With a helicopter buzzing above the pedestrian bridge in downtown Nashville and cameras craning down from overhead and by their sides, country music's new duo were in the center of a bizarre parade orchestrated to display their zany personalities
"We just kind of have over-the-top personalities as it is and finally found some people that would let us put that into film," John Rich tells CMT News. "We thought 'Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)' would be the perfect song to launch our image into the world and into the conscious of country listeners."
"One of our favorite shows was Hee Haw, and this is as close as we can get to having Hee Haw," Big Kenny adds. "We kind of call this Yee Haw."
Newcomer Gretchen Wilson, who makes a cameo in the video, is perched atop a green tractor and donning a backwards cap.
"For a little while, I felt like maybe a redneck was out of place in it, but I guess you've got to have a redneck somewhere" Wilson jokes. She knows about rednecks: Her debut single, "Redneck Woman," is No. 2 this week on the Billboard country singles chart.
Wilson is part of the Muzik Mafia, a band of musicians Big & Rich assembled for weekly clandestine gigs at the Pub of Love bar near downtown Nashville.
"It'll be like a behind-the-scenes thing," Rich explains of the entertainment support group's start-up. "We won't advertise it or nothing like that. We'll just play music [and] invite our friends to come hang out."
For more than a decade, both guys had knocked on Nashville's doors, trying to break through to stardom. Rich started as a vocalist and bass player with Lonestar but left the band to pursue a solo career that was short lived. Kenny Alphin, who earned the reputation as Music City's "universal minister of love," fronted a wild group called luvjOi. In 1998, the two met and began writing and performing together with their friends.
"It's hard living in Nashville and trying to do this thing, man," Rich notes. "When you have other artists in the same boat, it makes it a lot easier. Everybody's kind of floating on the same water."
The duo soon landed ashore when the daughter of Warner Brothers record executive Paul Worley heard their unique brand of rowdy music and urged him to set up a meeting with the duo. It wasn't long before a record deal was inked.
A party for the release of their debut CD, Horse of a Different Color, was thrown recently at the Muzik Mafia's new headquarters, the Mercy Lounge. As part of the playful agenda, Worley was officially welcomed into the musical family when all of the artists and patrons of the club gave him the middle finger and a shout of "f--- you!"
Their irreverent humor continued later in the show with Big Kenny stepping into a pseudo ministerial role, begging the crowd for cries of "amen!" Balancing out the wild escapades was Martina McBride, who joined the twosome on stage to provide background vocals on "Live This Life." She also added her harmonies to the same song on their CD.
From party songs to tunes about legends of the West, Big & Rich describe their 13-track album as "country music without prejudice."
"It's country music, but it's without the boundaries that you normally deal with in country music," Rich explains. "Or at least what we've dealt with in recent years."
"We've just been slamming music together and then letting it be whatever it was going to be for so long," Big Kenny says.
One example is their current single that was inspired when Big & Rich were serving as songwriting mentors to a group of college students.
"This one girl from Texas … she says, 'You're not going to believe what happened to me last night. I was downtown at the Wildhorse [Saloon] in Nashville, and this big old cowboy walked up me and says, 'Hey, darlin', why don't you save a horse [and] ride a cowboy?" Rich recalls.
"She said, 'Can you believe somebody would say that to me?'" Rich says with a smile. "And I looked over at Kenny, and we kind of lit up, and I went, 'Yes, I can.'"