Ronnie Dunn handled lead vocals on “She Loves My Automobile”; Kix Brooks moved up front to sing “Rough Boy.” ZZ Top themselves took charge on “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and “La Grange,” but the songs assumed a country flavor with backing from Brooks & Dunn and the duo’s ensemble of fiddle, guitar and steel players.
Likewise, Brooks & Dunn signature tunes such as “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Hard Workin’ Man” took on more of a rock edge, laced with patented, grungy blues-groove guitar from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.
Taped before a small audience in an auxiliary studio at the Grand Ole Opry House, the concert opened with a rousing version of ZZ Top’s “Tush” and ended about an 1½ hours later with “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” The closer featured an extended guitar jam and enough confetti to obscure the musicians. The two acts played together throughout the taping, deviating from the pattern set in two previous CMT Crossroads shows pairing Hank Williams Jr. with Kid Rock and Lucinda Williams with Elvis Costello in which each performer also did solo sets.
The CMT Crossroads series seeks to demonstrate the intersection of country music and other genres such as rock, rap and pop, by bringing together artists from diverse musical backgrounds.
Brooks & Dunn and ZZ Top teamed up on 11 full or partial songs, repeating three numbers to give editors more options. “This is fantasy camp, man,” Brooks said from stage. “How many ZZ Top concerts can you go to and hear ‘La Grange’ twice?”
About half of the performances are expected to make the edited, hour-long episode of CMT Crossroads, set to air April 21, 8 p.m. ET/PT, on CMT.
Brooks & Dunn have recorded “Rough Boy” for an all-male country tribute album to ZZ Top, Sharp Dressed Men, due May 7. Alan Jackson , Dwight Yoakam , Willie Nelson , Hank Williams Jr., Andy Griggs and others contributed to the project.
“The tribute album obviously is an honor, that these people think enough of us to do these songs,” ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill tells CMT.com.
Hill says the tribute album fits squarely into the concept CMT Crossroads.
“Country music, like rock or blues, can move over into a lot of different areas,” he says. “I see [the album] as another example of how musicians generally don’t hold these hard and fast [genre] lines.”
Gibbons adds, “Andy Griggs did one of our slower numbers called ‘I Need You Tonight,’ and his pitch was wonderful and the execution was enlightening. He taught us how to play it again.”
Brooks & Dunn are longtime fans of the Texas rockers.
“If you were to name a rock band that comes from where we do -– Texas, Louisiana, that part of the country –- ZZ Top just dominated rock ‘n’ roll when we were coming up through the ranks,” Dunn tells CMT.com. “For years in the clubs, we’d stop playing and ZZ Top would come on the [jukebox]. The cowboys and cowgirls would pour onto the floor to dance to it. It’s pretty synonymous with a lot of stuff we do.”
Brooks & Dunn and ZZ Top share similarities in their music and image, the country duo maintains.
“They always write stuff that’s just a little sassy,” Dunn says. “It’s got just a little bit of a smile to it. They will tell you it’s downright nasty. But we get away with as much of it as we can with the stuff we do.”
Brooks agrees, “Everything they do is real tough and real cool but it always has got a grin to it,” he said. “We’ve always dug that. We’ve always tried to chase that attitude. It’s just fun. To get a chance to hook up with them and play some music is a dream.”
Brooks & Dunn met ZZ Top –- Gibbons, Hill and the beardless Frank Beard -– a few years ago at the Houston Rodeo in the Astrodome. In mid-February, the two acts swapped songs and guitar licks for the first time at CMT Crossroads rehearsal on ZZ Top’s Houston turf.
They also spent a few days together in Nashville, where Brooks and Dunn live, before Sunday’s CMT taping. During their visit, ZZ Top participated in Country Radio Seminar activities. Gibbons, Hill and Beard backed Brooks & Dunn and other country acts who appear on the ZZ Top tribute album during RCA’s annual General Jackson riverboat concert Thursday (Feb. 28).
Hill and Beard also attended a party at Dunn’s home Friday (March 1). The private event was the kick-off party for Brooks & Dunn’s Neon Circus & Wild West Show tour, which begins April 12 in Minneapolis. Tourmates Brooks & Dunn, Chris Cagle, Trick Pony, Gary Allan, Dwight Yoakam and emcee Cledus T. Judd performed for some 700 radio and music industry folks congregated under a tent. Hill joined the all-cast finale of Rodney Crowell’s ode to the outlaw life, “Ain’t Living Long Like This,” which the performers dedicated to the memory of Waylon Jennings.
Brooks & Dunn sported brand new ZZ Top-embroidered Western shirts — custom designed on short notice by renowned tailor Manuel — at Friday’s party and Sunday’s TV taping.
Midway into the taping, ZZ Top and Brooks & Dunn sat on stools at the edge of the stage and talked about their common love for blues, gospel and traditional country. Gibbons performed the blues standard “Dust My Broom” and Dunn sang “I’ll Never Forgive My Heart,” from B&D’s 1994 album, Waitin’ On Sundown.
During the same segment, they all answered questions from CMT host Greg Martin and members of the audience. Asked about his new friendship and musical partnership with Brooks & Dunn, Hill said it was a “real delight.” “I’m not crazy about rehearsals,” he said, “but this week didn’t feel like work.”