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NASHVILLE (Billboard) - A decade into his major-label career, Kid Rock is riding his biggest wave yet, powered by his worldwide hit tune "All Summer Long."
It's an old-school success story of patience, working the road, sticking to a plan and selling albums instead of digital singles.
The third single from his chart-topping album, "Rock N Roll Jesus," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last October and is currently at No. 2, "All Summer Long" is a tale of young summer love and partying, spiced with an inspired mash-up of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama."
"I thought it would work. I really believe in the power of 'Sweet Home Alabama,"' the Detroit rocker says. "To be able to start with that as a motor to build a car around and give it a beautiful paint job and everything else, it's a good place to start."
The single is his first Billboard Hot 100 airplay hit since "Picture" in 2003; and has gone top 10 at Mainstream Top 40 and Adult Top 40. It also reached No. 1 in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Kid Rock's Atlantic Records label overcame the temptation to release "All Summer Long" as the album's first single, especially while there was still snow on the ground in Rock's native Michigan.
"We knew the ace in the hole was 'All Summer Long,' but we had to be patient," says Ross Schilling, Rock's co-manager at Vector Management.
Waiting until the following summer allowed a solid plan to be built. "Jesus" had already sold 1 million records and spawned the singles "So Hott" and "Amen," and Rock was on a hot tour before "Summer" ever hit.
The album is selling at a 100,000-copies-per-week clip, surely driven in no small part by the fact that it is not available as an iTunes track in the United States. Rock's co-manager Ken Levitan is sure that the single's lack of digital availability has aided sales but feels this success is about a song and an album that resonates with fans.
"It's helped sales tremendously, but I also think having a massive hit record with an audience in the 100 million range, you can't turn your back on that, either," Levitan says.
Rock has been an outspoken critic not only of track downloading but Internet piracy. In a "smartass" public service announcement he recently advised people to steal everything.
"I understand people are pilfering songs -- it's just a song," Rock told Billboard during a recent pit stop at a Nashville tequila bar. "I'm not going to complain, Tommy Hilfiger's rich, too, but you can't walk into a f---ing department store and steal a pair of jeans. I don't care, steal my songs if you want, but let's level the playing field. You know how much money the oil companies have? You think they're going to miss it if you fill up your gas tank and drive off?"
Eschewing iTunes also proves a point, Rock adds. "I tell people in my organization, 'Do not ever come up to me and say, "This is what everyone's doing and how they're doing it." Don't ever give me that lame-ass bull----,"' he says. "As soon as someone says, 'You have to be on iTunes . . . they're the No. 1 retailer' . . . I don't have to."
In Rock's view, iTunes is the McDonald's of music. "It's extremely convenient, no question about it. I think Apple is one of the greatest companies in America," he says. "But just because McDonald's is convenient doesn't mean that people won't make reservations or wait in line to eat elsewhere if the food is what they want, or the atmosphere. That's proven every day."
"Rock N Roll Jesus" will be available soon digitally in the States as an album at digital service providers like Amazon, walmart.com, Rhapsody and bestbuy.com.
"We get so caught up in technology and ease (of downloading a single) . . . there's nothing wrong with listening to a whole record from start to finish," Levitan says.
In contrast to his approach in the States, "All Summer Long" has been made available as a full-track download and video across Europe, with "Rock N Roll Jesus" also available via all mobile and online digital stores.
Given his emphasis on blues-based rock'n'roll music, Rock says he has never really focused on international markets, but now that is changing. "Rock N Roll Jesus" peaked at No. 5 on the European Top 100 Albums chart.
"Being kind of Captain America like I consider myself, I wanted to go give (other countries) what I think is the true voice of the people, not just New York and Los Angeles. Maybe be an ambassador of goodwill in some way through the music."
Rock says his international promotion tours cost him $150,000, and management was along for the ride.
"As a management company we said, 'Hey, we'll take the hit with you, we'll split it with you,"' Schilling says. "We're going back in December and next year . . . his visibility will be sky high, and hopefully his audiences will follow."
On the road in North America, Rock is putting up his best numbers yet. So far, he's averaging about $335,000 per night and close to 10,000 in ticket sales, according to Billboard Boxscore.
And he's putting up these big grosses with one of the lowest star ticket prices in the business. "I've always kept my ticket prices fair. That's always been one of the things I'm most proud of," Rock says. "I'd rather walk down the street and have people pat me on the back (and say), 'What's up, Rock? You're a good guy,' than drive through the street in my brand-new Bentley with the windows tinted not being able to talk to anybody."
As summer comes to a close, Rock's label already is planning the next single to continue the album's momentum.
"Once 'All Summer Long' has played its full course, we'll start 'Roll On,' God willing, for Christmastime and the holiday sales and he can enjoy another wave," Atlantic president Julie Greenwald says.
And the Kid Rock branding machine is now in full gear, with the artist and his Twisted Brown Trucker band cutting a new song, "Warrior," for a National Guard commercial. It will be downloadable in its entirety on the National Guard's Web site once the commercial airs. He's also looking at launching signature beer and cigar products.
"I like (branding opportunities) when it's something I'm into, and I'm definitely into beer and cigars," Rock says. "You probably won't see me on the cover of a Wheaties box or selling Tide detergent, because it's irrelevant to me."