To Duo or Not to Duo?

Brooks & Dunn Say "You Betcha!"

There’s a duo in every crowd — especially in the world of country music. This particular duo, however, just happens to stand out in the crowd. In fact, Brooks & Dunn, who’ve just released their long-awaited Greatest Hits album, have stood out since they made their recording debut just a few years ago with such smash hits as “Brand New Man,” “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Neon Moon.”

Shooting for the moon has since then become an understatement for Brooks & Dunn’s musical ambition. They’ve snagged six Duo of the Year honors to date from the Country Music Association, including last year’s “big daddy of ’em all — the Entertainer of the Year trophy. The list goes on to include countless honors from the TNN Music City News Country Awards, the Academy of Country Music, the American Music Awards and the Grammys.

Unsurprisingly, many music insiders predicted country’s dynamic duo to walk away with the CMA’s Entertainer trophy again this year. While Garth Brooks fit the bill for the top honor, Brooks & Dunn is not at all disappointed.

“We thought for probably 10 or 15 years that we weren’t even going to make it in country music,” explains Ronnie Dunn. “Then all of a sudden we were lucky enough to get a record deal. So it just goes way back. It goes back to when we had our first record out and just hoped that it would go gold. Then we find ourselves five or six years later even nominated for Entertainer of the Year. That’s just amazing.”

“I think the Entertainer of the Year award is always such a long shot, for anybody,” adds Kix Brooks. “It’s just really hard to look at the careers between Strait, Reba and Garth and think that you could come out on top in that crew. You’d be arrogant to even suggest it. But when they called our name out last year, we were just shocked. That’s the best way I can describe it,” he laughs. “It was just hard to believe.

“I think there’s a real misconception that Entertainer of the Year is about who puts on the best show or who sells the most tickets,” continues Kix. “That’s not really what that award means. I think that award is a combination of having a great year, which for us last year, I think we had steady sales and our shows had been selling real well. But it was also capped with ’My Maria,’ which was almost as big a hit as ’Boot Scootin’ Boogie.’ And it came at a time which showed that we had a little staying power, like four years later. So a lot of times when I see people get Entertainer of the Year, it’s for hanging in there a long time and continuing to have real success, and maybe capped with a real big hit or something in your career that brings about a lot of attention. I think all those things just kinda came together for us last year.”

This year was no exception when it came to the Duo of the Year category. For six consecutive years, Brooks & Dunn have graciously accepted the honor. With each and every acceptance, the twosome also stresses that such an honor is never taken for granted.

“They’ve even talked about getting rid of this award,” says Kix, “but just look at the great tradition of this award. So I’m really excited that it’s still wanted. And it’s just a matter of time for us,” he explains about their long-running recognition. “We are not going to be here forever, so every year is very much appreciated. In fact, we know that every year the clock is ticking. You just never know when it’s going to be your last.”

Looking toward each year as a new horizon, Brooks & Dunn continue to boot-scoot with what brought them to the dance in the beginning — having a genuine love for their music and keeping their delivery fresh and exciting. Such style and direction is quite obvious in both their action-packed videos and explosive live shows. The Brooks & Dunn concert ticket has undoubtedly become one of country’s hottest ever. Of course, currently splitting the headlining bill with Reba McEntire doesn’t take away from their concert’s popularity either.

“We’re music fans primarily,” admits Ronnie. “We sat out there and listened to other artists for years and years and still do. I think it’s just important to come up with something different every now and then. If everything just sounds alike or all the videos look just alike, people are going to burn after a while. So we try to come up with stuff that we call our ’curve ball.’ But yet we still try not to venture too far away from what brought us to the dance.”

Louisiana native Kix and Texas native Ronnie both came to the dance with one thing in mind — to put everything they had into what they loved — their music. They did just that, but not with each other for several years. Kix has been a staff writer at Tree Publishing for almost ten years, where he’s penned songs that have been recorded by such country greats as Ricky Van Shelton, Highway 101, the Oak Ridge Boys and Sawyer Brown. Kix eventually latched his own solo recording deal, prior to meeting Ronnie, who had built a name for himself throughout the Texas and Oklahoma club circuit. Ronnie went on to win the Marlboro Talent Search.

The search, however, was over for both artists once they were teamed together and signed to Arista Records. Brooks & Dunn burst onto the country scene like NASCAR thunder on the speedway, with a smoldering blend of both pure traditionalism and high-tech flash. They flaunted both an authentic sound and style that’s since then gone down in music history. And according to both Kix and Ronnie, any chances of this package deal changing is pretty slim.

“For the next tour though, I’m dying my hair Elvis black and going to slick it way back,” jokes Ronnie, who’s often been teased about his progressive hairstyle and eye-catching stagewear. “I’m also going to wear spandex shorts and go out in Nikes — just the stuff you have to do to keep it fresh,” he laughs.

“Lookwise, I think we’re comfortable with what we do,” Kix proclaims. “That’s why you don’t see a lot of change in our look, and I really don’t think you will.”

Something else that hasn’t changed about Brooks & Dunn over the years is their genuine respect for each other’s individuality. “I really don’t know why we work so well together,” Ronnie explained earlier. “It must be because we are such opposites, in image and stuff like that, and even in our approach to music. You can really see it in our shows. Kix is up there jumpin’ around, and I’m standing there, kind of looking out of the corner of my eye. I think the freedom we give each other has a lot to do with it. We each kind of do our own thing, then bring it all together.”

Together, the Brooks and Dunn combination is a winning formula. Double, triple and quintuple platinum albums are living proof from a career standpoint. Personally, doing the “duo-thing” is just down right comfortable.

“I think the best part about being a duo is that individually, we don’t have to deal with the pressure of making a decision and taking all the responsibility of something messing up, if it does,” they both agree. “The worst part,” ponders Ronnie, “…I don’t know what that would be. It’s just hard to put your finger on the downside of something that’s been so successful for us.”

“The worst part is splitting the money,” Kix laughs, “but we probably wouldn’t have it if we weren’t together. So we try to keep that in perspective.”

Truly celebrating the phenomenal success of their duo-ship, however, is surprisingly still on the backburner for this die-hard twosome.

“We honestly haven’t really celebrated,” admits Kix. “We’ve just really been pedaling as fast as we can, and it seems like right after every award show, we’re getting on the bus and going somewhere else. But we’re not complaining about it. I do think one of these days we’re going to sit down to a big steak or maybe the fajita we started out with and take a long look back.”