There's nothing complicated, convex, complex, or convoluted about the music of Uncle Kracker, aka 41-year-old Mount Celemens-born musician Matt Shafer. If you want binging and bonging synthesizers, complicated time signatures, or the kind of lyrics you need to own a dictionary in order to know what the heck the singer is even saying in the first place, you best find yourself another musician.
Uncle Kracker's music is real as dirt, it is raw like clay straight from the ground, and it burns inside of your brain like a good whiskey. But you know that already, right? Heck, you might have even been in Clawson that fabled night in 1987, or was it '88, when Shafer accompanied his disc jockey brother Mike out to a turntable competition at a small local club. If you were there, you'd have witnessed as Shafer not only competed with but also befriended the competition, a then-unknown young buck named Robert James Ritchie, who we'd all later know as Kid Rock.
Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker discovered a mutual interest in all kinds of music, but mostly rock, country, funk, and rap. Shafer briefly joined Rock's band Twisted Brown Trucker. But Rock really gave Shafer his start in the industry, as after Kid Rock blew up and got immensely popular, Shafer played turntables and sang backup for Kid Rock. He accompanied Rock during his ascent to the top of the music business, both out on the road for worldwide tours and in the studio.
Over time, of course, Shafer's own music needed to be unleased upon the world. And thankfully, the world was more than ready for it. Appearing in June, 2000, Uncle Kracker's debut album Double Wide (produced by Kid Rock) was a radio-friendly effort that blended elements of country, mainstream modern rock, and rap. It went double platinum and peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard top 200.
Uncle Kracker became pals with country superstar Kenny Chesney, who tapped him for "When the Sun Goes Down," which spent five weeks at #1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs Chart. He's played sold-out shows across the country and appeared everywhere from the American Country Music Awards to Late Night With Conan O'Brien. His most recent recording, the three-year-old Midnight Special, is full-on country, filled with twangy guitars that occasionally turn rockingly raucous.
That's right, Uncle Kracker, who helped to pioneer rap-country, and later made respectable country-rock records, is now on the same label (Sugar Hill) that once released sweethearted bluegrass music by rodeo queen Alison Krauss and Union Station. All Music Guide wrote that Midnight Special "is designed to drift along in the background, providing good times during blue skies and Saturday nights," but you might find that it sounds alright in the foreground too.
"I went in with no rules and wrote, and when we have enough that I'm happy with and (the record company) is happy with, it'll come out; that's the way I work now," Kracker said in press materials.
"I really subscribe to this mindset of just having fun. That's what it's always about. It's the train that I'm forever on. The way I feel is if I'm enjoying it, it's really worth doing."
Uncle Kracker is still having a blast doing what he does, and it really shows — especially onstage. And extra especially for the dedicated fans in his home state of Michigan. "When I'm up onstage, I don't feel removed from the people coming to hear the music," he says. "You can feel it, when they identify with you. Sometimes when I'm up there, I want to tell 'em 'I'm not any different than you are.'"
Doors at 7 p.m.; 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; royaloakmusictheatre.com; Tickets are $9.95 to $15, $20 day of show.
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