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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Big & Rich making music together again

By Denise Neil
The Wichita Eagle

While Big and Rich were apart, they missed each other, even though they stayed plenty busy.

Both expanded their families. Both worked on solo projects. “Big Kenny” Alphin had neck surgery. John Rich starred in — and won — last year’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”

But getting back together to tour and to record their soon-to-be-released album, “Hillbilly Jedis,” was a big relief for the country duo that makes up Big & Rich, who will perform Saturday at Hartman Arena.

The duo, best known for the 2004 hit “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” have a musical connection that makes them better together, Alphin said during a recent phone interview from his home in Nashville. (He was a tad late making the call because he was picking up his 6-year-old son, Lincoln, from hockey camp.)

“We are loving being back together,” the 48-year-old Alphin said. “No one I’ve ever sung with or been around is more talented musically than John. Something magic happens with our voices. There’s not a melody or a harmony. It’s two guys singing their own melodies that create harmony. It’s almost like you’re hearing three voices. It’s a unique thing.”

Big & Rich released their first album, “Horse of a Different Color,” in 2004, and it resulted in four top-40 hits including “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).” Two more albums followed, one in 2005 and another in 2007, and the duo racked up a string of country hits, including its first No. 1, “Lost in This Moment.”

The duo then went on a four-year hiatus, during which each of the artists recorded their own solo albums.

Rich had two children and won a reality show. Alphin and his wife adopted a son, and he had a metal plate put in his neck, trying to cure the nagging pain from a 2001 car accident in which he was hit by a drunk driver.

The two found their schedules would mesh again last year, and they met up to re-collaborate. They recorded “Fake I.D.,” a song for the soundtrack to 2011’s “Footloose” remake. The song included vocals from country star Gretchen Wilson, with whom the two decided to tour.

“We had a blast,” Alphin said. “We started writing and putting out songs, and kaboom, here we go.”

When it came time to record a new album together, Rich and Alphin called on help from another musical duo they’d gotten to know.

Bon Jovi’s Jon Bon Jovi and his longtime guitar player Richie Sambora collaborated with Big and Rich on two songs from “Hillbilly Jedis.” (The foursome became pals when they co-wrote the song “We Got It Going On” for Bon Jovi’s 2007 album “Lost Highway.”)

“Man, they’ve really been friends and buddies and mentors to us,” Alphin said. “They are two of the most down-to-earth guys I’ve run into in this business.”

Though “Hillbilly Jedis” won’t be released until Sept. 18, it’s already produced a hit single, called “That’s Why I Pray.” The song is the fastest rising single of the Grammy-nominated group’s career, Alphin said.

Their show is a high-energy event that includes all sorts of stage tricks, including the occasional fiery ignition of a guitar, Alphin said.

It also includes the group’s biggest hits plus samples from the new album. Opening act Cowboy Troy joins the group on stage, which adds to the entertainment value, Alphin said. Bradley Gaskin, a rising star known for his song “Mr. Bartender,” is another opening act.

“The shows have been galactic, dynamic, and a whole lot of fun,” Alphin said. “There’s a lot of energy coming off the stage.”

Reach Denise Neil at 316-268-6327 or at dneil@wichitaeagle.com.

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