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THE SoCAL SONGBOOK

September 16, 2007|BY GEOFF BOUCHER

'Cowboy'

Kid Rock | 1998

The life of the man they call Kid Rock has had its share of surreal moments, but few of them compare to the night a decade ago when, blinking behind sunglasses, he shuffled down Hollywood Boulevard in a western suit dotted with light bulbs, a horse at his side. "They had to shut down traffic at Hollywood and Vine so we could do that music video," he recalled. "My suit was like 'The Electric Horseman.' All I remember was I was higher than a kite that night."

The stoned star was making the video for "Cowboy," Kid's bawdy ode to all things excessive in L.A. The song opens with an image of a young man going west for all the wrong reasons, sort of a strip-club interpretation of Horace Greeley.

Well I'm packing up my game and I'm a heading out West

Where real women come equipped with scripts and fake breasts

Find a nest in the hills, chill like Flynt

Buy an old drop top, find a spot to pimp

Like so many hit songs about L.A., "Cowboy" was written from a distance by someone who barely knew the place. Kid Rock was born Robert James Ritchie in Romeo, Mich., and his first romance was hip-hop, but he was also stamped by outlaw country music, which was the bravado soundtrack for much of white rural Michigan. Kid loved gangsta rap, but in one of the best winking lines in "Cowboy," he makes his heritage clear: "I ain't no G, I'm just a regular failure/I ain't straight outta Compton/I'm straight outta the trailer."

"Cowboy" was a hit from Kid Rock's breakthrough album "Devil Without a Cause," which put him at the fore of rap-rock, but with a country-fried flavor that set him apart from the scowling Limp Bizkit or the polemical Rage Against the Machine. In the "Devil" studio sessions in Michigan, it was the Lynyrd Skynyrd song "Gimme Back My Bullets" that was echoing in Kid Rock's ears when he came up with "that steel guitar part, the chicken-plucking part" that sets the compass for the song pointing South and to the West.

"But I didn't know anything about L.A., so I had to call up a guy I knew to get some facts about L.A. He told me about Roscoe's and the Four Seasons and the street names." Roscoe's turned out to be a bit too wholesome for the song that has considerable raunch and some vivid visuals, such as this line: "Palm trees and weeds, scabbed knees and rice/Get a map to the stars, find Heidi Fleiss."

In concert these days, Kid Rock finds that "Cowboy" holds up better than any of his other hits and can win over crowds in Detroit hip-hop clubs, New York rock ballrooms or Nashville honkytonks. In all of those places, he runs into grinning fans ready to bring the song's party to life. "That's the truth," he said, sounding weary. "People do expect you to live up to it. And that's a mixed bag."

--

geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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