Older and wiser, the American Badass recalls his past as he looks to his future.
STORY BY JIM HANNAFORD
If and when the world finally gets back to cruising speed, Kid Rock might have already shifted into a lower gear. The fun-loving and controversial rap-rocker is middle aged now, having hit the half-century mark just 17 days into 2021. He’s had some time lately to look back on his extraordinary life and toward a future that might see some big changes. Maybe it’s just the farm life he’s been living that’s getting to him, but he sees himself taking things at a slower pace.
“I really want to enjoy my granddaughter and my son and the fruits of my labor,” Rock says from his newest home base, just outside of Nashville. He’s got a new album coming out and a big tour planned for next year with shows just as specular as his fans have come to expect. But after that, it might be time to settle down a bit and pursue his many other interests. It’s not easy being Kid Rock on stage, he explains, and it takes a lot of work behind the scenes, too. “I feel like I’m at my peak, and I don’t think it’s gonna keep going up from here,” he says. “I’m talking about physically, whether it’s my voice, my body—everything. It’s humbling, but I’ve got to look at all that through some real clear lenses with the understanding that I can’t do it at this level forever. And I don’t want to go out and do it at a lesser level.”
Before we paint too vivid a picture of him with his feet up on a dusty porch rail, let’s talk about how he’s spent the last year and a half. He’s an early riser these days, starting his days before sunup, and likes to head to the studio almost first thing. “I can’t remember when I had this much time to really focus on music and songwriting and just every little detail,” he says. He describes the collection of around 20 songs as “all over the map,” something you should expect by now from such a sonic shape-shifter. There’s some hardcore hip-hop, as well as some rock, some country, and even a soul-flavored tune he wrote with country queen Loretta Lynn.
A career-retrospective documentary is in the works, too. “It shows the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he says, “I’m going to tell my own story before somebody else does.” A movie documenting his one-of-a-kind Middle American success story is sure to be entertaining no matter how he frames it. It wouldn’t be accurate to call it a rags-to-riches tale because he didn’t exactly start at the bottom. But it’s safe to say Kid Rock’s improbable rise to the top didn’t happen only because of his musical skills. Besides being able to successfully alchemize a few drastically different styles of music, he has an everyman quality that makes him likable and gives him a wide appeal. He can get down and dirty with his working-class fans as easily as he hobnobs with the rich and famous.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Robert James Ritchie is the legal name of this genre-blending multi-instrumentalist, and many of his friends know him as Bob or Bobby. He started life in 1971 in an affluent and rural suburb of Detroit, where his dad owned a couple of Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. The family had a big, comfortable house on the sprawling grounds of what used to be an apple orchard. The house was full of music, too. His father, Bill, had an expansive collection of records and CDs, and so did his older brother and sister. “It was so eclectic,” he remembers. “My dad was a big Elvis fan, a big Waylon Jennings fan, a big Johnny Cash fan, and he also loved the Eagles and Elton John, and there was always lots of Bob Seger. My sister was into Tom Petty and the Tubes and stuff like that.” The rhymes and rhythms of rap forerunners Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC also caught his ears in a big way, and so did the harder-rocking sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Halen, and AC/DC.
A turning point came when he got bored with suburban life and started spending time in some of the grittier neighborhoods closer to the city. He immersed himself in the hip-hop culture and quickly made a name for himself as a hotshot young teenager who was the life of the party as a DJ and break dancer. “A lot of the kids used to say, ‘There’s that little white kid that can rock the turntables,’ because I was a really good DJ, scratching and mixing and stuff. It just kind of evolved into Kid Rock. Not the coolest name on Earth, but I’m proud of it at this point.”
He started recording when he was still a teen, and his major breakthrough came in 1998 with the smash-hit Devil Without a Cause. Widely considered his masterpiece, it accounts for almost half of his 26 million records sold worldwide, and he’s grateful for his success. “Every day I pinch myself. I give many, many thanks,” he says. “I do give a lot of attribution to the hard work that I’ve put in, but at the end of the day, I’ve been a very lucky person—my fiancée, Audrey, says I have a golden horseshoe up my ass. I don’t take anything for granted, and I think that’s because it took me so long in the trenches to make it, and I worked so hard, but there’s no question I give thanks every day to the position I’m in.”
ALL HIS FAMOUS FRIENDS
A conversation with Kid Rock can cover lots of ground. He comes across as funny and assured and, yes, a bit profane. He seems to enjoy the opportunity to reflect on his career. He likes to tell stories, even the ones he’s told many times before. He offers a mild apology for name-dropping, but he can’t help it—he just happens to be friends with a lot of other famous people. For instance, he might tell a story or two about hitting the links with golf legends like Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Gary Player. Or, when talking politics, he can casually mention that he’s met all of the living U.S. presidents going back to Jimmy Carter. Another name that comes up is that of his friend Hank Williams Jr., the rowdy country music megastar who has helped to foster Kid Rock’s love of the outdoors.
Besides his place north of Nashville, Kid Rock has a home near Palm Beach, Florida, and another in southern Alabama near the town of Troy. It’s a camo-patterned manufactured home (which he calls his “trouble wide”) that sits on his 500 acres that are adjacent to Hank Jr.’s spread. They’ve hunted for turkey and deer together and fished the gulf waters for redfish and grouper. Sometimes they like to get together, party a bit, and shoot some guns. Besides a typical assortment of modern firearms, he owns some flintlocks, vintage submachine guns, and even a cannon from the Civil War.
An avid hunter, Rock finds the white-tail season a bit slow-paced for his on-the-go nature. “I’ve really gone to a lot of bird hunting, a lot of ducks and a lot of doves, but my favorite time of the year is the fall when I can go up to Montana and run the mountains for elk. There’s something so rewarding about it.” He adds that Audrey is an avid deer hunter who learned to shoot a bow directly from another famous friend, rock star and outdoors guru Ted Nugent. “She took right to it, but I’m too impatient,” he says. “I get anxious, and if I see a monster 10-pointer, and he’s 180 yards away, and I’ve got a compound bow, I’m just pissed off.”
He loves the overall experience of hunting, he says, but doesn’t want to go home empty-handed. “People say they do it for the adrenalin rush or whatever, but I get that every time I step onto the stage. When I’m hunting, I want to get something.”
Many of his fans do, but not everyone shares such passion. “When I got my mountain lion in Clark Fork, Idaho, I sent a photo to Ted and Hank and a bunch of people, and Ted just went and posted it, and that s**t just came back in a fury.” He may have felt tempted to give his detractors the classic Kid Rock middle-finger salute, but he considers some of these types of situations to be teachable moments. “I try and explain the conservation of it, that for the other animals to flourish, you have to have a balance.”
NOT HOLDING BACK
Kid Rock also has made headlines over the years for saying what’s on his mind, but he says there’s nothing he would take back even if he could. “I don’t really have any regrets, but I know sometimes I’ve been out of hand when I’ve been over-served and run my mouth,” he says. “Some days I think I ought to tone it down a bit, but I don’t even know what that means. I’ve always been a person who says what’s on his mind and always been as honest about it as I can, for better or for worse.”
He does try to rein in his political opinions, but he says sometimes his strong emotions take over. “Obviously, it’s been crazy times, and I really blame a lot of that on social media, the news media, and the news cycle in general. It’s consumed a lot of us. Over the last several years, when I’ve really been outspoken, is because I’ve been angry at times. But I’ve got this track record that I think overall is pretty damn good.”
He was able to vent some in the studio. “The hook of my first song I’m coming out with sums it all up,” he says. “It says ‘ain’t nobody gonna tell me how to live,’ and I go the f**k off on it. It’s not what the whole album is by any means, but I had to write that. It’s kinda like therapy to me, to get it out of my head.”
NEW SOUTHERN ROOTS
Kid Rock still has a couple of places in Michigan, but seems to have settled in firmly in the rolling Tennessee countryside that used to be a horse ranch. His property is somewhat secluded, but he has a pretty high profile in town with a club and restaurant, Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk & Rock ‘n’ Roll Steakhouse, which he owns with some partners.
He came to Nashville because his son was attending Belmont College, which offers a business curriculum that’s tailored to the music industry. His name is Robert James Ritchie Jr., but he simply goes by Robert James. He was born 27 years ago, and Kid Rock started raising him as a single father as he was launching his career. “He’s into pop music and stuff like that,” Rock says, “and he’s super-talented. He’s working with some great producers in town.”
Overall, he describes Nashville as a vital, creative community that’s welcomed him warmly. “Country music is king here, but it really is Music City now. I dare say that it’s the Music Capital of the World—not London, not Los Angeles, not New York. And it’s not just country, it’s rock and roll and hip-hop and soul. It’s really incredible.”
He likes that there are plenty of peers he can talk shop with, and he loves being close to his immediate family members. He has stepped up his physical fitness regimen, mainly with pickleball, hiking, and golf, while preparing for the handful of shows he has booked. Those concerts are scheduled for Friday nights and Saturday nights only, he says, so there’s no extended traveling involved for now. He’s not sure what the future holds, but insists that this just could be the beginning of the end of the live Kid Rock era.
“I put so much into these shows, including the rehearsals,” he says. “I’ve never been someone to go out and phone it in, and I don’t think many people do, but even though I’ve got lots of people that help me, I really do so much of the heavy lifting that it’s just overbearing sometimes. I’m sure when I get back on that stage for the first time in a long time I’ll get that feeling again,” he adds, “but to say that I’ve missed it extremely would be a lie. I have not.”