Kid Rock: Whatever you think about him, he probably doesn't care

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Whatever you think of Kid Rock, you’re probably wrong.

I was wrong in 1998 when my friend Mike Flannagan insisted Kid Rock’s song “Cowboy” was a good song and I told him he was crazy. As far as I could tell Kid Rock was a redneck rapper from Detroit with serious issues and not much talent. I was right about that first part. Heck, I was right about all of it except those last three words. Love him or hate him, Kid Rock has talent. He’s managed to have hip-hop, rock and country hits — a particularly rare feat. But who is this guy?

From his videos and his persona, you’d think Robert James Ritchie (known to friends and family as “Bob Ritchie”) grew up in the projects or a trailer court. He’s actually the son of a wealthy car dealer and grew up a long way from the trailer court or the ’hood. While he earned a local reputation DJ’ing in high school (along with the name “Kid Rock” because he was called “that kid who rocks”), he didn’t earn his street cred until he ran away and worked in a car wash and sold drugs. Of course, it was sometimes hard to keep that cred. He’s said he’d be standing on the corner with ’hood buddies as a teen and his dad would come by and pick him up for orthodontist appointments.

Let it be known, the Kid has good teeth.

In 1990, Rock released his first album, “Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast,” on Jive Records. With production from Too $hort and D-Nice, it looked to be a winner. With samples that came from ZZ Top, Ozzy Osbourne and the James Gang, Rock’s classic-rock influences were in evidence. While it helped Rock’s reputation in Detroit, it did little outside the city. Rock released his next two albums, “The Polyfuze Method” and “Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp,” on his own label. He put together a band, Twisted Brown Trucker, which featured rapper Joseph “Joe C.” Calleja, who was less than 4-foot tall due to coelliac disease, as hype-man.

In 1998, Rock signed with Atlantic Records and released “Devil Without a Cause,” which included the hits “Cowboy,” “Bawitdaba” and the Auto-Tune augmented “Only God Knows Why.” Suddenly, he was everywhere, both loved and derided in equal measure. Hard to please critic Robert Christgau gave the album an A-, while Pitchfork gave it a 1.3 out of 10. It sold more than 11 million copies.

He followed by re-working songs from those self-released albums on disc “The History of Rock,” featuring the new hit “American Bad Ass,” which cemented Rock as an artist with staying power. He also made no bones about what he liked and didn’t like.

The video for “You Never Met a (Expletive) Like Me” features Rock using toilet paper with “Radiohead” printed on it, while his 2006 live album “Live Trucker” features a cover that is an homage to “Live Bullet” by Detroit rock legend Bob Seger.

Then there was Rock’s love life. Let’s look at it rap style!

Rock dated Pam Anderson/all D-cups aside/And punched Tommy Lee (after Pam was Rock’s bride!)/Rock met Sheryl Crow/when he was still dating Pammy/Dueted on a song/They were hoping for Grammy!

“Picture” went No. 1/up on the country charts/gossip rags talkin’/about tvheir Southern parts/Lance Armstrong pedaled up/in cute little shorts/little Crow took flight/and according to reports/pedalin’ man/was America’s hero/while Rock’s IQ/was barely north of zero/Who would’a thought it was Armstrong on the juice?/Kid was only drunk/and he made no lame excuse/And who would’ve figured/that between Sheryl’s beaus/Kid Rock would be the most/upstanding that she chose?

Rock was also arrested for assaulting a man in a Waffle House in 2007 (the same year he punched Tommy Lee) and had to attend court-ordered anger management sessions as a result. The fact that the fight took place in a Waffle House didn’t hurt Rock’s reputation. And Rock has shown himself to be a pretty good humanitarian overall, visiting and performing for servicemen, both wounded and currently on duty.

Even with all the upheavals in the music business, Rock has persevered. His 2007 hit “All Summer Long” became one of those songs played incessantly on the ride Himalayan at fairs. That’s the mark of a working-class standard. But, hey, with the piano riff from Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and the guitar riff from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” how could it miss?

Rock’s 2012 album “Rebel Soul” hasn’t exactly set the woods on fire, but don’t count the guy out.

In an interview with Tom Junod in Esquire, Rock said: “I know I’m not the best. I’m not the best singer, I’m not the best songwriter, I’m not the best player. But I know that what I (expletive) do, I’m the best at.”

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Kid Rock

With: Buckcherry, Hellbound Glory

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27

Where: Civic Coliseum

Tickets: $68.50, $53.50, $38.50, plus service charges, available at Knoxville Tickets outlets, 865-656-4444 and www.knoxvilletickets.com

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