Brooks & Dunn’s seventh studio album, Steers & Stripes, debuted in April 2001 at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. So far, the set has yielded the hits “Ain’t Nothing ’Bout You” and “Only in America.” On their summer tour, titled the Neon Circus & Wild West Show, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn pulled in more than $14 million with help from support acts Montgomery Gentry, Toby Keith, Keith Urban and a cast of fire breathers, knife jugglers, trick ropers, stilt walkers and rodeo clowns. Are these guys sick of each other yet? Do they ever feel like throwing in the towel? How are they handling Dale Earnhardt’s death? You asked the questions. Here are their answers:
1. What was the most challenging and fun part of the Neon Circus tour?
Brooks: I think the most challenging part, which it is every year, is coming up with a show we feel is going to be new and different and hopefully better than the year before. Once you get it put together, the fun part is going out there and doing it. The touring part of it is just a gas; we got along with all the acts just great. We went out to a lot of local clubs and played with local bands and stuff like that and had a ton of fun. The challenge, like it will be for us next year, is to try and come up with a show, a stage and everything else that hopefully is fun, new and exciting for the fans.
2. Do you have special diets that help you maintain the hectic pace your touring creates?
Dunn: Ha, ha, ha, ha! Actually, he [Kix] jumped up on the bus yesterday with a small can of beef stew, something my grandmother used to feed to her cocker spaniel. The answer to the question is no! It’s whatever, whenever.
3. When you’re touring and spending so much time together, do you get tired of each other or argue? And if so, what do you do to ease the tension and break the monotony?
Dunn: We don’t see that much of one another on tour, actually. Maybe at sound checks and things like that, but generally we come together at the show. We’ll hang out a little bit afterwards to cool down. But no, we don’t have that many struggles.
Brooks: You know, I play golf and Ronnie doesn’t. He’s been riding his bike a lot. We have separate buses, and during the day we sleep late ’cause we get to bed so late. There’s really just not a lot of hang time.
4. How do you cope with being away from home for so long when you’re on tour?
Dunn: We have very supportive wives and strong family structures that make it possible. I think the longer we do it the harder it gets. I used to think it was hard at first, but the longer we go the harder it is to cope with.
Brooks: Also, we don’t stay gone for very long. We’re usually only out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Then we’re home Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to put the kids to bed, get them off to school, those kinds of things. Except when we make our West Coast run once a year — when we’re gone for a couple of weeks — we’re not gone for five or six weeks at a time like we were when we first started touring.
5. Out of all the pranks that you two pull, which one is the most memorable so far?
Dunn: Probably putting the stink bomb in Reba’s road case that she would ride from one stage to another during our tour with her a few years ago.
Brooks: That was pretty bad. We clipped Jo Dee Messina kicking and screaming into a hot air balloon and sent her off one day.
Dunn: She was always talking about how she was afraid of heights. She mouthed off a little too much so we grabbed her and put her in a hot air balloon.
6. Do you ever just want to hang it up and say “No more! I need a break!”?
Dunn: (Whispers) Yes.
Brooks: Not as much this year. Touring seemed to be harder a few years ago. This year has been a lot of fun. I felt like it was a pretty good touring group. But you lay in that box some nights going down the road thinking, “I sure wish I was home with my kids.” You know, though, everybody’s got to do something, and we’ve certainly been blessed with a lot of success and a great life because of all this.
7. I know both of you were very close to the late Dale Earnhardt. Have you thought of a song to write in his memory?
Brooks: I don’t think so. We wrote the song “Sunday Money” together. It was Dale’s idea. It was sort of about his life. We released it a while back. He really got a kick out of that. He told me one time that “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was his favorite song. That was a real compliment. As far as trying to write something that’s a tribute or whatever, it’s just a little too close to home for me.
8. Will your song “Sunday Money” ever be available to purchase? I love Dale Earnhardt and think that song would be a big hit.
Brooks: I need to find out about that because they did a special release on it and we got together with Dale and did a special T-shirt. It was one of those one-off things, and I don’t remember who did it or how it was structured with the record label. Enough people have asked about it that it would probably be worth going back and taking a look at it. The last thing in the world we wanted to do is capitalize on the tragedy of losing a good friend. We just didn’t pursue that.
9. I loved your “Honky Tonk Truth” video with Dale Earnhardt. Now when you see that video, or possibly when you play the song live, what thoughts of his passing go through your heads?
Dunn: Some of the moments we had shooting the video. It’s one of the times we were able to hang with him the longest. It was a lot of fun, and we had a great time. It was funny to see him vulnerable; he was actually nervous and antsy about it.
10. I just loved the music video you made with Dale Earnhardt. Could he sing as good as he could drive?
Brooks: Absolutely not.
Dunn: He did play guitar better than we did, though.
11. My daughter danced to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” at her dance class in fourth grade. She is now 18 and just graduated. She still loves your music, as do many young people we know. How does it feel to be such an influence on the youth of America?
Dunn: It’s amazing — first of all — we’ve lasted that long! She probably needs therapy.
12. Do your families hang out quite a bit outside of the music industry?
Dunn: We do on occasion, but not a lot. Kix’s wife is very involved with cutting horses; my wife is a professional shopper. It keeps ’em both busy on different sides of town.
Brooks: We do some stuff. Ronnie and I went duck hunting together this year. Honestly, we come off the road and we’ve both got kids that keep us busy. My son’s playing soccer, my daughter’s in the marching band, this and that. We come off the road and we’re just into that family mode, running all the time.
Dunn: We do try to get as much intense family time in as we can when we’re at home.
13. Hi Kix and Ronnie! When you go to a cookout, do you prefer hamburgers or hot dogs?
Brooks: What day?
Dunn: I think hot dogs.
Brooks: On Fridays, I’m definitely a hot dog guy, but on Saturdays I tend to eat hamburgers.
14. Would you ever like to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry?
Dunn: We’ve talked about it. I think there’s a stipulation that you have to perform a certain amount of days per year. We just haven’t had the opportunity to do that. But yes, we would. We’ve talked about it quite often.
Brooks: The last thing we want to do is let the Opry down. I know a lot of people who have joined, then their touring schedules or whatever did not allow them to keep up. We’ve talked about it and said we’d love to do it. But if we did, we’d like to make a commitment and make sure we held up our end of the bargain.
15. Did Montgomery Gentry’s win for CMA duo of the year give you a wake-up call? I think they are talented, but you are still No. 1 as far as I’m concerned.
Brooks: We had a number of wake-up calls.
Dunn: That was not the primary wake-up call we had. We had several calls before that with singles slipping, our label going under and stuff like that. We were in that mode anyway, trying to restructure and get things back up and running.
Brooks: We have always said awards are byproducts of what’s going on with us. It’s not like we work for awards, anyway. We try to make the best music we can, have a great tour, and if all that works, then you tend to win awards. The label was going under; we had an album that had problems because of that and other things. It was just kind of a year that didn’t happen, and as a result we didn’t win that award. It all goes hand in hand.
16. How do you decide which person sings the lead on each song?
Brooks: Mostly by what comes in, what’s written. Ronnie’s taken the lead as a singer. He’s got a great voice. Thank goodness, for us, radio loves it, too. I still do my share, singing on some songs I write. It just kind of works out that way.
17. How did you two come up with the song “South of Santa Fe”? I love that song!
Dunn: Kix came up with that.
Brooks: I wrote that with Paul Nelson and Larry Boone, a couple of good songwriters, out on the road. When you sit down to write, you either have an idea or concept or something. I told them I wanted to write one of those spooky story songs. I’ve always loved surreal things like “Pancho and Lefty” and “Hotel California” that don’t really have clarity of meaning. We just took a swing at it.
18. Who is the girl in the “Ain’t Nothing ’Bout You” video?
Dunn: We would never admit to knowing the girl in the video.
Brooks: I didn’t even know there was a girl in that video. I haven’t seen the video. … What was the song again?
19. Kix, you made an album with now-defunct Avion Records. Is that album available anywhere? I have searched several places and can’t seem to find it.
Brooks: The album is not available, thank goodness. It was a label out of Cleveland that had the Gap Band and some other soul bands. They decided to get started in Nashville but didn’t make it very long. I was their artist, so you figure it out.
20. What do each of you consider your single greatest achievement in your professional as well as your personal lives?
Dunn: I think to survive 10 years in this business and still have our wives and our families would be the greatest on a personal level. I think we both agree winning the (1996) CMA entertainer of the year award was the highest industry accomplishment. Just to be here, at this point, is pretty high.
Brooks: I agree!