Within the first four minutes of their debut album, Horse of a Different Color, Big and Rich go a long way toward turning Nashville on its ear: Announcing that they’re here to make “country music without prejudice,” they mix a fiddle, a big-ass guitar groove and some hair-metal “hey!” yells and even make room for a Spanglish rap by a six-foot-five black Texan named Cowboy Troy. Lest you think they’re peddling pure shtick, John Rich and “Big” Kenny Alphin are Nashville veterans, which means the album is as long on strong songwriting and down-home twang as it is on genre-fucking eccentricity.
“Country listeners find it completely OK to own an Eminem record or an OutKast record,” Rich says. “I want Big Boi to say, ‘I don’t’ really like country-western music, but this Big and Rich record is cool stuff.'”
Big and Rich first hooked up as songwriting partners six years ago, and since 2000 they’ve hosted Muzik Mafia (Musically Artistic Friends in Alliance), an eclectic weekly jam session that continues to draw huge crowds every Tuesday in Nashville.
“Big Kenny really softened me up,” says Rich, the son of a guitar-playing Texas preacher and a former member of the pop-country outfit Lonestar. Alphin (Rich calls him the “Universal Minister of Love”) is a Virginia-bred cowboy hippie who supports the decriminalization of pot, wants people to say “love” as often as “terrorism” and is happy to tell you that on a busy day at his dad’s ranch he “had my arm up at least 100 cows’ asses pullin’ out calves.”
The two have shared stages with good friend Kid Rock, but Rich’s favorite celebrity story involves a less likely compadre. “I went to a songwriters camp three years ago,” he says. “My roommate was Nikki Sixx. He says, ‘I think Motley Crue played a show in your hometown back in the Eighties.’ I said, ‘You did. My dad was convinced that you guys were Satan worshippers, and he drug a cross around the Amarillo Civic Center the entire concert.’ His eyes bugged out, and he goes, ‘That was your dad?'”