Originally published in the November 1, 1994 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
After three years as country music’s hottest duo, has Brooks & Dunn got two big heads? Not on your life.
“We’re both way too realistic and neurotic about this business to assume for a second that stardom has set in,” Ronnie Dunn told Country Weekly when the pair visited our Nashville offices on Music Row.
“We haven’t started having fun with it yet. We don’t take any of that stuff for granted. I get lectured by my wife all the time to slow down and enjoy it.
“Three years ago I was looking for change in a change jar to buy bread, you know? That’s the truth. That’s not going to go away.”
“We both feel like it’ll be gone tomorrow,” Kix Brooks concurred.
Their first album, Brand New Man, went triple platinum (3 million sales); their follow‑up, Hard Workin’ Man, is close to matching that feat. The just‑released Waitin’ on Sundown features the hot debut single and video, “She’s Not the Cheatin’ Kind.”
B&D also contributed to Asleep At The Wheel’s tribute album to Bob Wills; to the all‑star AIDS benefit album, Red Hot + Country; and to the star‑studded tribute albums to Merle Haggard (Mama’s Hungry Eyes) and the Eagles (Common Thread).
The Grammy‑winning duo has had six No. 1 singles: “Brand New Man,” “My Next Broken Heart,” “Neon Moon,” “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” “She Used to Be Mine” and “That Ain’t No Way to Go.”
To top it off, they designed one of the hottest‑selling pieces of Western clothing—their trademark flame shirt offered by the Panhandle Slim clothing company.
As a hobby, they’ve become heavy‑footed Legends race car drivers. They compete in Nashville Oct. 13 in the Mark Collie Celebrity Race for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, then plan to run a road race in early November at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
“We’re having a 53‑foot show trailer built that will go to car shows and fairs,” Brooks said. “Our cars will be in there, and video units will show racing as well as concert footage.”
Ronnie and wife Janine expect in late October to welcome their new daughter into the world. It’s her first child, his third. Kix and wife Barbara have two children, Molly and Eric.
B&D get along famously — they’re neighbors in Brentwood, Tenn. — but they originally balked at teaming up.
Tim DuBois, head of Arista/Nashville, united them in the summer of 1990 to write songs and see if they had any chemistry. Then he prodded them to work together in the studio.
“Ronnie and I both had always run our own bands and been solo artists, and always had our egos set in that direction,” explained Kix. “It just kind of took us by surprise. It wasn’t what we wanted to do.”
They signed with the label in 1991, mainly “out of desperation,” confided the 6‑foot-2 Brooks, of Shreveport, La. “We had a blast making the first record. Our first single was a hit and everything just started working. All of a sudden you just kind of forget about what your prior ambitions were and you just try to hang on to the horse you’re riding.”
Good timing has been a key ingredient to their success.
“Talent is just one small piece of it,” said Brooks. “There’s a lot of pieces, such as who you work with. But it’s uncanny how lucky we’ve been with timing. The right singles have come out at the right time, sales and awards and all that.”
“We couldn’t have predicted that The Judds were going to fold,” Dunn said of another case of good timing. When it happened, the industry’s duo awards that had automatically gone to the mother‑daughter team became B&D’s exclusive property.
“But it’s evolved now to where we don’t even look at the duo category,” insisted the 6‑foot-4 Dunn, who was born Coleman, Texas and raised in Tulsa, Okla. “You have to go beyond that. You have to stop saying, ‘I’m a duo.’ You have to go, OK, wait a minute, I’m an act in country music. I want to play with everybody in the whole arena and not get stuck with just being a duo.
“That’s why it’s so important, and such a nice stroke, to have been nominated for Entertainer of the Year again this year. It’s a little pat on the back that tells you you’re doing all right.”
“We want our show and our level of entertainment to be in the same ballpark with Reba, Alan, Vince or Garth,” concurred Brooks.
The turbo‑tonkers have no worries there. At midyear they ranked second to Reba McEntire as country music’s top touring act. It takes five trucks, three buses and 45 employees to deliver their high-energy, crowd-pleasing shows that evolved from both rock and country ancestry.
“We’d be the first to say we were influenced by rock acts as much as country acts,” said Dunn. “Clapton, the Stones, the Eagles—big time. On the other hand, Haggard, Jones, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn were always on the radio in my house.”
They remember precisely when they joined stardom’s ranks.
“It was an outdoor show in Kansas City in 1992,” Brooks said. “We didn’t have an opening act—it was just Brooks & Dunn—and we played in the plaza.
“Over 40,000 people showed up and it just blew us away to look out and see that sea of people. We had played a ton of bars that year and were used to playing for 500 to 2,000 people.
“We were just laughing at each other: ‘What are all these people doing here? There must be a fair or something going on; they couldn’t have just come down here to see us.’ It really turned our heads.”
“This is just a dream that was always kind of out of reach for us, something that was never going to happen. And—bang—all of a sudden it did,” Brooks stated incredulously.
They’ve had some wild moments in the last three years.
In Washington, D.C., a young couple finally got to the head of the autograph line. The man whipped a diamond ring out of his pocket and proposed to his girlfriend right in front of their heroes.
They were once asked to stop in the middle of “Neon Moon” so a fan could propose to his girlfriend.
There was also the concert where a female fan pleaded for Brooks to autograph her shirt. “I couldn’t do it in the middle of the song, so she just pulled her shirt off and threw it up to me. I’ve never taken so long to sign my name,” he confessed with a grin.
B&D are still amazed how their fans behave when they meet them. “They act like we’re someone from another planet or treat us like big stars,” Brooks exclaimed. “We still just feel like it was yesterday that we got on the bus for the first time.
“We’re still fans ourselves, is what it boils down to. We’re not ready to get on the other side, so to speak.”