Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Brian Dugger

Big & Rich s wild ride

One of the coolest stories in Nashville the last several years has been the Muzik Mafia phenomenon.

It started out with four down-on-their luck musicians, John Rich, Kenny Alphin, Jon Nicholson, and Cory Gierman, deciding they were tired of the manufactured music Nashville was producing. They wanted an atmosphere where they could play their own type of music - any type of music. Essentially, they wanted to make music without prejudice.

The result was a Tuesday night jam session at a Nashville bar called The Pub of Luv. This gathering became Nashville s largest underground music scene. The Tuesday meeting eventually included as yet unknown musicians Gretchen Wilson, Shannon Lawson, and James Otto. As word of the meetings got around, Nashville talent scouts flocked to see what all the buzz was about. Wilson, Lawson, and Otto all later secured recording contracts. Of course, John Rich and Kenny Alphin became the super-duo Big & Rich.

The story of how it all started is captured in "Big & Rich: All Access," a book by Center Street publishing, which is now in stores.

"A group of musicians, usually including John, Big Kenny, or Jon Nicholson would sit down in front of mics at the front of the room. Someone would start with a song they had just written. Someone else would pick up the same key, hopefully, and accompany them on another guitar. Then someone else would start singing harmony or backup. Then someone else would feel the spirit and start doing some free-form dance. This would go on for hours until everybody got too tired to play anymore," Big & Rich write.

I m always somewhat skeptical when artists decide to put out a book. Most of the time it comes across as another way to make a quick buck, but "All Access" is worth picking up for any fan of this duo. More than anything, the book was probably spurred by endless interviews from inquisitive reporters who asked the same questions over and over: "What s with the Muzik Mafia? Why is your music so out of the mainstream? Why does Kenny wear that big hat? What about John, why s he always dressed so nice?"

Big Kenny and John Rich lay it all out, open their lives to their fans, and it s an interesting read, more insight than you re going to find in a newspaper or magazine article. Few people probably know that Big Kenny planned on being a rocker, John used to be in Lonestar, and neither of them had any intention of being part of a duo.

How they eventually became a duo and were able to captivate the imagination of country music fans is all in there. They refused to be defined by what Nashville thought an artist should look and sound like, and put their own stamp on country music, just like so many other country stars have before them.

As they write in their book, "[Country fans] adjusted to Johnny [Cash], then to Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Hank Jr., Alabama, and a hundred other mavericks who strolled into town and expanded the music in a hundred new directions."

As an added bonus when you purchase the book, the guys threw in an "All Access" DVD. More than anything, it s a compilation of home movies that allows fans a visual peek into the lives of two of country music s most interesting characters.

Of course, the release of the book coincides nicely with the release of Big & Rich s third CD, "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace."

The disc contains the duo s current hit, "Lost in this Moment," which jumps to No. 3 on this week s Radio and Records chart. For the most part, it s classic Big & Rich, stretching the limits of "country" and making "music without prejudice." They ve got a clever remake of AC/DC s "You Shook Me All Night Long," and the disc ends with another Big & Rich party song, "Loud."

If you re wondering what these guys are all about, there s no better time to find out.

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