Big & Rich’s Big Kenny had just finished rehearsals for the duo’s Wednesday appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but he sounded as relaxed as if he was on summer vacation.
And why not? Hillbilly Jedi, the first album by Kenny (whose given name is William Kenneth Alphin) and John Rich in four years, has whipped listeners into a frenzy. Witness the rampant online buzz, with fans adopting Jedi nicknames and critics hailing the mix of country rock and ballads, many of which were written with Jon Bon Jovi and his longtime collaborator Richie Sambora.
“We couldn’t be more excited that this all came together and this is all blowing up. And I’ll betcha it’s gonna continue to keep on,” said Kenny with his trademark devilish drawl. “That first song on the album, ‘That’s Why I Pray,’ is poignant, and the rest are, too.”
Indeed, “That’s Why I Pray,” the only song on the album that the two didn’t co-write but which they performed on the Tonight Show, is something of a narrative of Big & Rich’s last four years. Although the song was written by Sarah Buxton, Blair Daly, and Danelle Leverett (one half of the Jane Dear Girls), Kenny said it sums up everything he and Rich feel about family, friends, and the priorities in life that led to the duo’s hiatus.
“It’s hard to start a family with a brother as a Siamese twin. We have spent so much of our lives together, rockin’ and writing rock and playing,” said Kenny. “We have written over a thousand songs, so to be able to respect each other enough to allow us to have the duality of our families and do some things that important to us says a lot.”
The two partners both spent time nurturing families and participating in an array of high profile charity work — including Rich’s Celebrity Apprentice win and Kenny’s myriad humanitarian efforts.
“I couldn’t be more proud of John. That stuff is hard,” said Kenny, ticking off a list of charity work, much of it for the benefit of children, that they each undertook. “There are a lot more kids in school right now, kids in better places, thanks to us being able to take some time off.”
Once each man had checked some major goals off their individual “To Do” lists, Kenny said they found themselves in a place where “we just missed writing and singing together, quite honestly.”
That came to the forefront when they collaborated on the song “Fake ID” for the movie Footloose and decided to record it. From there, the two began performing together, quickly finding themselves back in the Big & Rich groove.
Bumping into buddies Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora found the foursome with a bit of time to finally collaborate on songs. The result, of course, is much of Hillbilly Jedi, a title that was made possible in part by Bon Jovi who called his friend George Lucas to unsnarl copyright red tape.
“He said ‘What do you mean you can’t use it? I’ll call George. He is a buddy of mine,’” said Kenny relating a response from Bon Jovi. “George answered his phone! He was at the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. I told John when we do these radio interviews we should say we made that up because it doesn’t even sound like it’s true. It is though. We didn’t make it up.”
It’s also true that Bon Jovi has previously invited Big & Rich on tour, but the scheduling stars haven’t aligned on that—yet. Still, with Sambora putting out a solo album this week and Bon Jovi having one in the works, fans might want to keep an ear to the ground for tour news.
“We are talking about some craziness with touring concepts for next year,” said Kenny. “We are going to continue Big & Rich and knock down even more walls, get even more fans. We are working together, putting together tour concepts we want to try that would be insanity. We want to give back to our fans in a big way — and Bon Jovi had invited us on a world tour. They may just do that again. They’re wide open to working with us for this album, too. Who knows? The future is briggggghttttt!”
Find out more about Big & Rich on the duo’s official website.
Watch Big & Rich’s video for “That’s Why I Pray.”
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