My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Spotlight Artist: Brooks & Dunn

brooks & dunnIn addition to hosting the show in 2004-2006, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are also the two winningest artists in CMA Awards history. As a duo, they have collected 18 trophies, a tie with Vince Gill. But Ronnie Dunn’s solo win in 2006 for ‘Believe’ as Song of the Year tipped his total wins to a very impressive 19 total, making him the artist with the most CMA Awards. Brooks & Dunn have also won more accolades from the Academy of Country Music than any other artist in the organization’s history, as well as countless awards from Billboard, the American Music Awards, as well as two Grammy’s.  But all this came only after two unlikely partners were put together by one shrewd record executive.  Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks had been paying dues for years to reach that level of superstardom.

A teenager from a long line of church dignitaries, Ronnie Dunn first believed his true calling was in preaching the word of God around the West. He began attending Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas in 1974. It wasn’t long before his desire to play music took over and the psychology major soon found himself fronting a band playing clubs around the Abilene area. This wasn’t looked upon favorably by the University, who gave Dunn an ultimatum: stop appearing the clubs or leave the school. Ronnie Dunn soon moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he played for several years, honing his songwriting and singing in the smoky Oklahoma dives. It was after winning a singing competition sponsored by Marlboro that Dunn became serious about his music career and moved to Nashville.

Leon ‘Kix’ Brooks began his life in Shreveport, Louisiana, surrounded by the honky-tonk sounds of the Louisiana Hayride and the Cajun music scene. It was Kix’s neighbor, Johnny Horton – who died when Kix was just a boy – that he learned to appreciate country music and dream about what he could achieve. Seeing all the gold records and awards Horton has acquired set a fire inside the young man to do the same, and he was soon performing with Horton’s daughter, Nina. After brief stints in Alaska and Maine, working various trade jobs, Kix returned to Nashville in the early 1980s at the urging of his father. Kix would spend the rest of the 1980s as a staff songwriter for Tree Publishing before releasing a solo album on Capitol Records in 1989, which didn’t yield any success.

In 1990, the two country music hopefuls, aiming for solo stardom, were paired together by Arista Records executive Tim DuBois. Both men had spent several years working the club circuit and had coincidentally, released their debut singles, which both flopped, in 1983. After his failed attempt at solo success, Ronnie Dunn was also toiling away in the Nashville music scene of the 1980s, when the chance to pair up with another singer and a shot at major label success was offered by Mr. Dubois. Both men were skeptical of the concept of a duo at first, having never worked with a musical partner before. But the fusing of the two’s talents – Ronnie’s masterful vocal skills with Kix’s energy and stage presence – was a successful one from the very beginning.

Their first album for the still-new country branch of the mighty Arista label charted five singles, the first four of which went to #1 while a fifth reached the #6 position. The album, Brand New Man, has since been certified six-times platinum. Throughout the rest of the 1990s, Brooks & Dunn released a steady string of hit singles and platinum-plus-selling albums.  By 1999, the duo had been to the top spot 14 times on the Country Singles chart, and was on a very hot streak.

In 1999, Tight Rope was released.  This would be the first Brooks & Dunn album since their debut that didn’t have a chart-topper among the singles, and also the first to not be certified platinum.  Though it did reach gold status, that was pretty much a flop by Brooks & Dunn’s multi-platinum standards.  Consequently, they lost the CMA Vocal Duo trophy in 2000 to Montgomery Gentry, an award Brooks & Dunn had dominated since 1992.  The pair came roaring back though in 2001 with their Steers and Stripes album.  Its lead single, ‘Ain’t Nothin’ ‘Bout You’ would become their best-charting single to date, spending 6 straight weeks at #1.  Two follow-up singles also reached the top.   In the meantime, the pair reclaimed their Vocal Duo crown until Sugarland dethroned them in 2007.

brooks & dunn liveThrough 2005, Brooks & Dunn continued to consistently hit the top of the Country Singles chart.  Their last #1, ‘Play Something Country’ was also a gold-selling single, and the album, Hillbilly Deluxe, went on to sell a million copies.  They’ve since to top the singles chart after 2005, but have released a half-dozen top 10 hits in the meantime and are still a major draw on the road.

A Brooks & Dunn concert has become an event of epic proportions in recent years, beginning with the Neon Circus and Wild West Show in 2001, which featured what was essentially, as the bill said, a traveling circus, but with some great country music thrown into the mix.  After announcing their mutual split earlier this year, 2010’s The Last Rodeo – their farewell tour – promises to be a sight to see.

From unlikely beginnings to success beyond either’s wildest dreams, Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn have carved out their own place in country music history.  Their music has kept alive the honky-tonk tradition of artists like Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, and Conway Twitty.  Ronnie Dunn’s soulful and undeniably country vocals can nail you to the wall when he gets into a great country ballad.  Few can do it as good as he can.  Kix Brooks has given that voice some awesome and memorable harmonies through the years, and has even lent his own lead vocals to a handful of Brooks & Dunn singles, though it’s Ronnie Dunn’s voice we most associate with the sound of Brooks & Dunn.  Over this month, we are are going to tell you about the contributions from both guys to the sound of Brooks & Dunn, and their contributions to country music as a whole over these past two decades – keeping country music alive on jukeboxes all over America.

One response to “Spotlight Artist: Brooks & Dunn

  1. Sean November 1, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Yay!!!! I’m so excited! 🙂 Each month’s spotlight has been amazing and it keeps being amazing! 🙂 You guys rock!

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