Laughing all the way to the bank

With his multiplatinum bombshell "Devil Without A Cause" riding high on the charts and his party-boy mug plastered all over MTV, rap-metal court jester Kid Rock is sitting on top of the white-trash heap. It may have been a steep climb, but Kid has endured, and now his "fire it up" mind-set is paying off with sold-out concerts and rabid fans eager for a piece of the Rock.

Born Bob Ritchie, Rock got his start as a 13-year-old Romeo, Michigan boy, DJ-mixing shows in his head while cutting the grass. His virtual playlist -- like his musical tastes -- ran the gamut: George Jones, Fleetwood Mac and rappers Run DMC.

"At the time I had no idea how weird it was to listen to my parents' Jim Croce records and then listen to hip-hop music and enjoy it all. As an independent artist I bitched for years about (how segmented) radio has become. Then one day I woke up and decided to do something about it by making songs (fusing rock and hip-hop) that I think are cool and getting' 'em played on the radio," says Rock.

Growing up in a middle-class family, Rock had all the nice material things: a car at 16 and a mother who made his lunch every day. But when Rock started to work as hip-hop DJ spinning records for black dance parties, his parents made it clear that they thought he wandered to the wrong side of the tracks.

Rock says, "My brother was in drug rehab. So with that weirdness already in place, they basically kicked me out of the house."

Rock went to live in the projects of nearby Mount Clemens where he was something of a novelty as a white rapper. The story he tells of winning acceptance echoes that of white, blues harp veteran Charlie Musselwhite who grew up under the wing of Muddy Waters on the south side of Chicago.

Bottom line, Rock says: "They accepted me because I never tried to act black and I was good at the turn tables."

Getting a record contract proved to be more difficult as Rock was coming up through the ranks at about the same time as Vanilla Ice was spoiling things for other white rappers.

Rock, however signed to Jive Records and sold over 100,000 copies of his 1990 debut "Grits Sandwiches For Breakfast."

"I was never a priority at Jive. And since there were (unprintable) lyrics on every song there was really no way to do a video or put out a single," says Rock who was dropped soon after.

The success of "Grits Sandwiches" put a little jingle into his pocket, and still too young to handle the situation, Rock plunged into a life of drugs and partying.

"Yeah," says Rock. "I went through the whole drug thing. I didn't get as deep into heroin as my friends. I never booted the stuff. But we did our share of snorting it and smokin' rocks and drinkin' Robitussin and droppin'' acid. It came to a point where I was lying to people and spending too much money on drugs."

Despite the distractions Rock managed to put out his second record "The Polyfuze Method" in 1992 on indie label Continuum and an EP "Fire It Up" in '94.

"I am not totally clean now. But what I do have is a balance in my life. I love music too much and I didn't want drugs to become my life," Rock says.

When Continuum shut its doors, Rock took matters into his own hands and established Top Dog Records, self releasing "Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp" in 1996. The album sold in sufficient numbers to allow Rock to purchase a home in the Royal Oak neighborhood of Detroit and to win the custody of his son.

Impressed by the numbers, Lava/Atlantic Records signed Rock to a major label deal last year and released the wildly eclectic "Devil Without A Cause." Buoyed by Rock's wild, live shows, The label got to work and placed songs on MTV's "Beach House," ESPN's "X-Games" and on ABC's "Wild World of Sports."

Along with midget rappers, strippers and pyrotechnics Rock livens the shows by hopping around from drums to organ to guitar; a trick he borrowed after seeing Hank Williams Jr. go from piano to fiddle while performing "All My Rowdy Friends."

"I get on the turn tables and do my crazy scratch with my chin and elbows. Then I jump on the guitar and start riffin' out with the drummer and play a little 'La Grange' and 'Walk This Way.' Then I get on the B3 and start rockin' some breakdowns. Then I jump on the drums, and within like two minutes I am on every instrument," Rock says.

Rock, who has upcoming projects with both Black Sabbath's Tommy Iommi and Tommy Lee (a solo all-star project dubbed Methods of Mayhem), has yet another secret weapon up his sleeve: the Twisted Brown Trucker Band.

"I found the best players I could and they are all different. I didn't want just a bunch of hip-hoppers or rock & roll heads. Our guitar player Jason Krause is a kid who sat in his basement playing Slayer riffs. Can't play a lead to save his life, but he is the fastest down picker in the world. Our other guitarist, Kenny Olson, is an incredible rock & roll lead player. Jimmy Bones on keyboards (and bass lines) comes from the rockabilly school. He's over 40.

"Stephanie Eulinberg (drums) is a black girl from Cleveland who comes from a jazz family. She knows everything about rock and nothing about hip-hop. And my DJ, Cracker, well, he's just my friend. A real solid kid that I wanted beside me. So I showed him the ropes five years ago and now he helps me write the songs," says Rock. "My job is to fuse the show together and hopefully take the thing to the next level. Because I know how talented it am."


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