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Big & Rich
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When John Rich met Big Kenny in 1998, both had been through the record industry wringer. Rich had been in the country band Lonestar before launching a brief solo career. Big Kenny (whose real name is Kenny Alphin) didn't become a full-time musician until he was in his 30s, but a big record deal and the ensuing album went nowhere, so he launched a wild outfit called luvjOi.

A friend tried to drag Rich to one of Big Kenny's shows at a Nashville club; Rich's response, he says, was "Big what? I don't think I want to see anybody named that." But he went anyway -- whereupon he was whacked in face by one of the many pieces of bubblegum thrown from the stage into the audience. The two men met after the show and made tentative arrangements to write songs together. Then one or the other of them blew off the first three appointments.

When they finally did get together, they liked the first song they wrote and loved the second, "I Pray for You." They weren't ready to record together quite yet, so the song became Rich's first single as a solo artist but the record label dropped him via e-mail before they put the album out.

Rich and Big Kenny became friends and writing partners, and they kept jamming at each other's shows and clambering onstage with singer-songwriter pals like James Otto and Jon Nicholson. The casual sessions soon turned into a weekly Tuesday night gig -- known as the MuzikMafia -- at a small Nashville establishment called the Pub of Love.

In 2003, Martina McBride recorded Rich and Big Kenny's song "She's a Butterfly" for her self-titled effort and the duo landed a record deal of their own with Warner Bros. Nashville. Big & Rich debuted in February 2004 with "Wild West Show," a bold and modern country-rocker that displayed their high-low harmony vocals. When the Horse of a Different Color album arrived later that spring, its Nashville polish was salted with MuzikMafia irreverence.

Different Color eventually topped the Billboard country chart, thanks to the breakout single, "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy." Big & Rich returned in late 2005 with Comin' to Your City. The music video for one of the album's singles, "8th of November," received a CMA nomination in 2006.