Singer/Songwriter John Rich, who makes up one half of the country group, Big & Rich, is sitting in his Redneck Riviera Bar in downtown Nashville, talking about a busy and very successful 2021.
On the music side of things, he and Big Kenny (the other half of Big & Rich) maintained a steady tour schedule throughout the year, then, over the holidays Rich recorded a Christmas song with Mike Rowe called “Santa’s Gotta Dirty Job” that topped the all-genre singles charts on both iTunes and Billboard.
When he’s not making music, Rich stays focused on his different businesses, including his Redneck Riviera bar on Nashville’s Lower Broadway. The bar is the flagship for his Redneck Riviera brand that began with an apparel line in 2014, and now encompasses a wide range of products.
“I have the bar,” he explains, “then, Redneck Riviera Whiskey. I have a barbecue sauce which is now in three thousand stores. We have an apparel line, and we have a boot line in all fifty states.”
It’s an expansive list considering he just launched the brand a little more than seven years ago.
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Rich is an award-winning singer/songwriter who sang with the group Lonestar, before becoming part of the country duo, Big & Rich. Rich and Big Kenny released their first studio album Horse of a Different Color in 2004 which included the hit song “Save a Horse (Ride A Cowboy).” The two have been recording and touring together ever since.
“We did a lot of concerts this year, once things opened up,” Rich says. “It’s interesting because you’d think the further you get in your career things would start dwindling down, but not for us. I think it’s because we have a history of having such an energetic, hard-hitting, fun show.
He says it was while he and Big Kenny were on the road that he got the idea to create his own whiskey.
“I was a Crown Royal guy, which is Canadian blended whiskey,” Rich says, “and I’d been drinking it all these years on the road with Big Kenny. Then one day I was looking down at this Crown Royal bottle and reading it and thought, Canadian Blended Whiskey? I wonder if there’s such a thing as American blended whiskey.”
He started asking about that very thing when he’d walk into liquor stores in different cities.
“I’d walk in and ask the store clerk, hey buddy can you show me where your American blended whiskey is? And every single time I’d get the same answer, ‘We don’t have anything called that.’”
Rich began thinking that if he saw a bottle with the phrase “American blended whiskey” he’d probably buy, and he figured others would, as well. So, he began doing some research.
“I thought, I don’t know how to make whiskey, but I know what I like about whiskey and what I don’t like about it. So, I got on the phone, called a Master Distiller, and said, here’s what I’m trying to do.”
He’d already trademarked the name “Redneck Riviera” years earlier. As he worked to create his own whiskey, it would take more than a year and he would go through some 200 variations before finally deciding on the blend. He took it to his 86-year-old grandmother for the final taste test and Granny Rich gave it her approval.
The whiskey is available in stores across the country and he proudly serves it at his Redneck Riviera bar and music venue in downtown Nashville. The bar is known for its strong support of veterans and even has a “heroes bar.” Rich, whose grandfather was a World War II vet, says it’s extremely important to him to honor those who served. He says everything he has is based on his ability to pursue the American dream and he credits that to those who served, and continue to serve, in the military.
“The only reason a guy like me, who has a high school diploma and grew up in a double-wide trailer in Amarillo, Texas can achieve all of this, is because I have the right to pursue happiness, to exhaust my potential. And the only reason we have those rights is because men and women, for the past two hundred plus years, have been willing to die to keep the right alive.”
He also supports the military by donating 10-percent of the profits from sales of his Redneck Riviera products to Folds of Honor. The non-profit organization helps children who lost parents in combat attend college.
“The reason I tied up with them is because I could not think of a stronger way to say thank you than to look after somebody’s kids. If you said, John, if something happened to you, what would you want me to do, I’d say make sure my boys are all right. And that’s what Folds of Honor is doing. Education is one of the most valuable things you can give somebody.”
Rich says much of “his” education has come from studying those who came before him and the same is true both in music and in business. He has always sought out mentors and says when he got started in music, he would call the managers of famous artists like George Jones, Ray Stevens, Mel Tillis, He was successful more often than not. He says when it comes to business you can learn from others, but you also have to be willing to step out on your own.
“When it comes to Redneck Riviera, it’s an entrepreneurial effort. Entrepreneurism is one of the most dangerous and rewarding things you can do. It’s high risk, high reward. And you have to have a strong stomach for it. I think being in the music business all those years probably helped me get ready to step in and do things like what I’m doing now, because I understand that it’s not going to be a bed of roses.”
Rich has a deep admiration for anyone willing to do what it takes to make their dreams come true. A strong patriot, he’s often outspoken when it comes to his country. He believes everyone has the right to “pursue happiness.” In fact, when the FOX News Network him his own show on the business channel, he thought about the type of show he wanted to create and decided to call it “The Pursuit.” The show itself tends to steer clear of politics and focuses on overcoming obstacles and making dreams come true.
“I sit down and talk to go-getter, American dream-chasers and entrepreneurs,” he explains. “These are people who regardless of their background, political persuasions, ideologies, or anything else, can sit and have a longform conversation. We focus on what we actually have in common which is to pursue happiness in America.”
Guests have included football player and coach, Eddie George, famed chef Maneet Chauhan, NASCAR legend Richard Petty, country singer Brantley Gilbert, rock star Meat Loaf, and others.
“People tell me they like the show because it’s inspiring. For example, to find out Meat Loaf, one of the greatest rock stars of all time, at 18 had to break two of his dad’s ribs to keep him from killing Meat Loaf with a butcher knife. His dad was a raging alcoholic and Meat Loaf ended up homeless for a year. Who knew that?”
Rich’s goal with each episode is to show that anyone can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds if they’re willing to work hard and keep pushing forward. It’s a philosophy that’s worked for him, and one he’ll continue to follow in the future.
“What’s the way you accomplish the American dream? You’ve got to work hard and hopefully have a good time while you’re doing it. Work hard and play hard, that’s what it’s all about.”