The crowd at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena is primed, rowdy and ready to rock, anxiously anticipating a night with hometown hero Kid Rock.
But then the onstage DJ spins “Crazy Bitch,” the signature hit from resurgent rock band Buckcherry’s third album, “15.” For three minutes and 22 seconds, the Kid Rock partisans have only Buckcherry on the brain, singing every word while dancing and pumping fists with such ferocity you’d think the band itself was onstage.
It’s a moment of pure rock ‘n’ roll transcendence — and a clear illustration of the transcendence Buckcherry has made from what manager Allen Kovac calls “beyond dead” to a return-to-platinum status with 2006’s “15.”
The album, which has spent 103 weeks in the upper reaches of the Billboard 200 chart, has spawned such hits as “Crazy Bitch” and “Sorry” during a marathon campaign that may blend seamlessly with the setup for Buckcherry’s next set, expected this summer.
The group is also the vanguard of a rock resurgence that includes crossover success by such groups as Finger Eleven, Daughtry, Three Days Grace, Flyleaf and Lifehouse.
To date, “15” has sold more than 1.1 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, more than 48,000 of them digital. That’s 20 percent better than the combined total of Buckcherry’s two previous albums, 1999’s self-titled debut and 2001’s “Time Bomb.”
“Crazy Bitch,” a riff-driven, F-bomb-laden rock anthem that celebrates a woman’s sexuality in the tradition of Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls,” has sold more than 1.2 million digital copies and nearly 1.6 million ringtones. It was also the No. 8-selling ringtone of 2007 and scored a Grammy nomination for best hard rock performance. Strippers loved it.
The format-crossing ballad “Sorry,” meanwhile, is sweeping behind the album’s other singles (”Everything,” “Next 2 You” and “Broken Glass”) and is nearing a million downloads and 225,000 ringtones. It’s also Buckcherry’s first top 10 hit, peaking at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
More than 300 live shows since before the album’s release kept the heat on high for “15.” Not bad for an album that nobody — at least not in the United States — wanted when the group recorded it.
“Everybody passed,” Buckcherry guitarist and “15” co-producer Keith Nelson says. “A lot of majors were not willing to gamble on something like us. I think there were a lot of question marks about how we would be perceived and whether they could market and sell a band like us. So we just went out and did it ourselves at first, and the (industry) caught up to us.”
Failing to ignite
Buckcherry released its self-titled debut album in 1999 on DreamWorks, bucking the teen pop and rap-rock trends of the time to score gold sales and such modern rock chart hits as ”Lit Up,” “Check Your Head” and “For the Movies.”
But its 2001 follow-up, “Time Bomb,” failed to ignite. The group imploded in 2002 with three members leaving Nelson and frontman Josh Todd at an impasse, even though the singer says they had started writing material — including “Crazy Bitch” — for a third album.
Todd says he and Nelson, who were part of a nascent version of Velvet Revolver that didn’t pan out, never formally called it a day.
“We just thought we would take a break from one another,” says Todd, who released a solo album, “You Made Me,” in 2004, which sold just 14,000 copies. “We never decided we were broken up, but we definitely needed a break, so we just stopped.”
With “a lot of things in common in our personal lives,” Todd says that in early 2005, he and Nelson — who focused on production and songwriting during the interim — decided to make Buckcherry a going concern again.
Todd says the three new members of Buckcherry — guitarist Stevie D., bassist Jimmy Ashhurst and drummer Xavier Muriel — were the only ones he and Nelson auditioned for the band.
“We just said, ‘If you guys want to be in this band, just show up here on this day and bring studio rent.’ They all showed up with their studio rent and we just started working five days a week.
As the new music was formulating, Todd and Nelson went looking for management. They found it in Kovac’s Tenth Street Entertainment, which had worked with what Todd calls “bands that have had somewhat of a career and had a slump,” such as Motley Crue. “They know how to take that brand that you built and just kind of redevelop it,” Todd says.
While “nearly every major label in the world passed on this band,” according to Kovac, Buckcherry financed the recording of ”15” — tracked in 15 days, hence the title — with an advance from Universal Japan, the one company that did believe in the project. The group, which toured Japan twice before the album’s April 11, 2006, release at home, subsequently signed with Universal Canada as well.
But without a U.S. label stepping up, Kovac and the band decided to make “15” the first release on his Eleven Seven imprint, the successor to his previous label, Beyond Music. Eleven Seven then signed an agreement that allowed Warner Music Group’s Atlantic Records to take over a project once it had shipped between 75,000 and 100,000 units.
They didn’t have to wait long. “15,” which shipped 40,000 units to start, made a surprising debut at No. 48 on the Billboard 200, selling 26,000 units. By the album’s third week of release, Atlantic was on the case — an irony, since former executive Jason Flom had expressed heavy interest in signing Buckcherry but was overruled by his superiors.
Connecting the dots
Prior to Atlantic’s arrival, Eleven Seven drew on in-house research and made extensive use of MySpace and YouTube to lock into Buckcherry’s fan base via the gritty, low-budget video for “Crazy Bitch.”
“The Internet is this generation’s FM radio,” Kovac says, adding that the success of Motley Crue’s 2005 single “If I Die Tomorrow” was an early indicator that there was an unfed audience appetite for hard-hitting rock.
“The whole thing was really just connecting all the dots, utilizing all the rock ‘n’ roll markets,” Todd says. “Where do rock ’n’ roll fans go? They go to strip clubs and wrestling shows. They’re out in the f---ing trenches. We wanted to get to all of them, and we knew where they were.”
While all these maneuvers made “15” a rock hit, Todd says the group knew all along that it had “Sorry” in its pocket with even greater crossover potential.
“The aggravating part,” he says with a laugh, “was it was just taking so long to get to that song because ’Crazy Bitch’ had such a long run. We were just like, ’This song better f---ing get the shot it deserves’ — and it did.”
Convinced by the showing of “15” that both Buckcherry and rock are indeed back, all concerned are chomping at the bit for the band’s next release, which will be released by Atlantic.
Todd says the band, with all members now contributing, is ”finishing up the songwriting” process for the album. Buckcherry plans to hit the studio in May.
“There’s some deep lyrics,” Todd says. “It’s a rock record. It’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel ... but we’ve matured as songwriters, and I thing it’s going to be more melodic. I think people are going to be happy.”