Rich tells Billboard that the title idea came up during a songwriting session he and "Big" Kenny Alphin did with Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora for "Hillbilly Jedi's" opening track, "Born Again." "I don't remember who actually said 'Hillbilly Jedi' first, but I remember Jon Bon saying, 'Well, if I ever saw a couple of hillbilly Jedis, it'd be you two knuckleheads.' And we all kind of went 'Ha, ha, ha,' what a crazy line.' And then the title just kind of stuck."
But Big & Rich found The Force might not be with them when they proposed the idea to their label, Warner Bros. Nashville. "They said, 'Oh, we're gonna have to run this by our legal department... because the word Jedi is owned by George Lucas (LucasFilms)'," Rich recalls. "We went, 'Oh crap, we didn't even think of that. So sure enough, legal says, 'No, they can't use that.' " Bon Jovi, however came to the quick rescue.
"Kenny called Jon and told him, and Jon said, 'Hang on a second. I'm gonna call George.' And Kenny says 'George who?' and Jon says, 'George Lucas, dude.' So he picks up his cell and calls George Lucas... at a race car event in Morocco and says 'Hey man, my buddies Big & Rich want to call their record 'Hillbilly Jedis' and the legal department is telling them they can't. Would you do a favor and just be cool about it and let 'em call it that?' " Lucas agreed, but with one caveat. "He said, 'I have no problem if they want to use the word, but it's not Jedis. There's no 's' in Jedi, ever. Jedi is singular and plural, like deer,' " Rich recalls. "And we're like, 'Fine.' Sure enough, the next day we got paper from New York saying 'You guys can use it.' "
The Dann Huff-produced "Hillbilly Jedi" is Big & Rich's first new album in five years, after the duo took a bit of a break "to go and be John and Kenny for a minute," including solo projects and raising families. The best part of having it out, Rich says, is that "a lot of people assumed 'That's it; Big & Rich are done. They've hung it up. They're taking all their marbles and going home,' and that was never the case. As many times as we said it, 'Y'all, that's not what's going on,' they all looked at us like, 'Yeah, whatever.' But it really wasn't the case, and here we are to prove it."
Rich says he and Alphin will decide on a single to follow up the current "That's Why I Pray" after the album comes out and fans weigh in on their favorite tracks. Meanwhile, the duo is eyeballing some ambitious touring plans for 2013.
"We haven't booked anything yet, but we're discussing some really interesting touring packages," Rich says. "One thing I would like to see on the road is combinations that nobody's ever seen or thought was even possible. We talk about things and people look at us like we're crazy, but I think you're gonna see some pretty groundbreaking ideas come out."