Kid Rock: The Kid Stays in the Picture

Sure, he writes ballads about his ten-year-old son. But that doesn't mean the dirt-rock pimp has ripped the stripper pole out of his basement

Kid Rock in 2004. Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

A tour of Kid Rock's home studio outside Detroit pretty much confirms the obvious: Yes, he is having a lot more fun than you are. Let's pick a random room. Here's the garage. Parked on the black-and-white tiled floor is a stunning custom motorcycle. In one corner sits a photo booth emblazoned with the words HOT BABES; in another, two slot machines — the real Vegas kind. In the middle of the garage is a couch in bachelor black leather, which has handy cup holders. It faces a huge flat-screen TV with built-in wall speakers.

There's one car in the garage, and it's — cue choir music! — the actual shiny orange General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard. "Cool, right?" says genial host Rock, otherwise known as Bob Ritchie. He's wearing a western shirt, his skinny hips clad in a pair of jeans. "And I got a General Lee golf cart for Christmas." The cart, which once belonged to Waylon Jennings, was a gift from his buddy Hank Williams Jr. He also got a snowblower from his dad. Oh, and from his go-to guy, known simply as Shakes, he received an AR-15 — a semiautomatic rifle.

The studio, housed within Rock's forty-five-acre compound, is where he wrote and recorded his new album, Kid Rock, a disc of exuberant Southern rock that follows in the bluesy footsteps of ZZ Top and Skynyrd, down to a thematic update of "What's Your Name" called "Rock and Roll," a love-me-baby-before-the-bus-leaves tune with the memorable invitation to "Take your shirt off, bitch, and chop me a line." "It's so direct and offensive and terrible, it sums up rock & roll," Rock says, cackling.

Kid Rock is easily his finest album, from the swaggering funk of "Black Bob" to the raucous, self-explanatory "Hillbilly Stomp," with drop-in guest Billy Gibbons. There are also a record six ballads, including "Single Father," an ode to his ten-year-old son, Robert Ritchie Jr. For his U.S. tour, which commences this month, Rock plans to show some footage of himself and Junior "when he was two years old, at birthday parties and what-not, and just sing that song with a guitar. I want to watch everybody pull out their tissues." He lights up one of his ever-present smokes.

Could it be that the man who wrote "Balls in Your Mouth" is becoming a sensitive guy? "You write a couple of slow songs and you're sensitive," he says with a dismissive wave. "You wouldn't call me sensitive if we were sitting here drunk and it was two in the morning."

Rock loves the raunch, but he's also a self-described "God-fearing man" who is researching churches in his area to attend with his son. He leans to the right politically and has become a tireless advocate for the military, visiting the troops in Iraq and in Germany, where he partied with the soldiers until the wee hours. Rock even appeared on CNN to drum up support for them. "They're putting their lives on the line for our freedoms," Rock told Wolf Blitzer. (Lest you think he is too earnest, later in the interview he voiced his approval of gay marriage. "That just leaves more chicks for me and you, Wolf," he said to the startled host.)

If Rock will not cop to being more sensitive, he will allow that, at thirty-three, he has matured. "Last week I was on this Canadian channel, MuchMusic, on their version of TRL, and I felt so out of place," he says. "I don't feel comfortable doing those things anymore. I'm not fuckin' twenty-one years old. I look at these older acts who want to connect with the youth, and I know I'm right on the border, where I could be still connected with the youth or just grow with my audience."

He has opted for the latter, though he's not entirely comfortable with it. "KROQ in L.A., they're way too cool to play Kid Rock," he carps of the nation's most influential alternative-rock station. "Well, you can take your cool shit and stuff it up your ass! We'll see who's around in twenty years!" Rock has been here before; his previous album, Cocky, got off to what could politely be termed a slow start until — two and a half months later — his duet with Sheryl Crow, "Picture," was championed by both pop and country radio, and Cocky hit Number Three. Initially, his label didn't even want to put the song on the CD, but he says, "As soon as we recorded it, I knew that was a monster." He heads downstairs to show off the studio's rec room. A huge pool table dominates the space, and above the bar there's a neon Colt 45 mirror. A guitar shaped like a trailer leans against the wall. The only woman's touch would be a stripper pole in the corner with a light-up stage.

"Picture" helped Cocky zoom to quadruple-platinum and earned Rock his first nomination from the Country Music Television awards, for Best Male Video. Rock, who prizes his Johnny Cash albums as much as he does his Run-DMC, performed the song at the ceremony. "I love the country stuff — people are so nice," he says. "It's a community. It's like hip-hop, but the only beef is Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks."

Rock includes another duet with Crow on his new release, and he has already begun writing songs for an upcoming album with her. It is brought up that everyone thinks they're, you know, doing it. "Me and Sheryl are friends," he says, heading upstairs. In the hallway, he passes one of the many photos of Joe C., his dwarf sidekick who died in 2000, that adorn the walls. "I don't want to talk about her personal life, but she's got a boyfriend. We love to make music together — and have so much fun doing it — but we're friends." He shakes his head, "No one believes it."

And what of Pamela Anderson, his former fiancée, the one for whom he had given up strip clubs and hunting? It was reported that when she showed up at the taping of Rock's recent Christmas special on VHI, a hollering fest broke out between Anderson and Rock's mother and sister. And Anderson recently said that she considers herself single. Rock refuses to comment on their ever-fluctuating relationship. "I know this routine," he says. "You can try. I don't want to talk about my personal life." That said, we walk past a box in the hallway. It's from California, and the return address says, "P. Anderson," and whatever's inside — a present? stuff to be returned? — the box sits unopened.

Rock continues onward for a tour of his converted barn. It's stylish and cozy, with cowhide chairs and a skylight. One corner houses a collection of instruments. He and his Twisted Brown Trucker band sometimes come here to rehearse. "We're learning how to play stripped-down," he says. "Right now, the music is the most important thing." He sifts through some tattered albums and puts Big Daddy Kane on the turntable. "I got away with a lot of stuff when I was still crafting my singing and whatnot," he says. "If I got backed into a corner, I could go" — he whispers — "'Light the fuckin' pyro.' Or yell, 'My name is Kiiiiid!' And now I want to play on the level of people I really respect — Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty. So we'll cut back on the pyro, but we'll still have it in the right places."

That said, you can still expect Rock's pimp-tastic showmanship. "Sometimes I wonder, do I look corny when I come out in my Uncle Sam suit or my fur?" he says, plopping onto a red couch and fishing for more cigarettes. "Well, this year I was watching ZZ Top, and they came out in these full purple-and-gold beaded ponchos, and I was like, 'This is the best thing I ever saw. I'm doing the right thing."'

Rock has never been shy and retiring. Raised in the Detroit suburb of Romeo, Michigan, by his father, Bill, a car salesman, and mother, Susan, a homemaker, he earned his hip-hop cred DJ'ing at basement parties in Detroit before releasing his first album and landing a gig opening for Ice Cube at the age of eighteen. "I remember in Dallas, some Rasta kids throwing quarters at me," he says. "And I mooned them, and the whole crowd laughed their ass off. Then I went over and got on my turntables, and the crowd was like, 'Yeeeah! The white boy's got talent!"' His wheezy cackle dissolves into a hack. "That's always been my thing: proving everybody wrong." He moved briefly to Brooklyn and New Jersey when he was in his late teens and dabbled in, among other things, heroin. "I was doing a lot of drugs for a while," he says. "But we were just being kids, too. I used to love hallucinogens. Mushrooms. Dots. I loved acid — take a hit of acid before school. Although I usually liked to be in the living room with a couple of friends, a couple of movies and a case of beer." (For acid aficionados, Rock recommends renting Freaks, the 1932 movie about a traveling-circus sideshow.)

To supplement his income in those early years, he worked in a car wash, and for a couple of weeks he was a stock boy at Kmart in order to filch a keyboard. ("I waited for them to lock up, took it out to the Dumpster, then I went back and got it.") After being dropped by his first label, he eventually ended up putting out his own albums. His live following helped lead to a major-label release for Devil Without a Cause in 1998.

Six years and 18 million albums later, he is brimming with projects. He is going to record a disc of old-school hip-hop with his pal Uncle Kracker in between pairing with Crow; and those who follow his acting career will be glad to hear that a sequel to Joe Dirt is in the works. Rock is constantly working, partly because of a creative restlessness and, to a lesser degree, because of his worst fear: "I'm terrified of being famous and broke," he says. "I worked so hard to get here, got kicked down so many times and stood back up, and always believed in myself. And I got to see a lot along the way, and I saw what not to do. I was raised halfway decent; I give some credit to my parents. People say, 'You still live where you're from.' I'm sure that has something to do with it, but I feel like I could live smack-dab underneath the Hollywood sign and still be who I am."

And these days, that would be a bratty hip-hop punk who finds himself in his midthirties. He recently gave his son the birds-and-the-bees chat. "I got a book called Hair in Funny Places," he says. "We read the book, and then there was a Q&A period. I was on about my fourth beer at that point. He was laughing; I was embarrassed. I don't think he knew what a blow job was or when a girl has her period. I just know he's going to get things said to him and be expected to know — because of who I am. I don't want him to be ignorant."

Rock also ran up against a generation gap when he encountered a teen in a parking lot recently. "As I'm coming out of Best Buy," he says, "some kid said, 'Kid Rock's a fag,' and drove off." He throws back his head and laughs. "I mighta done the same thing when I was that age! I said, 'That was pretty good. I'm actually pissed off right now. That kid got my goat."' He chuckles and lights another smoke. "Fucker," he mutters.