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At 36, Kid Rock is generating big buzz, big sales

Brian McCollum
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

DETROIT -- It's hard to write a hit, says Kid Rock. Really hard to write two or three.

But when you're 36, well into a career that isn't always kind to longevity, and you've crafted one of the biggest smashes of your career, well ... you may have pulled off something else altogether.

With his new album making a No. 1 national debut -- the first chart-topper of his career -- it's a good time to ask: How did Kid Rock suddenly become bigger than ever?

One decade into his tenure with Atlantic Records, the 36-year-old Detroit star seems to be hitting new peaks. The buzz around "Rock N Roll Jesus," which topped the latest Billboard chart issued Wednesday, has been massive. Rock has been everywhere: Larry King. Letterman. Jimmy Kimmel. Howard Stern. The cover of Rolling Stone. Partying with Paris Hilton.

It's not that Rock had fallen off the map. But the latest round of attention marks a decisive upswing for a guy whose previous album failed to crack the Top 10.

"It seems like he's a bigger part of the pop-culture conversation than he was before," says Billboard senior analyst Geoff Mayfield.

Rock appears to have benefited from a timely confluence of circumstances: A lull in the national release schedule. Ongoing celeb-column coverage of his offstage life. A beefed-up promotional campaign by his label and management staff. And, maybe more than anything, an album that's been touted as his best work since the breakout record "Devil Without a Cause."

"Everybody has pulled together, on every level," says Rock.

His team, sensing they had a hit on their hands, decided months ago to go all-out with the new record. Manager Punch Andrews says the campaign was a complex, concerted effort that rivals anything from his lengthy career handling Rock and Bob Seger.

It was "probably the toughest fight of our life, planning everything to come down to the week of release," says Andrews (who, Billboard reported Wednesday, has decided to step down as Rock's manager now that the new album is out). "It was a nail-biter that paid off huge."

For his part, Kid Rock says he simply employed lessons learned in his early days: If you want to sell something, you've got to sell it yourself.

"I know a lot of people aren't willing to do that work. But I really believe in this product I have right now, this record. So I told them I'd do whatever it takes," he says.

"I had meetings in Malibu, twice a week -- with the editor of Entertainment Weekly, Penthouse, the American Music Awards. I'd have them over, eat dinner, drink some wine, play my record, show them my vision. That's been the best thing. There's nothing better than word of mouth."

Billboard's Mayfield says Rock has benefited from a unique brand of fan loyalty, akin many country stars. And like those Nashville acts, he's blessed with an audience that still gets its music the old-fashioned way.

"One of the dividing lines now is: Does the music appeal to a demographic that still buys albums?" he says. "Kid Rock is ideal for that."

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