Quick Stats: John Rich, of country music duo Big and Rich
Daily Driver: 1968 Cadillac DeVille (John’s rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: See below
Favorite drive: Broadway in downtown Nashville
Car he learned to drive in: 1970 Datsun pickup
First car bought: 1973 Dodge Dart Swinger
Being half of one of country music’s popular duo Big and Rich, a founding member of Lonestar, and a producer/songwriter for other acts means you can buy any number of dream cars to stock in the garage.
For John Rich, the cars he carefully chooses are ones that are priceless in their emotional value and history. “I’m not a … guy that wants to own millions of dollars worth of cars. I don’t really care about that. It’s more about what the car stands for and means, and how it integrates itself into your memories,” Rich said.
When the weather is warm, Rich’s daily driver is one he’s had for 10 years and a ride that is as famous as he is. It’s the one he pulls up to the red carpet at the CMA Awards every year in and it shows up in photo shoots for his albums – his beloved 1968 Cadillac DeVille.
“I love old guitars, I love old cars. A guitar to me is artwork. I love things that have history behind them, ‘I wonder where this car has been,’ or ‘I wonder what all this car has done,’” he says. “It had its previous life and now it’s got its life with me. You take a trip in a car like that and it’s something you never forget. They have a smell and a feel and the way they roll. They have personalities.”
Some cars are just meant to be in our lives. Rich was on West End Avenue in Nashville and the DeVille, which was parked on a hill with a “for sale” sign, immediately caught his eye.
“It looks like country music,” Rich says, laughing. “There’s something about a convertible ‘68 Cadillac, it’s just got a thing. It’s so long and so straight and built so well, you just go, ‘Wow, man, that’s when America was making some great cars, some great metal back then.’ I love American metal, all of my classic cars are American made, old school metal.”
He called the phone number and the owner was someone who wanted to liquidate items, including the Cadillac. “It’s just a beautiful car. I took it to about 50 miles, put it up on a lift, checked it all out, and couldn’t believe how clean and how original this car was. I made a him a cash offer on it and I bought it right there on the spot, right here in Nashville.”
To Rich, the DeVille is just shy of what a show car would be, which is how he likes them, since he likes to drive his cars. “It’s an all original, it’s got the 472, original color, all the original manuals,” he says.
Rich judges this classic convertible to be a perfect 10. “It was in our last album’s photo shoot, so it’s a famous Cadillac. It’s been in our images for Big & Rich for the last three, four years. The first time I had it out in downtown Nashville, I drove it downtown and I called up another singer Dierks Bentley, and I pulled up to Dierks’ house, he jumped in the backseat and we went cruising down through Nashville and jumping on stages and playing music,” he says.
For Rich, a Cadillac is what the legendary country stars that came before him used to drive.
“It’s like the ultimate country music singer’s car. I always say you can’t be a real old school country singer without a long Cadillac,” he says. “All the old guys had the Cadillac. Hank Sr. was in a Cadillac. This car has so much torque and so much horsepower, back in the ‘60s people in Nashville would hook a trailer up to the Cadillac, and instead of a tour bus.”
Rich said they’d load everybody into those Cadillacs and pull their gear and instruments behind them in a little trailer and tour all over the United States in a car just like his.
Rich has a deep appreciation for cars that are original and haven’t been tampered with.
“This car is all original and it’s something I can drive it to California and back if I wanted to,” he says. “And it’s already got a big history with me because it’s been in album cover shots with Big & Rich. I’ve gone downtown to Nashville with other big time country singers and had incredible experiences downtown.”
Fans have been known to jump in the Cadillac with Rich, who sometimes drives them around town. “To me, some cars are just cars and some cars are part of the stories that you have in your life. ‘Yeah we jumped in the Cadillac and went to the red carpet.’ ‘Where’s that Cadillac at?’ ‘It’s in the garage.’ And they want to see it,” he says. “That’s the one they want to see because it has a personality all unto itself.”
Rich has names for these special cars in his life. The Cadillac is called Hank, after Hank Williams, Sr. “He was gone before 1968, but he had a blue Cadillac, as a matter of fact, he died in the back seat of a Cadillac back in the ‘50s.”
It’s also featured in his music video for “Country Done Come to Town,” in which it is driven by Ted Nugent through the front gates of Rich’s property. But Rich doesn’t treat the Cadillac as preciously as you might think. His philosophy is a beloved car is meant to be driven and enjoyed, especialy when weather permits.
“Like this morning, I went to go run some errands and I hopped in the ‘68 Cadillac, dropped the top,” he said on a day that was 80 degrees. “It’s just a perfect car to jump in and go. I drive it a lot. Absolutely.”
Every classic car in his garage has its reason for why he carefully chosen it. “As far as classic cars, I’ve got six. It’s a moving target. If I see something out there, I like things that are a little different, like not everybody has one, like the ’61 Imperial.
1961 Chrysler Imperial
The Imperial is called Patsy. “Patsy Cline passed away in 1961 and she was as classic as it got, so I called the Imperial Patsy,” he says. As a daily driver in warmer weather, Rich switches out the Cadillac and will often take his Imperial.
“It’s a rare car because they only made Imperials for a few years,” he says.
For Rich, the big tailfins make the Imperial an interesting car. “It almost looks like a hybrid between a ’59 El Dorado, it almost has a Chevy aspect to it too. Floating headlights. All kinds of crazy stuff,” he says.
The Imperial is show-car quality and the proof is when he drives it around town. “It’s such an odd specimen of a car,” he says. “They had push button transmissions, it was probably the most technologically advanced car in 1961 and to have a car that’s in that condition, once again numbers matching the original car, when I drive that down the road, everybody stops.”
It also steals the thunder from other cars when he pulls up at a classic car show. “Everybody comes over and goes, ‘What am I looking at?’ You just don’t see them very often. Pretty rare piece of metal. It’s a deep green with a green and tan interior, it looks like a $100 bill rolling down street,” Rich says, laughing. “It’s cool.”
Although he’s only had it for two years, it was a long journey to find the perfect original Imperial.
“I’ve looked for that car for many years and never could find one that was in pristine shape and they just didn’t make that many of them, so there’s not many around,” he says. “So that was a real find when I got my hands on that. I’m only the third owner, the guy before me had owned it for 35 years.”
Rich thought it had quite a history. “Knowing back in the day Chrysler was considered a blue collar car and if you wanted a fancy car, you’d get a Cadillac or Lincoln,” he says. “Chrysler had Imperial lots (that only sold) Imperials. They really tried to create a new brand.”
He thought that was an interesting story of American entreprenuerism, as Chrysler tried to compete with Cadillac and Lincoln. “I think this Imperial as a ’61 is way more advanced than the Cadillacs or the Lincolns, so to me that was a really interesting piece of history to have sitting in my garage and be able to drive and tell people about it,” he says.
1978 Pontiac Trans Am SE Black Diamond Series
Rich proudly talks about the time and labor of love in trying to find this Trans Am, which he’s had for eight years now. “I’ve got 1 of 1100 ‘78 Pontiac Trans Am ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ edition car,” Rich says. “I just love those iconic American cars like that. It’s not the one that was in the movie, but it’s that car.”
For what the car is, Rich gives it a perfect 10. “You feel like Burt Reynolds when you’re drive that thing, it’s unbelievable,” he says. “I looked for this car for a long, long time, probably six years. It’s body is by Fisher and it’s a Y82.”
He’d find a black and gold Trans Am which wold look like Smokey and the Bandit car but something had always been changed from the original. “I finally found one and got my hands on it and I think the guy I bought it from didn’t understand exactly how rare that car was, because of all the specifications,” he says.
Rich’s dad, a fellow classic car lover, helped him find the Trans Am. “I told him what I was looking for, we spent two years just looking up cars. This was through Hemmings, or one of the big sites. There was a guy down in Georgia that had it and had owned it for a long time,” he says.
The man trailered it to Nashville and Rich and his dad got in it and spent a few hours with it before buying it. The nostalgia of this car was obviously from “Smokey and the Bandit” for Rich.
“I’ve watched that movie 100 times. It had some of the greatest characters of all time, with Burt Reynolds and Sally Field, it’s kind’ve like the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ car,” he says. “It’s one of those cars that is about as iconic as it gets in pop culture. So that’s why I spent so much time trying to find one that was a numbers matching, no air conditioning, 6.6, 400, rear-end matching, everything matching factory.”
Rich said part of what also made it a tough one to find was that the doors are so long, they often sagged on the old cars now. “That’s why this car is really such a rare bird because it has not been altered at all,” he says, adding that it’s named Bandit.
“My boys love that car. I’ll put them in the backseat, I’ll put the kids seats in and buckle them in, drive them to school and drop them off at school and I’ll rev it off a couple times when I’m dropping them off and all the kids get a big laugh out of that,” he says, with a laugh.
Rich has regular cars, but even they have an interesting story behind how they ended up in his garage. “When you go to the airport, you’re not going to take a ’61 Imperial and let the kid valet it,” Rich says. “So I have regular cars, pickup trucks. What I drive to the airport is a 2011 King Ranch Ford pickup. That’s what I jump in a lot.”
2011 Ford F-150 King Ranch
“It’s just a good everyday vehicle. It’s been dinged up a little bit because I work in it and do stuff,” he says.
Even though Rich says this is a regular old truck which hardly ever gets washed, it still has a story on how he ended up with it. “I bought that truck with cash that I won off a blackjack game,” he says.
Rich used to play a lot of blackjack and in 2011 he was at a casino and I started playing cards and got on this crazy roll where he says he “just could not lose.”
By the time Rich got up from the table, he had all this cash from the night’s winnings. “I’m like, ‘What do I do with all this cash?” I said, “You know what? I do need a new pickup,” he says, with a laugh.
He went to the Ford truck dealership in Nashville and asked how much the King Ranch was that was sitting there. “I think it was like $58,000. I said, ‘Ok, that’s what I want.’ I set down this briefcase full of money. He goes, ‘What is that?’ ‘It’s money I won on a blackjack game.’”
The salesman told Rich he had to call the police over there with that kind of cash. “I said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ I said, ‘I’ve got the receipt right here from the pit where I was,’” he recalls. “So they lay out all this money and all the old ladies back in accounting were sitting in the back, counting out hundred dollar bills until they counted it three times.”
Hence he named his pickup Blackjack. “It’s kind of funny. It’s just a regular old truck but it’s got a funny story about it,” Rich says.
2010 Bentley Continental GT
“Probably the fanciest car I’ve got that would be a new car, several years back I bought a Bentley Continenal GT that’s black on black, a pretty serious car. It’s a 2010 Bentley. Those cars are something else. I don’t drive that to the airport either,” he says, with a laugh.
But it’s a definite 10 rating. “I’ve owned Corvettes and I’ve owned lighter, fast cars, but the thing I love about that Bentley is it’s heavy, so 0 to 60 it’s not going to be a revved up Vette or a Ferrari, but it’s so heavy, it’ll go fast,” he says. “So when you accel man, it’s dead quiet inside of this car, which is something I love. I love to be in that car, it’s almost like you’re driving a space ship, it’s just an incredible driver.”
1964 Ford shortbed pickup
The reason this is special is that it belonged to Rich’s sound man Jimmy Buster, who died, so it’s aptly named Buster. “At the time I was working with him, he had already had three kidney transplants, he would go on dialysis every other day while on tour,” Rich says, of his friend who did that while working 150 shows a year. “He was the toughest dude I ever knew. He and I became so close that he gave me power of attorney in case he ever wound up on his death bed, and gave me his living will.”
Unfortunately he went through a fourth kidney transplant and didn’t survive. After Rich sang at his funeral, he asked his friend’s mother about the pickup he had and had always wanted to fix up.
“I said, ‘I believe it’s a ’64 Ford, is it around here somewhere? She said, ‘It’s in a barn at his uncle’s house.’ I said, ‘I’d like to buy it,’” he recalled. ‘That’s something he wanted to do and something he was passionate about doing, and he just never got to do it, so I feel like I got to complete something for him.”
Once again, Rich and his dad drove there and trailered it back and he spent $50,000 restoring it. “It spent a year and a half undergoing an off-frame restoration. The truck was taken apart and put back together and restored,” he says.
He’s had this truck now for 15 years. “That’s something you just never want to get rid of,” Rich says. “Any time his mom comes to Nashville, she wants to see the truck. It is just an absolutely beautiful truck, the pinstripe on this truck is hand painted.”
Rich says he loves his classic cars so much, he probably will never let them go. “Some cars are just cars and you buy them, sell them, trade them and have it for a while and you let it go,” he says. “Most of my cars I could not bear to do that.”
His classic cars also happen to be lookers wherever they go. “They’re just beautiful, the Imperial is deep green and the Bandit, they’re like, ‘Where’s Burt Reynolds?’ I’ll put on a straw cowboy hat, Ray-Bans, and light a cigar and drive that thing,” he says.
One time in the Bandit, Rich was already looking a bit like Burt Reynolds when pulled up next to a police officer in Nashville. “I looked over at him and he looked at me and just shook his head like, ‘Oh man, you’re out of your mind,’” he says, laughing. “I revved it up a couple times and the police officer was just laughing. I wear a cowboy hat and Ray-Bans anyway and I’ve got a mustache on top of that, so it ain’t that far of a stretch.”
First car bought
While Rich fans know about his famous Cadillac, they might not know he once had a job detailing cars while in school.
“Not just in the summers, like after school I’d detail, I’d go down and find dealerships and they’d have me come in,” Rich says. “I ran a little ad in the newspaper. I detailed my friends’ cars, my friends’ parents’ cars, it was just a way to make money and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed taking a car that’s been, as they say in Texas, ‘rode hard and put up wet.’ It’s rough and you get to go in there and make it look shiny again, and make it look good.”
Rich worked diligently at every car he detailed. “Everybody just knew I was the kid if you wanted some car detailed, call me,” he says. “I had a box of rags and cleaners and shop vacuums and I would load it up. I would show up and they’d go, ‘How much to get it as good looking as you can?’ I would say, ‘$50 bucks’ and it might take me five hours to do it, but that was ok. Fifty bucks when you’re 16 is not too bad.”
Rich saved up enough money to buy a 1973 Dodge Dart Swinger, which he still has to this day.
“An old man had this ’73 Dodge Dart Swinger and it only had 40,000 miles on it. This car’s interesting because it’s a slant six, which is one of the most basic engines that was ever made, and it’s pretty much an indestructible engine, it’s not a horsepower engine or anything like that. But it’s a two-door hard top, Robin’s Egg blue, with a white top, so it’s a really pretty little car and the guy sold it to me for $600 bucks,” he says, with a laugh. “I had $600 bucks, I didn’t have $6,000 bucks.”
He bought it as his high-school car and drove it till he was 20 years old. “Just couldn’t get rid of it,” Rich says. “I’m hoping one day, I have two sons that are seven and five, I’m sure that’ll be something they drive when they start out.”
Car he learned to drive in
“The first time I ever drove anything, I was 14 out in Amarillo, Texas, which is where I’m from,” Rich recounts. “We had a 1979 Datsun pickup, stick shift. That thing was so hard to drive, the clutch was brutal trying to shift gears and not kill that engine, and my dad knew that. Out in Amarillo you can see 20 miles in every direction. It’s just flat as a pancake, so there’s really nothing to hit. We lived in the middle of a wheat field and you could drive three miles and never see anything other than wheat.”
His dad felt confident that he wouldn’t get in too much trouble learning, since there weren’t any cars around. “We set up cones and I learned how to drive on that really stiff stick shift Datsun. That’s a good way to learn. I think everybody should know how to drive a stick shift. A lot of people don’t know how to anymore,” he says.
The Datsun pickup truck was his dad’s work truck and it didn’t have power steering in those days. “Everything about that truck was hard, which I think was the point,” he says, laughing.
His dad was also his driving instructor on that Datsun. “I thought he had some interesting tactics that I’ll probably pass on to my sons, like we’d get on a dirt road that was eight miles long and straight, at night he’d go a mile down away from me and we’d start driving towards each other,” he recalls.
Rich’s dad would turn on his bright lights to teach him the classic tricks on how to get used to glaring lights from other drivers. “He would try to blind me and of course had already told me, ‘When my bright lights are on, where do your eyes go when the bright lights hit you in the eyes if you’re out on the road?’ I go, ‘I don’t know.’ He goes, ‘Down. You look at the line on the edge of the road, not the middle, and you stay as close to it as you can till those lights pass you.’”
His dad also had him practice other exercises and instilled in him good driving habits. “I thought it was really useful, the way he taught me how to drive – ‘Look in your mirrors more than you look out the windshield,’ and stuff like that,” Rich says.
It’s obvious Rich got some of his love of cars from his dad. “My dad’s a preacher, he had some of the old Mopar stuff when he was in high school. To make ends meet a lot of times, because there wasn’t a lot of money preaching, he sold cars,” he said.
His dad worked on new and used car lots and even had his own lot for a while, when Rich was 12, which was where he learned how to detail cars. So these days, his dad is his go-to person when it comes to classic cars and helps him with the mechanical work.
“He’s so good at it. I’ll drop one off to him and say, ‘It needs XYZ’ and of course he’ll find 10 other things I wasn’t even thinking about. He’s got the Imperial right now, it needed a little tweak on the alternator,” he says, with a laugh. “He loves it, man. He’ll spend all day doing nothing but messing with the cars.”
These classic cars are also what bonds father and son. “He’ll call me up, ‘Where you at?’ Lord knows where I might be, ‘I’m in Seattle.’ He goes, ‘Well, I found out why your gas gauge is reading wrong. I took it apart and got underneath.’ He’ll spend two days figuring out why a guage isn’t working exactly right,” he says, with a laugh. “It’s awesome.”
Although Rich was born after a lot of the old cars he loves were made, he appreciates the nostalgia they offer that can’t be bought. “I’m an artist, I’m a songwriter, I produce records, I love anybody that’s creating art and some of those old cars are absolute pieces of art,” Rich says. “That Imperial is no doubt American art work. I look at that ‘68 Caddy and go, ‘That is a beautiful piece of metal, somebody really did something great.’ You look at that ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ car, it’s so iconic and nothing else ever looked like that. I just love having those pieces of what I call American artwork at my house.”
Rich’s favorite drive is one that he does often in his classic cars – right through the middle of downtown Nashville, on Broadway on a Saturday night.
“If you get in that Cadillac or Imperial or Bandit, and you’ve got the windows down and it’s 10 o’clock at night, there’s more old school neon signs on Broadway in Nashville than probably any town in the United States,” Rich says.
Part of the fun is that there’s also live music basting out from both sides of the street, and people from everywhere having a great time.
“You go cruising through there and to me it’s about as cool as it gets.”
Big & Rich’s “Did It For The Party”
Big & Rich’s “Did It For The Party” album was released in September, with “California” as the first single on country radio.
“‘Did It For The Party” is exactly what it sounds like,” Rich says. “This is the kind of record you roll your windows down and crank it as loud as it’ll go, it is vintage Big & Rich.”
For more information go to BigandRich.com.