NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - After a five-year break, Big & Rich are putting the funny back in country music - with the help of Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora.
The unlikely quartet gathered to write two songs for the country duo's new album, "Hillbilly Jedi," after they struck up a friendship a few years back.
"It was a great experience and we actually owe them a lot just in mentorship," John Rich said. "We don't have a ton of mentors. I would say Bon Jovi qualifies."
Along with the songs "Born Again" and "Can't Be Satisfied," Bon Jovi also assisted in saving the album's title and theme when the duo realized "Star Wars" creator George Lucas would probably object. It turned out to be no problem - after Bon Jovi stepped in.
"So he pulls out his cellphone, calls him and says, 'George, my buddies want to call their new album 'Hillbilly Jedis.' Is that OK?'" Rich said. "And he goes, 'Yeah, that's cool, but there's no such thing as jedis. Jedi is like deer; it's plural and singular. So if they do it, it's got to be 'Hillbilly Jedi.'"
Lucas' gift helped preserve the twisted little heart of the duo's first album in five years. During their time apart, both released solo albums and had children. Big Kenny Alphin traveled the world and worked with children's charities. Rich became a reality television star by winning "Celebrity Apprentice" and joining on as a mentor on "The Next."
The time away allowed them to recharge their creativity and hone their songs, sometimes over the course of years.
"Once your career takes off you don't have time to do that again," Alphin said. "Well, we had the time to do that again and we took it. You've got to live your life and that's where those great songs come from. It just takes time sometimes. With three records of hits, in our opinion, you've got to make sure that you're focused on keeping the greatness out there."
First single "That's Why I Pray" was the duo's fastest-rising song and their third-highest charting single. And they were nominated for best vocal duo at this year's Country Music Association Awards before the album even came out. Plenty of proof they made the right decisions along the way.
"The 18-month album cycle to me is unhealthy, and Nashville has gotten to that," Rich said. "... To me the cycle has taken albums as pieces of work down a notch. It's not very often you hear an album anymore that's a body of work, everything that's on there has a reason for being on there. Not saying it doesn't happen, but it's few and far between because of the ravenous album schedule that the industry puts on us."