of the flashpots and caged strippers of earlier tours fans should expect a rock `n’ roll showcase that lasts nearly three hours.
“A childhood friend comes out and talks to the crowd and plays some music for about 15 minutes,” Rock said. “It’s a way of letting everyone know the show’s about to start. Then we kick it off for about 2½ hours. We all rotate on and off the stage and tie it all together with a big finale.”
The “Revival” will include some old-school hip-hop, courtesy of one of Kid Rock’s guests, the Reverend Run of Run-DMC. But it’ll be rap with a Rock twist, thanks to his Twisted Brown Trucker Band.
“A lot of people love hip-hop, but they don’t like the way it’s presented on stage,” Rock said. “Or they just don’t want to go to a concert to deal with the riff-raff that usually shows up.
“What we’re doing kind of reminds me of `Hail Hail Rock and Roll’ where Keith Richards puts together that great band for Chuck Berry. ... With my band and how we tied it all together, I don’t think Run-DMC’s songs have ever sounded better.”
The Reverend will be one of two guests at Sunday’s show; the other: Dickey Betts, former guitarist for the Allman Brothers. At other tour stops, Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band has been a guest.
“Run just called me one day and said, `I wanna rock. I wanna come out and do some shows,’” Rock said. “I said, `It’s funny you should say that because I had this crazy idea about doing this rock `n’ roll revival.’
“I wanted a couple of cats to go out with me where none of them has their entourage or their own sound people or tour buses so we can keep the prices down for the fans. And that’s who really wins here. You’re not gonna see another show like this for $40 and $50.”
No one has ever accused Kid Rock of being a diplomat with an even temper. Because of some off-the-field (and online) antics, he has a reputation for being short-tempered and impulsively outspoken.
Three times in the last three years he has been involved in public fistfights, most famously with Tommy Lee of Motley Crue at the MTV Video Music Awards in September. He’s also not shy about dissing whoever or whatever he thinks needs it. Like hip-hop, for example: “There’s just not much great live hip-hop. Most of it sounds terrible live.”
Cracks like that have brought out the haters and their hate mail - “I’m like, `Calm down all you white kids with Web sites,’ ” he told Blender magazine. But they haven’t prevented Rock from evolving into a crossover personality who travels freely from one era, genre and scene to another, making disparate pals along the way (Hank Jr., James Hetfield and the Reverend, and even Keely Smith, 75, with whom he sang “That Old Black Magic” at the Grammys Sunday).
You wouldn’t expect to see Toby Keith or Kenny Chesney on BET or MTV or Paul Wall or the Beastie Boys on CMT. But Kid Rock glides easily among all three scenes: He has played live with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica and Phish. He recorded a country duet with Sheryl Crow (“Picture”) that was nominated for a CMA award. His “Crossroads” special with Hank Jr. drew a record 2.1 million viewers to CMT. Later this year Rock will appear on new albums by rappers Lil’ Jon and his buddy, the Reverend.
This knack for mixing-and-matching genres is a product of the two eras of blues that have so heavily influenced him - two very different sounds that, somehow, bring it all back to the various flavors of rock music that his tour showcases.
“When I look back, hip-hop was my blues, too,” he said. “You look at great artists like Petty or Springsteen or Bob Seger or Skynyrd, people I look up to musically: They all have that blues influence. It touched every form of music. I studied all that music, from Chuck Berry and the Delta stuff over to country music and Hank Williams and Fats Domino - all that stuff.
“Today, hip-hop - it’s the same as the blues. It has touched almost every form of music. You can’t turn anything on without hearing or seeing a hip-hop influence, whether it’s music or a video. It’s in the culture.
“So not only do I have the original blues background, but I’m a little one-up on the cats I grew up loving because I have a hip-hop background that allows me to tie everything together and be creatively free to make music that is still me.”
On “Jesus,” the music that ties everything together is rock `n’ roll in its many colors, flavors and weights - “a celebration of American music,” he said - including a little rap.
“I recommend it to anyone, even if you don’t like me. If you go, you won’t forget it.”
And if you’re going, don’t be late.
// Notes from the Road
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