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Uncle Kracker Enjoys Accidental Success

Two words of advice to struggling musicians who can’t get a record contract: Don’t bother.

Or rather, take a page from the book of Uncle Kracker, the 26-year-old pop singer whose debut record hit the top 10 on U.S. album charts even though he calls himself “probably the least ambitious person you’ll meet.”

Many budding rock stars dream of great power and wealth in the music business. Uncle Kracker – real name Matt Shafer – dreams of a life changing tires, fishing and gardening.

For the time being, though, he is playing a bemused accidental rock star and is on a breathless promotion for his album “Double Wide” (Atlantic) and second single “Follow Me,” which also cracked the top 10. U.S. sales for “Double Wide” stand at more than 750,000.

Fortunately, Uncle Kracker got where he is today by being best friends with a very ambitious and very motivated rock star, Kid Rock, whose last studio album, “Devil Without A Cause,” sold more than 10 million in the United States.

Uncle Kracker, who mans the turntable and does backing vocals with Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band, received co-writing credit on many songs on the last album, ensuring he also receives nice royalty checks for the rest of his life.

“I accomplished everything I needed to accomplish on the ‘Devil Without A Cause’ record, all from writing one or two lines for Kid Rock,” he told Reuters in an interview at Atlantic’s offices. “My record just clinches it. I can buy a bigger boat.”


Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock have been pals for 13 years. Both started out as DJs in the Detroit music scene, where they shared a love for rap music. Kid Rock – real name Bob Ritchie – came up with the “Kracker” moniker and the “Uncle” was added recently to avoid confusion with rock group Cracker.

Kid Rock and his band hustled for years, releasing their own self-financed records, before breaking into the big time in 1998 with “Devil Without A Cause.”

Uncle Kracker, more of a lyricist than a musician, helped Kid Rock write hit songs “Cowboy,” “Bawitdaba” and “Only God Knows Why,” and even got credit on tracks he did not write. Ask him to detail his contribution and he draws a blank.

His biggest royalty check to date has been about $740,000 – not bad for someone who did not have a bank account and had maxed out his credit cards before “Devil Without A Cause” took off. He is building a house near where he was raised in suburban Detroit and will probably pay for it in cash.

“If you don’t owe anybody anything and the (expletive) bottom falls out of this and you’ve got nothing left, you’ve got a (expletive) house that’s paid for,” he reasoned. “I can go take back bottles and pay the electricity with that!”

Unlike Kid Rock’s raunchy efforts, “Double Wide” is a mellow pop album – “simplicity at its (expletive) finest,” he said. “I’m not really controversial. I don’t really say anything that’ll make you puke all over your shoes.”

The album, recorded in the back of a bus as Kid Rock and his band crisscrossed the country on tour, was infused by Uncle Kracker with blues and country styling.


He sings about his struggles and triumphs but does not consider any of the songs masterpieces and cannot even think of one he is particularly proud of. He has barely listened to the album, in fact. So is he maybe too mellow for his own good?

“The day I start over-thinking it is the day I quit having fun,” he replied. “I don’t care enough about it. I just love to do it and I do it and I keep it simple and that’s that.”

When “Double Wide” was first released last June, it fell out of the top 200 after just two weeks because the first single, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” flopped.

Uncle Kracker considered quitting the business because he owns a tire shop and loves changing tires, but then Atlantic released “Follow Me” as a single and the album took off. It re-entered the charts in January.

He claims to be unaffected by his fame. He is married to an old high school acquaintance, Melanie, and they have two daughters. Kid Rock was his best man.

He does not regret committing himself to one woman while his bandmates indulge in the usual rock ‘n’ roll hijinks. “I love being married. My wife and my kids, they keep me so close to the ground, it’s ridiculous… I’m fortunate that I met my wife when she was a waitress and I was hustling.”

Unwittingly paraphrasing a line from Joe Walsh’s paean to rock star excess, “Life’s Been Good,” he says he has stayed the same but his friends have changed.

He still drinks Miller beer and eats at his regular fast-food joints. But these days he sports rock star accessories like a diamond-studded Rolex watch and luxury auto when he turns up at his old haunts. The inlaid gold and diamonds in his teeth are also a nice touch.

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