Brooks & Dunn, Leon Eric “Kix” Brooks and Ronnie Gene Dunn stunned the music world last fall with the announcement they are calling it quits, riding off into the sunset, shutting it down, closing shop, calling it a day. Or a night. Whatever was said, the meaning was clear: Country music’s beloved, best-selling duo is splitting.
“After 20 years of making music and riding this trail together, we have agreed as a duo that it’s time to call it a day,” says their web site. “We owe it all to you, the fans. If you hear rumors, don’t believe them, it’s just time. We will release our “Number 1’s and then some” album. [We will] come see you all one more time in 2010, with The Last Rodeo Tour.”
Lucky for Houstonians, on March 20, the team will ride into the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for their last performance in Reliant Stadium. They’ve been riding in every year since 1992.
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, two small town boys, followed their passions down the red dirt road of life smack into country music history books and The American Dream. Brooks was born in Shreveport, LA and Dunn was born in Coleman, Texas. They arrived in Nashville from very different directions.
Brooks started singing at age 12. He worked on an Alaskan oil pipeline, moved to Maine and started performing in ski resorts and other local venues. After he moved to Nashville in the ’80s, he found success as a songwriter, penning hits for many country groups.
Dunn loved to sing and started his singing career while still in his teens. He attended 13 schools in 12 years as his dad worked as a ranch manager and a pipe liner in oilfields. “When dad wasn’t working, he loved to play guitar and sing. I learned to play by watching my Daddy.” It was his mother’s influence that inspired him to want to become a Baptist minister. He attended Abilene Christian University to study theology and psychology until he was kicked out for continuing to perform in clubs every night. Deciding to follow his music career full-time, he moved to Tulsa, where he led a house band and recorded with a local label. He won a song-writing contest and the prize was to record in Nashville. There, Tim DuBois of Arista Records heard Dunn’s material and brought the two singers together. How brilliant can one man be? Was he a genius or a psychic? DuBois encouraged B & D to write and record some demo records together and before you could say Boot Scootin’ Boogie, their 1991 debut album, Brand New Man, with its first four hit singles, “Brand New Man,” “My Next Broken Heart,” “Neon Moon” and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” reached number one and was certified Multi-Platinum.
In 1993, their second album charted five singles, “Hard Workin’ Man,” “We’ll Burn that Bridge,” “She Used to Be Mine,” “Rock My World (Little Country Girl)” and “That Ain’t No Way to Go.”
And, the hits just kept on comin.’ Throughout the years, Brooks’s favorites have been “Red Dirt Road” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.” Dunn’s favorites – “Neon Moon,” “My Maria,” “Red Dirt Road” and “Believe.”
Professionally, Ronnie Dunn has often been described as the quietly intense singer with the soulful voice; and Kix Brooks has been known the high-energy showman.
Personally, I remember they described each other in this way:
Dunn on Brooks: “He’s a good politician, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I never know how to answer questions, but he’s so good with the public; he does all the talking and always says the right thing. He’s a good man. He’s got a good heart.”
Brooks on Dunn: “Ronnie’s more dynamic than I first recognized. He’s shy. He’s the best singer in Country music today. And, he a good family man – a good man!”
Once, Ronnie Dunn said to me, “Music is the gift that keeps on giving. If the music didn’t work, I’d quit. It wouldn’t matter how many albums we sold or how much money we made; if the music didn’t work, I’d quit.” Now, those words are ringing in my ears.
The Academy of Country Music will help Brooks and Dunn go out in style with an all-star concert tribute special, ACM Presents: Brooks & Dunn – The Last Rodeo which tapes on April 19th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Artists already announced to perform include Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban.
They will receive the Academy’s Milestone Award for the most wins of any artist in the Academy’s history. They have 26 awards in total, including three for Entertainer of the Year. They will also be honored for holding the record for most Top Vocal Duo wins, with 15 awards, eight of which are consecutive from 2000-2007. Brooks and Dunn have had 23 #1 hits, sold more than 30 million records and won more than 80 major industry awards during their career.
“Brooks and Dunn have defined country music for twenty years,” says Bob Romeno, Executive Director of the ACM. “With this all-star concert tribute, the Academy is honored to recognize their contributions to the country music industry, fans and to all the artists they have helped get a break in this business.”
Brian Phillips, president of Country Music Television, was totally caught off guard with the surprising announcement of the split. He had this to say: “They’ve been to the mountaintop, and they’ve accomplished everything that two human beings joined together musically can do in a career. They’ve had every kind of hit. Literally, they’ve explored every musical texture and tempo and style and favor. I can’t imagine either of them walking away from music. It’s unthinkable.”
Well, you never know. There have been groups who disbanded and regrouped later, such as the Judds who split in ‘91 only to reunite years later.
In a recent television interview, Brooks said, “Ronnie and I are still good friends. I’m proud to say we’ve never had a fight, never even yelled at each other. And that’s the truth.”
Dunn said, “We started as co-workers and realized we had a whole lot in common. We’ve ended up more like brothers.”
After the Last Rodeo, what’s their next big adventure? Looks like we’ll have to wait and see. Kix Brooks might just hunt and golf, while Ronnie Dunn might go antiquing in one of his favorite spots, Fredericksburg, Texas. Here’s wishing them continued success. We’re grateful to each of them for the twenty years of beautiful music and entertainment they’ve given us. Happy trails.