Say what you want about Uncle Kracker — dumb name, gimmicky, simplistic songs, just a chip off his friend Kid Rock’s success (that’s a good one). Go ahead. Get it all out in the open. This laid-back, unassuming MC-vocalist could care less.
Can you blame him? He’s not caring all the way to double platinum. The suburban Detroiter’s latest single, “Follow Me,” a mellow Southern-rock ode to adultery, is No. 1 in Germany, New Zealand, Austria and Australia. And it’s not doing so badly at home either.
“I don’t get excited about anything,” Kracker (Matt Shafer) says. “I could care less what people think or say and do. Kid Rock’s my best friend and, yeah, we spawned me off of him. But people forget that I do help write and I do support that, and I have toured that. And I’ve done everything above and beyond anything I could ever have possibly imagined.”
On a double headlining tour with Sugar Ray, the two had to split up for the Michigan dates due to Kracker’s enormous popularity at home. Loyalty to his friends and Detroit is part of what has endeared this rough-around-the-edges front man both in his hometown and worldwide.
It’s common knowledge that Uncle Kracker got his start as the DJ in Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band. The two met at Daytona’s, a bar in Clawson that transformed into a teen club on Sunday nights.
“I was 12 or 13. My brother was 16,” he begins. “There was a DJ competition there that the Wizard used to run. My brother and Kid Rock went up against each other in that competition. They became friends through that. And out of that, we became best friends. He was the same cocky kid that he is now. He was just as, if not more, back then. I think that’s what everyone liked about him. I know that’s what I liked about him. But he could back it up. He was cocky and when it came down to it, he was there on top of it. You were, like, ‘Wow, that fucker was right.’”
Last year, Kid Rock produced Kracker’s solo record, Double Wide, and released it on his Top Dog-Lava-Atlantic imprint. Members of the Twisted Brown Trucker band perform on the album, a rootsy take on rock, country, funk and hip hop.
“We went in and did my record the same way we did the Kid Rock record,” Kracker explains. “Me and Kid Rock sat down and wrote it. And then by the time I figured it out, I figured, you know what, maybe I gotta get my own band. Then we brought them on. Now we’re gonna start incorporating them and we’re gonna let these guys write too.”
A few of his band members used to play with Charm Farm and Big Block. Included are Steve Zuccaro (lead guitar), Nick Lucassian (guitar), Eric Hoegemeyer (drums), Mark Miers (keyboards) and Scott Krause (bass).
“They’re Detroit boys. I’ve known them all for a while. I realized, ‘Hey I gotta go tour this fuckin’ record.’ I called Nick first and Nick had already been messin’ around with these other cats. And I didn’t have to audition anybody. So we did it and it’s workin’ now. And we’re gonna stick with it. These guys have been writing some stuff too and it’s gonna work out fine.”
Uncle Kracker is about halfway into a new record. “I’m gonna go in and keep givin’ Uncle Kracker records. Hopefully write a couple more hits. If it works, it works. If it don’t, it don’t. I’m gonna hang around as long as they’ll let me — in the immortal words of David Allan Coe. I just kind of play it by ear. See what happens. I don’t get too excited about things. The record’s double platinum and nobody’s mad about that — especially not me.”
His live performance is about as laid-back as his attitude, not at all what you’d expect from Kid Rock’s spawn.
“It’s more stripped down. No strippers, or stuff like that. You probably see a lot of the influence, though, in me, of that show. Which is pretty unavoidable considering I spent the past 14 years with him. We’ve kind of got a lot of the same taste, the same thoughts and stuff like that.”
His chill nature shows up again when describing how he and Sugar Ray pass the time between concerts: “We do a lot of gamblin’. We do a lot of drinkin’. A lot of gamblin’. Then there’s gamblin of course’. Then there’s some drinkin’.”
Thoughts of his two daughters — “the oldest is 2 and some change, the youngest just turned 1” — help him to stay grounded while on the road: “I’ve got two daughters and a wife. I more or less have to keep it together. They keep me in line pretty much. I think if I didn’t have that, I’d be an idiot.”
If you need a better reason to respect Kracker and crew, just remember how long it took them to get where they are now. Even after Kid Rock signed to Atlantic, the rise to worldwide appreciation wasn’t instant.
“Everything was kind of gradual,” Kracker says. “You started out doing nothing and everything turned out a little bit more and more every couple of weeks. The transportation got better gradually and the accommodations got better gradually. There was no turning point.”
But he’s not complaining.Melissa Giannini is Metro Times music writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org