Detroiter of the Year 2009

Sure, he has a bad-boy image, but there’s plenty of good that he’s done for Detroit. He may be an unconventional ambassador, but no one can deny he’s rock-solid on this area, which may explain why Kid hasn’t pulled up stakes for L.A. or New York. He’s undeniably “Made in Detroit.”


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Photograph by Roy Ritchie

We know what you must be thinking. Kid Rock? our Kid Rock? Detroiter of the Year? Whatsamatter, Kwame out of town? Monica refuse to be honored by those vicious demons in “the media”? Luke Song, the man who fashioned Aretha’s inaugural bonnet, too busy filling hat orders? Whoa, cowboy. Just let the idea marinate in your mind for a moment. In this year of our massive disappointment and pervasive despair, couldn’t we all benefit from rallying around a genuine, happy-go-lucky, Detroit-lovin’ party starter?

Usually Hour Detroit’s most prestigious annual award has been reserved for titans of local industry, urban-development visionaries, or legal lions. Well, this year our industrialists are scrambling to keep their businesses from circling the bowl. Big-name politicians have let us down. And securing a loan to reshape the city’s skyline?

Hey, good luck with that. It’s been an unconventional year, to say the least. But in the category of creative pioneers, lanky 38-year-old Robert James Ritchie — the boy from Romeo, Mich., with a musical dream and sheer determination in his heart — surely qualifies.

In truth, even the Kid himself was surprised upon receiving the news. Informed that he is the first musician to receive the Hour distinction, “That’s probably because them other people must have said no,” he cracked. “You start thinking of Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin, people like that.

“I appreciate accolades every time, whether it’s being nominated for Grammys or winning American Music Awards, whatever it might be, but they’ve never really been high on my agenda. ‘Vote for me, I really want one,’ that’s not me, you know? I’ve always been about playing. But something like this is close to my heart. I mean, it’s hometown. It’s great. I don’t know exactly who votes for this, but thank you.”

Sipping from a paper cup of green tea, he’s draped across one of the black sofas in the lounge area within the “Clarkston Chophouse,” his massive storage and entertainment facility in an industrial park about 10 minutes from his northern Oakland County home. “Can’t beat the commute,” he says. It houses a row of classic autos, motorcycles, a boat, a basketball court (with the Kid Rock logo emblazoned on both free-throw lines), all the black travel cases from his recent European tour and, most prominently, an elevated full stage for rehearsals. Rolling Stone magazine calls it “an adult amusement park.” Against the rear wall, oversized, illuminated letters that once adorned the outside of Michigan’s largest mortgage company blaze proudly: R-O-C-K.

This is worlds away from the basements of house parties in Mount Clemens, where he once developed his hip-hop skills for $30 a night in the ’80s, prompting even skeptical black audiences to admit they enjoyed watching “that white kid rock.” Embodying the grit and perseverance of his native region, he has parlayed those meager beginnings, rejection slips from at least two record labels, and several poor-selling LPs into his own uniquely amalgamated brand of raucous American music, international celebrity, and iconic status as the swaggering, no-B.S., devil-may-care Everydude — he was married to Pamela Anderson, for goodness’ sake.

Name a more marketable Detroit export right now. His records have sold more than 22 million copies in America alone, with five Grammy nominations along the way. Yes, the title of his last LP in 2007, Rock N Roll Jesus, may have been a bit over the top. And the music itself can feel maddeningly derivative; his biggest hit, “All Summer Long,” is a delightful tune, but even better if you’ve never heard Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” or Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” But nothing succeeds like success. The photos of Kid Rock and pro golfer John Daly using beer cans for tees at last year’s Buick Open pro-am in Grand Blanc were disseminated around the world, and while it might have been nicer had Rock not worn his overalls, the images (unlike the videos of the Detroit City Council on YouTube) seemed to proclaim, “Yeah, we’re in Michigan, and we know you’ve heard times around here are tough. But we still know how to have some great freakin’ fun!”

Kid Rock performed before more than 80,000 fans on July 17-18 at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Photograph by Nick Martines

Always, for Kid Rock, it comes back to Detroit and Michigan. The city is consistently prominent in his songs and accompanying music videos, if only by his wearing one of the hundreds of snap-brim chapeaus he has obtained from Detroit’s Henry the Hatter. Some people wear Detroit on their sleeves; he has the Old English “D” tattooed on his right forearm. He owns the universally recognized circular “Made In Detroit” logo and clothing company, which he purchased from local designer and entrepreneur Robert Stanzler in 2007. Last year, he partnered with Wayne State University to dedicate sales from a limited-edition WSU “Made In Detroit” T-shirt to fund a Kid Rock Music Scholarship for deserving metro Detroit students. And his new private-label Bad Ass Beer, expected to be officially launched around Labor Day, will be made and distributed at the Michigan Brewing Company in Webberville, thanks to a $7-million tax break from the state, adding more than 400 jobs over the next few years. He’s even good for the economy.

Fresh from his appearance as grand marshal for the LifeLock 400 race at the Michigan International Speedway — he is arguably Detroit’s No. 1 sports fan — with a summer concert tour now well under way and a new album due out this fall, the Kid is all right. Hell, he’s better than that. He’s omnipresent. Like it or not, he is our Kid Rock. He may not be the representative you would have chosen, but unless he bumps into Tommy Lee at a Waffle House, a more exemplary and enthusiastic Detroit ambassador you might be severely challenged to find.

“I’m just proud of where I come from,” he says. “Proud of where I was raised. I figured that out at a young age, I think, that it’s always better to be proud of who you are. Whether it’s in a circle of people or friends you have, or trying to interact with different groups of people, you could just never go wrong by being yourself and being honest, no matter at what level. You play what cards you were dealt.”

On July 17-18, he will lay down a royal flush — and boost the local economy again — when he and his Twisted Brown Trucker band perform before more than 70,000 fans at Comerica Park, the largest headlining concerts of his career. Obviously, Detroit feels the love this man holds for it and is showing its affection in return. The first show sold out in 27 minutes, thanks in part to a special package deal offering six upper-deck tickets for $99.

“We’ve just built this. Over time,” he says. “Everything I’ve done has been about not going for the fast buck, about not being greedy. When it comes to concerts, it’s been slow and steady and about really understanding my audiences, hard working-class people, and never trying to gouge them. I always say one of the things I’m proudest of is that I don’t have to drive around town in some tinted-down foreign car, hiding from people. I can go anywhere locally, anywhere I want. People just say, ‘What’s up, Rock?’ maybe want a picture or just to say hello. Because I feel proud that I’ve never made a dishonest dollar off a working man’s or woman’s back. I’ve always kind of kept that in the back of my mind.

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