Big and Rich have reached the heights.
To be a little more specific, they’ve scaled some Western U.S. mountain peaks over 14,000 feet high.
The boys say they like the views from up top. The majesty and the beauty of the lands and waters remind them of the pioneers and frontiersmen who first explored and colonized the West.
That’s not surprising. Big and Rich see themselves as musical explorers with a slight bent toward the outlaw attitude. They’ve broken a lot of industry rules, yet that stance has helped them climb to the top of the Country charts. Big and Rich have become just that—big and rich.
It was 1998 when Kenny Alphin—nicknamed “Big Kenny” because of his six-foot, three-inch height—met up with the more diminutive John Rich. Both were music industry veterans, with the scars to prove it. They had been looking to do something different that would reflect their own musical tastes—including Rock, Rap, Blues, Psychedelia, Swing and, oh yes, Country—so they started to form an act in Nashville clubs. Their shows soon drew stars such as Martina McBride and Kid Rock. Even a then-unknown waitress from Illinois, Gretchen Wilson, showed up and stayed. Some of these stars even traveled with Big and Rich in an entourage known as the Muzik Mafia.
By 2004, Big and Rich had written a few hundred songs together. They carefully chose a few to record on Horse of a Different Color. The result?—a string of hit singles and more than two million records sold. Songs such as the hilarious (don’t call it “novelty”) “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” the hymn-like “Holy Water” and “Rollin’” (the Ballad of Big and Rich, which features a rap break in the middle) have struck
a chord with an audience as diverse as the music. Big and Rich say
it’s a whole new genre—something they call “Country music without prejudice.”
The two mixed images of the Old and New West on their hit album. “Deadwood Mountain” describes the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane in South Dakota’s Mt. Moriah cemetery. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are featured in “Wild West Show.” And, of course, John Wayne, cowboys and outlaws get mentions.
The duo regularly performs in Deadwood, where they’ve become something of the town band. And when Big Kenny got married in January, there was no question as to where the ceremony would be held—Deadwood.
A live show of Big and Rich is a Rock ’n’ Roll extravaganza with a feeling of a Wild West Show, P.T. Barnum traveling circus and religious revival. Big Kenny is the ringmaster-cum-evangelist, sporting a Mad Hatter top hat and flashing the backs of his guitars, which tell the audience: “Love Everybody.” John Rich wears the more Traditional Country cowboy hat and boots, and a slick shirt with his denim jeans. Two Foot Fred—who is really a bit taller than that—kicks up the show alongside the six-foot-five rapper (with an economics degree) Cowboy Troy. During a show, there’s no telling which of the Muzik Mafia pals may show up. From the stars (including the Grammy Award-winning Ms. Wilson) to a newcomer—all are worthy to share the stage with Big Kenny and John.
The songs range from the duo’s popular hits to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” to Merle Haggard covers to some semi-psychedelia from Big Kenny’s past life as a solo artist. However the spirit moves them, so go Big and Rich. And they say they’ll show even more of that on their sophomore effort, Comin’ to Your City, released on November 15.
That’s what these guys play with their friends, who allow them to be themselves and ignore the pressures of fame and fortune and great expectations. The wide-ranging group is proof of Big and Rich’s philosophy: “You’re a friend ’til proven otherwise.”
It’s just another part of the big and rich world occupied by Big and Rich. They’ve climbed the heights, and they love the view. They want the rest of us to see it, too.
Mark Boardman is an Old West writer, editor and publisher from Indiana. In his most private moments, he plays air guitar in front of the mirror, imagining that he is Big Kenny.