Excerpted and Adapted from
Rolling Stone Cover Story
Kid Rocks Cure For Heartbreak
By Austin Scaggs
Issue 1037, October 18, 2007
Rock N Roll Jesus is Kid Rocks most honest, eclectic, and soulful record to date. Its his State of the Union address, a deeply personal statement that looks at racism in America, empathizes with soldiers in Iraq (Rock visited the troops last Christmas) and also lays bare his tormented relationship with Pam Anderson. During their breakup, Rock assumed a low profile, focusing on his music for the first time in years. Initially, he teamed up with producer Rick Rubin, who gave him a much-needed jolt of confidence. I told him, there are no classic American rockers right now, none, says Rubin. You can fill that gap. Theres no competition, just get in there and do it. Rubin also encouraged Rock to step up his lyrics. I said, Dont say your name in every song. You already covered all that Im Kid Rock, suck my dick, lets get drunk shit. Rock immediately wrote what he considers his best song ever, Amen, in which he points his middle finger at scumbag lawyers and wolves-in-sheeps-clothing pastors. When I played that for Rick, I was like, How about this motherfucker? Rock says. He said, You fuckin nailed it!
By February, when Rock had recovered from the hangover of his divorce, he teamed up with another producer, Rob Cavallo (best known for Green Days American Idiot), back in Rocks Michigan studio. From there, I could do no wrong, he says. I was just on fire. Without sounding forced or contrived, the songs on Rock N Roll Jesus glide through Rocks favorite musical genres: country, rock, punk, and hip-hop. All Summer Long is as evocative of an adolescent romance in Michigan as Bob Segers Night Moves. Cuts like New Orleans and Dont Tell Me U Love Me draw on the classic rock and country he heard at his parents parties. Rock uses his trademark lyrical boasts sparingly, saving up for lines like I fuck hot pussy until its cold and I take strippers out to breakfast.
It helps that Rock is filthy rich, having sold more than 20 million records on top of lucrative touring and merchandising revenues. He owns a house in Malibu, a three-story condo in West Nashville, and a thirty-acre spread in the Detroit suburb of Clarkston, Michigan, which is home base for Rocks fourteen-year-old son, Bobby Junior. The place is like a rock-and-roll theme park, featuring dirt bike and go-cart tracks, basketball and tennis courts, recording studios, a man-made lake and two swimming pools. The propertys many garages house custom motorcycles and a Dukes of Hazzard golf cart, as well as Rocks limited-edition Ford GT race car, and his latest indulgence, a white V16 1930 Cadillac gem that cost more than half a mil.
Whatever you want to call him Rock & Roll Jesus, the Detroit Cowboy, American Badass, the Early Morning Stoned Pimp, or just plain Bobby, as hes known to his friends and family Robert James Ritchie was born on Superbowl Sunday 1971. He came in two ounces shy of ten pounds out of his hundred-pound mama, says his dad, Bill Ritchie, on the deck of his lakefront Michigan home. He wanted to be a big deal right from the get-go. Financially speaking, Bill Ritchie was a big deal himself, the overlord of two Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, and a tour of Kid Rocks childhood home in the town of Romeo debunks any lingering myths that he grew up in a double-wide.
In his Mercury SUV, Bill and I ride from the lake to the 8,000-square-foot home, which is painted white and sits on a hill overlooking a pool and tennis court on land that was formerly an apple orchard. Bobby was the third of four children: older sister Carol handles Rocks books; his straight-laced younger sister, Jill, is an actress (she played Charisma in Herbie Fully Loaded) who lives in Los Angeles; Rocks older brother, Billy, who lost his right leg at age six in a tractor accident, has struggled with drug addictions and is now studying to be a yoga instructor. As a child, despite his injury, Billy played football and was a competitive skier. Local TV news channels documented Billys struggle, and a full-page article on him appeared in the Detroit News. All the attention was always on my brother, says Rock. Hed be on Thats Incredible! because he was incredible. But thats why Im such a show-off.
Bill Ritchie leads me to a barn next to the house, where he and his wife, Susan, Rocks mom, used to throw parties every Friday night. This is a big part of Bobs history, he says. Ritchie who sometimes refers to himself as Daddy Rock is a dominating presence with a wicked sense of humor. At one point during the conversation, he took a leak off the side of the porch. Ritchie doesnt look much like his son, but the two obviously have a lot in common including a predilection for partying. The apple doesnt fall too far from the tree, says Mrs. Ritchie, pointing at her husband of forty-three years.
I was one of those guys that worked sixty, seventy hours a week, and when Friday came, we let loose, says Bill. I built this party room and I was the disc jockey, and Id blast Sixties rock & roll. Id blast heavy country-western: Johnny Cash, Waylon, Hank Jr., Merle Haggard. I blasted the shit out of it! If the neighbors complained about the noise, Rocks dad would tell them, Youre not supposed to sleep! Get up and come to the party! The barn also became a venue for Rocks first performances, when he was about six. He stood there, his dad says proudly, pointing to the top of the bar, with his little cowboy boots on and a fake guitar, singing Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.
When Rock was a kid, his father put him to work, planting trees around their property and mowing their massive lawn. For spending cash, Rock would gather apples in a nearby orchard for thirty-five cents a bushel. His fathers favorite mantra is any idiot can earn a dollar, it takes a genius to spend a penny, but Rock resented his fathers tightfisted grip on the family finances. To this day, nothing pleases Rock more than to wind up his father with tales of exorbitant purchases, like the massive Civil War cannon that greets visitors at Rocks Clarkson estate. I told my dad that the guy wanted $70,000 for it, but he was such a cool motherfucker, I gave him seventy-five, Rock says. That kind of business sense makes his father screw into the ceiling.
When the break-dancing phenomenon swept the country in the early Eighties, Rock hopped on the wave. After he saw the Fat Boys perform on late-night TV, hip-hop became his obsession. I would sit there scratching records all day long, he remembers. Before he was old enough to drive, Rock had become a hit novelty act. It was unheard of: a white guy DJing like a black guy, and having the pizzazz to rock a black party, says Rocks old friend Chris Pouncy, who offered Rock the opportunity to DJ at basement parties in the mostly black working-class suburb of Mount Clemens, Michigan. It was almost like a freak show at first.
Thats when everything started, Rock says. A crew full of black kids would come pick me up and take me to Mount Clemens. Says Pouncy, That was our first encounter with a mansion. We were like Man, you rich!
Rock ran away from home several times during high school, often spending weeks at a time with friends in the Mount Clemens projects. I must have been fifteen, and shit would just hit the fan, he says. My parents just didnt understand what I did. I wanted to be where the action was. I didnt want to be at home, picking apples in the orchard, I wanted to sell dope on the streets, make my money and go buy Paid In Full so I could spin it at a basement party that weekend. (Rock didnt cut all ties with his family during this time his mom remembers picking him up from the projects to take him to the orthodontist.)
Rock says he was the only white kid in an all-black neighborhood. Cops would ask if he was lost or if he needed a ride home, but rock would respond, No, I live up here. The one time he got hassled by some kids on the street, he retreated to his friend Flos mothers house. Mrs. Flo had no teeth and she was drinking Colt 45 out of a fruit jar, Rock recalls. I told her what happened and I told her not to make a big deal out of it, but she grabbed her gun, ran outside and screamed, who fuckin wit da white boy?!
After barely graduating from Romeo High School, Rock moved back to the Detroit ghetto for the next ten years, sleeping on friends couches in the Colchester projects, in Pouncys basement and in Gross Point Park, on the run-down corner of Jefferson Avenue and St. Claire Street. He worked at a car wash, slung crack, and earned extra scratch through his DJ gigs. To growing acclaim, but no big payoffs, Rock released three records, Grits Sandwiches For Breakfast (1990), The Polyfuze Method (1993), and Early Morning Stoned Pimp (1996). Though his name was worthless outside Detroit, and the Vanilla Ice-inspired revolt against white dudes in rap was in full effect, Rock says he was making progress, winning DJ battles and rap contests, upping his profile. His father encouraged him to sideline his musical aspirations and take over one of the familys car dealerships, but Kid rebuffed him. I knew that making it on my own terms, and having my dad be proud of me, would be the ultimate freedom, he says.
Rocks mom helped raise Junior, and she brought food down to the White Room studio, in the heart of downtown Detroit, while Rock and his band began slogging away on his Atlantic debut, Devil Without A Cause. With huge hits like Bawitdaba, Cowboy, and Only God Knows Why (which he wrote in jail after a bar fight, on the same day he signed to Atlantic), the album would eventually sell 12 million copies. When he was signed to Atlantic, Rock also made a genius business decision, taking $40,000 out of his advance to buy the masters of two of his previous records from the faltering Continuum label. When Devil Without A Cause blew up, he sold the masters to Atlantic for a $3 million advance. Somehow, Rock says, I always win.
With the release of Rock N Roll Jesus, Rock is calm and confident, considering whats at stake. Jesus is a make it to the next level record, he says. That or go play county fairs for the next ten years. He believes this is his comeback. Its the best record Ive ever made, and its going to move mountains. I feel more comfortable in my skin than Ive ever felt. I know Im a great performer. Ive done that my whole life, but now Ive come into my own as a songwriter and musician.
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