Story by Shirley Halperin
Photo: Brian Jahn
At 28, Uncle Kracker’s already seen many of his dreams realized, both as turntable master for Kid Rock and in his own career, but that doesn’t mean this workaholic has any plans for slowing down.
Two years after Kid Rock hit the jackpot with 1998’s Devil Without A Cause, catapulting him to superstar status, Kracker followed with his solo debut, Double Wide, which went on to sell more than two million copies. Kracker’s debut was written and, for the most part, recorded on the bus during Kid Rock’s 1999 tour (Kid Rock is credited on over half the songs, though not on "Follow Me," the album’s breakout pop-radio smash). Mission accomplished? Not quite. Kracker now had to deliver a follow-up album, and the pressure was most certainly on.
"I was happy with it the day we finished it," says Kracker about No Stranger to Shame (Lava/Atlantic). "I was happy the day it came out, and I’m happy now. It’s not a blockbuster by any means, but it’s still respectable. The last record didn’t do anything the first eight months it was out. You never know what can happen in the last hour."
Raised in Detroit, Uncle Kracker (a.k.a. Matt Shafer) grew up quickly. Like Eminem and Kid Rock, he’d seen plenty of the other side of 8 Mile Road. His teen years consisted of "booze, mescaline, acid, and loud music"; he was a permanent fixture at high-school parties deep in the woods.
"I didn’t hate cops, but I didn’t like them," Kracker says about his youthful encounters with the authorities. "Six out of ten times, we didn’t get busted—the cops didn’t know where we were." Though he worked regularly at his father’s gas station, Shafer also sold the occasional dime bag. He takes pride in the fact he never was busted. "I was good at it," he recalls.
These days, Kracker partakes only "occasionally," he reports. This father of two, for the most part, has tamed the troublemaker within him. "I don’t drink and drive any more," he says. "I don’t sell any more. I don’t do anything stupid."
Add "role model" to his long of titles—singer, songwriter, DJ, dad, Kid Rock’s musical collaborator and confidant. About Rock (a.k.a. Bob Ritchie), he says: "He’s been my best friend for a long time." An unwritten pact between the two lifelong buds concocted while still in their teens still holds: Whoever makes it big helps the other.
Both are still smarting form the loss of Joe C., Rock’s rapping sidekick, who died in 2001. "I think about him all the time," Kracker says, getting misty eyed. "When I think about Joe I just smile. I’m glad I got to know him. There won’t be another Joey."
One song on No Stranger to Shame that’s sure to grab listeners is Kracker’s duet with Dobie Gray on the soul man’s 1973 hit, "Drift Away," a song that Kracker considers to be an unacknowledged stoner anthem. "That song’s about letting go and doing what you’re doing and not giving a shit about anything else," he explains. "If you do a cover song, you might as well do it better than the original, and this is a song that’s almost impossible to do better than the original. So I just grabbed the guy that did it originally and had him co-sing it. I learned [from him] that you can be an older musician and not be bitter. I meet a lot of older musicians that are bitter about everything. He’s definitely a nice gentleman and very down to earth."
Just like Uncle Kracker.