Cambria Style

Big & Rich

  • Written by Carol Mithers
  • December, 2014

Country’s Hottest Duo, Opens up About Their Often Demanding, Always Fulfilling Life On - And Off- The Road 

Big Rich Standing - issue 11


Big & Rich isn’t a band as much as a force of nature. In their 10 years together, “Big Kenny” Alphin and John Rich have—take a breath—cut five albums, two of which went platinum and one gold, and sent 11 songs marching up Billboard’s Country Top 40. They’ve been nominated for multiple awards, and as songwriters penned literally thousands of songs, both for themselves and some of country music’s biggest names. And should anyone say success means slowing down, in 2014, the pair spent 200 days on the road, performing 130 of their always high-energy shows all across North America, from the Midwest to the hipster centers on both coasts. Oh, and their latest album, “Gravity,” was the first on a new label, their own—Big & Rich Records.
“We live at 90 mph,” acknowledges Kenny, who laughs that his favorite place at home “is my bed—because I so rarely see it.”

90 miles an hour is an understatement if you ask Marty Davis, Cambria CEO, who has gotten to know Big & Rich, both on stage and off. “They are the perfect combination of hard work, talent and smarts…a couple of good old boys who knew how to make it. They remain who they were, special talents, who never lost touch with their roots. They are some of the real good guys in their business.”
Energy and hard work have always defined this duo, that and the drive to remake country into a blend of styles that they call “music without prejudice.” Kenny, rangy, shaggy, in jeans and fringed vests with his signature stovepipe hat, came from rock and roll; John’s short hair, pristine moustache, tailored jackets and Stetsons mark him as the boy who grew up dreaming of being a country king. Their music and shows get audiences out of their seats with a wild fusion of tradition, rock, funk, rap, and R&B. When they first started performing, says John, “Nashville didn’t know what to think of us. They looked at us like a bunch of crazies, which we were.”
The magic that became Big & Rich grew from mingling genres and from the creative collaboration of two completely different men. “We tend to view things from an opposite perspective,” Kenny says. “I’m more of a dreamer, and John’s firmly planted in reality. He’d tell you ‘Kenny stops to smell the roses, and I like to mow them down.’” During their years together, both have written songs on their own, and taken time off from the partnership to record and release successful solo albums.

Big & Rich picture sitting with guitars - issue 11

But deeper values bind them: belief in resilience, and patriotism—every Big & Rich concert features a salute to veterans—and commitment to staying the course. Neither man came to music the easy way. John grew up in a double-wide trailer in Amarillo, Texas, the son of a “small-church, Bible-banging non-denominational preacher”; Kenny was a seventh generation Culpeper, Virginia farm boy whose father hoped he’d one day work the family land. Before they met, both had been on the verge of making it in Nashville, only to have the prize snatched away. Kenny got signed, then dropped by a major record label; by 2002, he says, he was down to his last dollar. Tim McGraw’s No. 1 country hit, “Last Dollar (Fly Away)”, came from that Big Kenny reality and was written by him in 2002, when he was literally “down to his last dollar” and “had walked right through his shoes”, in a Las Vegas hotel room, drowning his sorrows from a fateful run at wealth at the Blackjack table. John, he was fired from a successful band he helped launch and create, Lonestar, where he played bass 

“You can’t be great until you’ve been broken down and built yourself back up,” John says. “That’s when you get to a spot when you’re semi-indestructible. You learn what you did wrong the times before and you don’t do that again. You get better.”

Ten years in, the two are equal partners in the creative and business enterprise that is Big & Rich: the decision to go with their own record label as a way to “gain creative control” of their legacy, for instance, was wholly shared. Both men, says their manager, are “business savvy, and have done well to manage their respective brands as well as the Big & Rich brand as a whole.”

Both also share a work ethic that doesn’t leave time for rest. There’s no “off season” for the band, says Kenny. The cold weather months are time for writing; as soon as it warms up, the touring starts. And philanthropy’s always on the calendar. Big & Rich have raised money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, the 173rd Airborne Memorial Fund, and the Special Olympics among others.
“You gotta eat good, take your vitamins, drink a lot of water and pace yourself,” says John. “But there’s nothing better than going for it, guns blazing.” Pair this take-no-prisoners mentality with a powerful work ethic and it was no surprise that John and Davis became good friends, connecting just like a couple of old buddies. “That’s something I learned I had in common with Marty, and something that made me really identify with Cambria as a company,” John says, “We both believe in hard work and paying attention to detail.”

In fact, in 2014 John visited Cambria’s factory to meet–
and play for–the workers. “I think what country music’s about and what Cambria’s about go hand in hand,” he says. “Work hard, play hard, have a good time–and be proud of what you do! You see this massive building in the middle of Minnesota–out in the country. The folks who work there are country folks. There’s a real sense of pride in that place which really encapsulates what this country’s all about. It’s the turbine of this country.”

Home studios help both members of Big & Rich carve family time out of the whirlwind. “It’s the only way to keep my kids around,” jokes Kenny. True to Big & Rich form, the two live within walking distance of each other, in houses that are completely different. Kenny’s household includes his wife, Christiev, stepsons Cameron and Christopher, sons Lincoln, 9, and Dakota, 4, and currently, a litter of nine German Shepherd puppies. Their home is a sprawling “old-world, castle-like” wood and stone Tudor. On the docket early next year is a kitchen renovation. Kenny’s wife Christiev, a stylist and talented jewelry designer, will no doubt be working with the most cutting edge of Cambria’s unique elite designs for the project. “She has a passion, joy and love of creating,” says Kenny, who faithfully wears one of her pieces every day – a very “rock and roll” locket with pictures of Christiev and the kids. Kenny’s own domestic passions focus more on their home’s extensive grounds, a vegetable garden and fruit trees. “If I have a minute, I’m going to be outside working in the yard,” says the farmer’s son. The Davis boys, Mitch and Marty, owners of Cambria, also own dairy farms together. They hit it off instantly with Kenny, having a commonality of agricultural backgrounds. Kenny spent the night with them in Minnesota and visited Davis Family Dairies farm to see the more than 10,000 milk cows first-hand. Big Kenny comes from the hills of the Alphin’s Virginia farmland, and hasn’t lost touch with that neighborly way of his youth. A good old farm boy who loves people, Kenny’s also been known to greet some of the many tour buses that pull up to his gate. “If I’m free, sometimes I’ll go out the front door to wave,” he says. “These people are my fans, the ones who got me where I am.”

John and his wife, Joan, who runs a modeling agency, are parents to Cash, 4, and Colt, 3, and built a 92-foot-high modern poured-concrete three-story he calls “Mt. Richmore”: It features mini-bars in the bathrooms, a rooftop swimming pool and a 4,000-square-foot working nightclub with a view of downtown Nashville that John often opens for charity events and music industry parties. “The night of the last Country Music Awards, we had an after-party there for 500,” he says. “There were seven or eight platinum acts at my house, jamming.” But, he adds, there are big parts of the home that are private and family-only, and on many weekends, “I do what any dad does. I pitch t-ball games. Take the kids bass fishing at a lake on 50 acres I own nearby. At Halloween, we go trick or treating—though I have to wear a mask, too, so I don’t cause a commotion.”

No surprise that next year there won’t be a slowdown for Big & Rich. As of late 2014, one of the duo’s most recent songs “Look at You” was No. 13 and moving up Billboard’s “Hot Country” chart. A new album, “Lovin’ Lately,” featuring country great Tim McGraw, is due out in early 2015. “We’re even better songwriters than we were 10 years ago,” says Rich. “There are no limits on what we do, whether it’s writing or performing. There are no boundaries. Neither of us is afraid to try anything.” And there’s no doubt that the band’s many fans are eager to embrace whatever “anything” may be.

So now we know what it is to be “Big & Rich”, entre-
preneurs, founders, business-men, brand builders, creators, risk takers, family men, farmers, preachers sons…impressive pillars of this unique, and very successful country music duo, known quite succinctly as, Big & Rich.

Big Kenny

Big Kenny - issue 11

What does it take to make it in country music?

You put your head down and push. You need the mindset of ‘you’re never going to beat me.’ Sometimes I had to dig deeper than I could’ve imagined to find the courage to start again, but I always did.

What does it mean to work hard?

You don’t give up. That’s something you learn as a farmer. If the rain doesn’t come and your crops don’t grow, that doesn’t mean you don’t plant again! And everything has its moment. You plant different crops during different seasons and you harvest them at different times, but you have to be out there tending
every day.”

Why do fans respond so strongly to Big & Rich?

John and I love a good party, and we love to see the audience get excited. When we’re performing they feel us. We’re a lot of fun!

How do you make a long-term partnership like Big & Rich succeed?

You can’t do everything together, so it’s a good thing that we both break out on our own now and then. We both want to see the other do what makes him happy. But Big & Rich has a priority above everything else. For both of us.

What do you most appreciate about John?

He encourages me to go out as far as I can musically. We encourage and inspire each other in a great way. He’s one of the most talented creators that I’ve
ever met or worked with. A great businessman, too.

“There’s no one more fun to sing with,” Big Kenny says of his partner, John Rich. And maybe there’s nowhere more fun to play than in Kenny’s home bar, which he calls “The Pub of Love.”

Big Kenny, wife - issue 11Why are you so committed to giving back?

When a child anywhere asks for help, he deserves it. Children are our future and they depend on us. And our military fight for the greatest right of all: our freedom.

What do you want to happen at every Big & Rich show?

I want people to leave in a different mood than when they came. I want them to feel good. To
be moved. To feel happy and inspired. I want them to be filled with a great sense of joy. We’re there to entertain and give it all we’ve got—as entertainers, we’re meant to be joy-bringers.

What does it mean to you to be part of Big & Rich?

It means I’m part of what I believe to be one of the greatest writing, recording and entertaining duos that’s existed in the history of music.

“I’m more of a dreamer, and John’s firmly planted in reality. He’d tell you ‘Kenny stops to smell the roses, and I like to mow them down.’” —“Big kenny”

 Big & Rich car - issue 11

 The baby blue Cadillac, one of John’s collection of classic cars, makes a guest appearance in the cover booklet of Big & Rich’s latest album, Gravity. It’s the first release on their own record label, and critics have called it “a country masterpiece.”

John Rich

John Rich - issue 11

What does it take to make it in country music?

There’s no secret to it. You have to know that it’s your life. After you’ve been knocked down a few times, that’s when you determine if country music is a hobby or what you do. There were other things I could do, but nothing else I wanted to do.

Why do people respond so strongly to the band?

I think it’s because we’re authentic. We’re still on the fringes somewhat, but over the years, the mainstream has come to us. When cut your own path, people come your way. Artists shouldn’t make art based on what they think people will like.

How do you make a long-term partnership succeed?

We succeed because we support each other. We’ve never felt like we’re trying to ‘keep up.’ Big & Rich is a team effort. If the team wins or loses, it’s the team. We’ve had heated arguments over the years, but at the end of the day you realize you’re shooting for the same thing.

What do you most appreciate about Kenny?

He can and does work as hard as I do. And he’s wildly imaginative. He’ll say 10 things and nine will be out there, but the tenth will be brilliant. That idea will turn into a great song or marketing idea.

What does it mean to work hard?

When I was growing up, my father didn’t earn much as a preacher, so he did every odd job there was from mowing grass to being a night watchman. It got lean and mean every now and then. But it was a good way to learn that you do whatever you have to do.

Big & Rich - issue 11

Why are you so committed to giving back?

My granddaddy won six Purple Hearts in World War II, and I remember well the double-wide in Amarillo. It never leaves you. It makes you want to take care of other people when you can.

What do you want to happen every Big & Rich show?

We want to end the show with us more out of breath than our fans. We want to leave it all on the stage every time, every place, whether we’re playing for 40 people or 500. When we step on the stage it’s full throttle the entire way.

What does it mean to you to be part of Big & Rich?

Put Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison in a room together, give them a chemistry set and say ‘Have at it guys!’ Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Lewis and Clarke. We’re not afraid to step off into the unknown and go as far as possible. And because there’s two of us, we have a better chance at winning – and a lot more fun.

“You can’t be great until you’ve been broken down and built yourself back up. That’s when you get to a spot when you’re semi-indestructible. ” —john rich

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