Big Kenny, Tim McGraw and Three Checks

Songwriter Marks Success of "Last Dollar (Fly Away)" With $100,000 Love Offering

“Love Everybody” is the message emblazoned on the back of the guitar Big Kenny plays during Big & Rich’s concerts, and he backed up the slogan Tuesday (April 24) to the tune of $100,000 during a party celebrating his success for writing Tim McGraw’s latest hit, “Last Dollar (Fly Away).”

It was first No. 1 ever for Big Kenny (aka Kenny Alphin). However, he deflected the spotlight during the gathering at BMI’s offices on Music Row by presenting checks to three organizations that provide assistance to others at the local, national and international level.

“When I was approached with the idea of having a No. 1 party, I felt a little uncomfortable about it,” he said. “For some reason, it just didn’t seem right unless we did something with it. … I’ve had the opportunity over the past couple of years to meet some people that have drastically changed my life. … They’re rooting for the underdog sometimes when there’s nobody else to root for them. I thought we’d pass a little bit of that on. On behalf of the publishing company named Big Love Music, it seems like the only thing right to do.”

In addition to being the sole writer of “Last Dollar,” Big Kenny also owns his publishing company.

He presented checks of $25,000 each to the Magdalene House (a residential community in Nashville for women with a criminal history of addiction and prostitution) and the Covenant House (an organization providing a full range of programs to homeless and runaway youths in the U.S. and other nations).

A $50,000 check went to My Sister’s Keeper, a Boston-based organization devoted to assisting and protecting women in Sudan, where the Sudanese government has unleashed its militia against villages in a campaign against rebels in Darfur. More than 200,000 people have died from the violence, malnutrition and disease.

Big Kenny is also hosting a Wednesday (April 25) screening of The Devil Came on Horseback at the Nashville Film Festival. The documentary depicts events surrounding the genocide in Darfur.

“They are using the most incredibly abusive tools of war that you could ever imagine,” he said. “It’s hard to look at the pictures, but you’ve got to look at them … you’ve got to help. It has led [Big & Rich’s John Rich] and me over the past year to drop a banner at every show — 30 by 50-foot — that says ’Save Darfur.’ And let me tell you, talking about genocide is not an easy thing to do in the middle of a Big & Rich show, I promise you.”

Explaining the importance of making the public aware of the atrocities, he said, “If you know this, you’ve got to stop it. We have to stop it. This is our world. This is our earth. We cannot let catastrophic things like this happen.”

On a lighter note, Big Kenny earlier talked about the success of “Last Dollar” and McGraw’s impact on his career.

“He heard our music before he even knew or had seen anything about what Big & Rich was,” he noted. “He took us out on tour with him based on a couple of songs a friend played him. … He immediately took us on tour — and he paid us. And that is unheard of in this town. And then after we went out on tour with him, he took us on another leg of the tour — and he paid us even more.”

He said he was working on a demo for “Last Dollar” when he ran into McGraw at a Nashville recording studio.

“I had just finished mixing this song,” he recalled. “I asked him to come out to my truck to listen to it with me. After hearing it one time, he said, ’Are you going to let me cut that?’ It completely blew my mind. … He gave me a confidence there. If you can ever give that gift to somebody, let me tell you, you’re giving them something great.”

At the BMI party, he presented McGraw with a framed copy of the song’s lyrics but explained he was not responsible for the elaborate calligraphy.

“I can’t write this pretty, so I had somebody do this,” he laughed. “She writes like Thomas Jefferson, and I think that’s great. But I did sign the dollar bill at the bottom, and I put on it, ’Tim, thanks for the wings. God bless you. Love, Big Kenny.’ And it says, ’For emergency use only.’ And hopefully neither one of us will ever have to break the glass.”

McGraw, who attended the party with his daughter, Maggie, praised Big & Rich.

“Big Kenny and John are two of the most talented guys you’d ever want to meet,” McGraw said. “Kenny just amazes me every time. … He’s a great guy. He’s a great talent, and I’d be glad to have those guys on the road with me anytime.” Turning to Big Kenny, McGraw added, “If you can calm John down a bit.”

Others attending the party included McGraw’s co-producer and bandmate Darran Smith, other members of his Dancehall Doctors band, Two Foot Fred and Alabama lead vocalist Randy Owen.

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.