Uncle Kracker joins WTOP ahead of Kenny Chesney’s ‘Sun Goes Down’ Tour at Commanders Field in Md.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Uncle Kracker at Commanders Field (Part 1)

In 2004, Uncle Kracker collaborated with Kenny Chesney on the tropical country hit “When the Sun Goes Down.”

Country star Kenny Chesney, left, is joined by rocker Uncle Kracker as they perform "When the Sun Goes Down" at the 39th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 26, 2004. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)(ASSOCIATED PRESS/JOE CAVARETTA)

This Saturday, they celebrate the song’s 20th anniversary with the “Sun Goes Down” Tour at Commanders Field in Landover, Maryland, alongside the Zac Brown Band and Megan Maroney for a day of tailgating fun and music.

“Absolutely nothing like it,” Uncle Kracker told WTOP. “Aside from him being one of the greatest entertainers I’ve ever seen, I can’t put my thumb on it. Aside from him being awesome, he’s just a ball of energy. I don’t know anybody who can run around for two straight hours like he can, but it’s just nonstop from probably 9 a.m. These people are out in the parking lot drinking until the show is done. It’s insane. … Everybody’s working for the weekend.”

Born in Michigan in 1974, Uncle Kracker grew up listening to B.J. Thomas and James Taylor. He broke into the music business when his older brother squared off against Kid Rock in a DJ battle in the Detroit area.

“There was a bar outside of Detroit that turned into a teen club on Sunday nights,” Uncle Kracker said.

“The Electrifying Mojo used to be a disc jockey on WJLB in Detroit, he used to hold these DJ battles on Sundays and they were a big thing. My brother went up against Kid Rock in one of these battle competitions. Kid Rock showed up, he didn’t even bring his turntables, he paid my brother $100 to use his turntables then smoked him on his own tables.”

From there, he joined Kid Rock’s backing band Twisted Brown Trucker alongside the late Joe C. and others. Uncle Kracker was featured on Kid Rock’s debut album “Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp” (1996) and his smash sophomore album “Devil without a Cause” (1998), featuring the hits “Bawitdaba,” “Cowboy” and “Only God Knows Why.”

“Man, we had a lot of fun, that’s for sure,” Uncle Kracker said. “I wrote a lot of them with him and a lot of the backup vocals are me on there. I DJ’d live, but Kid Rock did all of the scratching and stuff on the albums himself because he’s better than I am, but definitely fun, it was definitely a time to be alive, that’s for sure.”

Their next album, “The History of Rock” (2000), featured “American Badass,” which was not only used by the WWF’s Undertaker but also declared the group’s genre-defying intentions: “I like AC-DC and ZZ Top, Bocephus, Beasties and the Kings of Rock, Skynyrd, Seger, Limp, Korn, the Stones, David Allen Coe and No Show Jones.”

“I remember the record label hating us for [crossing genres],” Uncle Kracker said. “We turned in ‘Only God Knows Why,’ and I talked to the A&R guy like, ‘Did you listen to ‘Only God Knows Why?’ and he’s like, ‘That country song? What the f**k are we gonna do with that?’ Back then, it was so different, too. We were all so young and we loved music so much. It was the camaraderie that was special. You’d write something like, ‘Listen to this!’ It was a competition.”

While Kid Rock was busy recording “Cocky” (2001) with the Sheryl Crow duet “Picture,” Uncle Kracker finally got a chance to release his first solo album “Double Wide” (2000), smashing the pop charts with the single “Follow Me.”

“I wrote that thing in my bedroom one night,” Uncle Kracker said. “[Kid Rock] just started straying from the rap stuff at one point and I was like, ‘Man, I can do that, let’s try that,’ so I hummed this ‘Follow Me’ thing and he was like, ‘Man, that sounds like some really dark James Taylor sh*t.’ The melody and lyrics were much cooler than the version that got put out [on the radio]. It was all finger snaps and melody, mainly to pay homage to the old Motown stuff.”

Uncle Kracker again went retro on his second solo album “No Stranger to Shame” (2002), featuring a hit cover of the golden oldie “Drift Away,” even inviting original singer Dobie Gray to appear on the song and music video.

“When ‘Follow Me’ started taking off, I would have to go to these radio stations in the morning and do like an acoustic thing,” Uncle Kracker said.

“They’d want like three songs acoustic in the middle of the morning show interview, but I didn’t have anything else on the record that sounded like ‘Follow Me,’ so Kid Rock suggested I do ‘Drift Away’ acoustically for all these promo things — and that’s how I ended up cutting ‘Drift Away’ for the second album.”

His third solo album “Happy Hour” (2009) delivered another hit single with “Smile,” but by then Uncle Kracker was already touring with Chesney after their successful country music duet “When the Sun Goes Down” (2004).

“Kenny had reached out to me,” Uncle Kracker said. “He calls Kid Rock and says, ‘Do you think Uncle Kracker would come out and do a couple with me for an encore scenario?’ Of course, Kid Rock’s like, ‘I dunno, call him yourself,’ so I get this call like, ‘Hey this is Kenny Chesney,’ and I’m like, ‘Who?’ I had no clue who he was! … It’s been 20 years since ‘Sun Goes Down’ for us. It’s crazy to think that much time has passed and I’m still doing this.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Uncle Kracker at Commanders Field (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on the podcast below:

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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