Brooks & Dunn are marking another milestone in their career with the release of The Greatest Hits Collection II, with memorable tunes like “Ain’t Nothing Bout You,” “Only in America” and “Red Dirt Road.” Here, they answer fan questions about moving the CMA Awards to New York City, Kix Brooks’ unfortunate consequences of a donkey race and why Ronnie Dunn is going to wear fishnet stockings the next time he’s in New Orleans.
1. Where did the idea for the song “That’s What It’s All About” come from? It means a lot to my boyfriend and me because we have been through so much together, and we never forget to tell each other how much we love each other.
Brooks: Wish we had written it.
Dunn: Someone brought it to us.
Brooks: Craig Wiseman. A really hot songwriter right now. Also wrote “Live Like You Were Dying” and many other hits that you would be familiar with. Coined the “barbeque stain on my white T-shirt” from another McGraw song. Very clever guy. I think we both identified with the sentiment and the things that matter in life. It’s a good thing. It hit us right.
Dunn: Plus we got to put our kids in the video on CMT. We sneak them in every now and then, all the way back to “Boot Scoot.” We’ve had them in and out.
2. I have noticed in your video for “That’s What It’s All About,” that Kix is playing a mandolin. I was curious about what other instruments you play
Brooks: Well I’m not very good at any of them, but I had a mandolin in college and kind of learned the chords and stuff, you know, kind of like guitar playing. I played enough to kind of get a feel for it, and it’s fun to write with different stuff when you get in the mood. But I don’t consider myself a mandolin player. It’s good color in songs and stuff like that, and I try to play the right chords, anyway.
3. Being from Seattle, I have to ask, what is the best coffee you have ever had?
Dunn: Best coffee in Seattle? It must have been from Starbucks. We stopped in there. We were playing the fair in Puyallup.
Brooks: You know, Seattle is so ever-changing micro that I’m sure Starbucks is very passé.
Dunn: It felt warm inside and all tingly, and I just almost tear up. I choke up thinking about it now.
Brooks: I’m actually from Louisiana and usually my coffee cooks for a couple of hours every morning before it’s worth drinking. My driver said it best. He said my coffee is pretty good once you get through the first couple of bites. I like strong, muddy coffee.
4. I’ve noticed you and your band are a slimmer, trimmer group of guys. Did you all decide to get fit together or individually? I must say Lou is looking very fit and trim.
Dunn: We’re all competitive. That’s what that thing is. If somebody starts getting more attention, or we feel like someone is in better shape than the other one, we’ll go to any lengths to outdo the other person. Lou Toomey, one of our lead guitar players, started by jogging and went on, I think, a low-carb diet and lost like 60 pounds.
Brooks: I heard like 75. I had no idea. A fan gave us a disc the other day of old pictures and one of them was a disc from the Winter Olympics in 2002, and I almost didn’t recognize him. It was when he was at full weight, and it was just like gaw-lee.
Dunn: We were a little layered up that night. That’s not fair.
Brooks: Oh yeah, he was layered up, all right.
Dunn: Is that the night he wore the speed-skating tights?
Brooks: (laughs) I can’t remember, but I couldn’t count his chins either. But Lou looks good now. We’ve all kind of made an effort to stay healthy.
Dunn: Everyone’s working at it.
Brooks: You have to on the road. We used to stay sick all the time. It’s easy to get colds or whatever. You get run down. Ronnie actually works out more than I do. When the weather is right, I’m golfing every day, but we both do our share on the treadmill.
Dunn: Our fiddler, Jimmy Stewart, has lost a ton. They’re all running. They’ll take off, you’ll just see them bail off the bus and take off running … usually from the law or an ex-wife or something.
5. I hear Kix is having shoulder problems and will need surgery. Just wondering when this will be and how long a recovery period he will have.
Brooks: How do they find out this stuff? I think I am going to have double surgery now from my donkey wreck in Indianapolis this summer. I’m going to have a piece of cartilage taken out of my knee.
Dunn: He got suckered into a donkey race in Indiana not long ago. For real, these guys came out and challenged him, called him out to do this donkey thing. The donkey ran under this big mule at the end of the track at full speed.
Brooks: Full throttle.
Dunn: It was a mess. The big mule almost kicked him, and then he almost pulled the wagon over him. Had it not been for his ultra-fast reflexes we wouldn’t have a Kix Brooks today. Instead he just has a minor chipped knee.
Brooks: Ronnie saw his solo career go right out the window.
Dunn: I had the ink …the ink was on the paper. The last “n” on Dunn was just about there when he got up.
Brooks: And the shoulder thing is just a rotor cuff thing. Fortunately these days, they can arthroscopic that stuff and it heals up pretty quick, and I should be back in two or three months. … I don’t have the date yet. I have to get a little duck hunting in first. Once my shoulder gets tired of getting punched by a shotgun, I’ll head for the doctor’s office.
6. Are you taking a vacation this year?
Brooks: We’re going to take most of November, December and January off this year, which we’ve never done. I think six weeks is probably the longest break we’ve ever had because we always play in December, and we’re back on the road in January or February. This is the first year we haven’t played Vegas in a long time, and we used to play the rodeo finals out there.
7. What do you think of Big & Rich?
Brooks: Who? I don’t know who that is. Do you? Big & Rich?
Dunn: (in a cartoon voice) No, but buddy, you’re going to … by God.
Brooks: (laughs) I think they’re good. I think they’re fun. I like them. We’ve kind of been duo-ing around long enough that everybody seems to be gunning for you.
Dunn: It’s like asking Alan Jackson every time a new artist comes out, “What do you think about them?” It’s like, we’re over it. Sorry. Sorry, been there, done that.
8. Kix, do you follow sports since you are from Louisiana?
Brooks: I kind of pull for LSU. I don’t have real connection to them other than I’m from Louisiana, and they’re the big college from Louisiana, so it’s kind of fun when you live in Tennessee. They’ve gotten knocked in the head a couple of times this year, not doing great. But, yeah, the New Orleans Saints, I’ve pulled for them for years, so I still watch them on Sunday afternoons.
Dunn: Last year was a big year. LSU took on OU.
Brooks: Ronnie still owes us a pole dance in the French Quarter in high-heeled shoes and makeup.
Dunn: And fishnet hose.
Brooks: That’s correct.
Dunn: That was the bet. And as soon as I get down there, I’ll willingly do it.
9. You guys were fun to watch on the TV show Las Vegas. Would you ever consider acting in a movie, and what kind of movie would it be?
Dunn: Everyone gets asked that. Some people from the William Morris Agency came down not long ago. The TV and movie division was asking us that same type of question, and we all have the same answers. I think we all want to be in a dark, kind of Clint Eastwood, hip Western. If that won’t work, hey, we’ll do Friends or something. Nah, probably not.
Brooks: If it was something that looked like we might have a chance of pulling it off and not screw up an entire movie, it might be fun to do, but so far we haven’t seen it. Las Vegas was a ton of fun, though. How cool to get to hang out with James Caan all day.
10. I hear you both like NASCAR. Who is your favorite driver?
Brooks: Earnhardt was our buddy, and for me it hasn’t really been the same since he died. Sterling Marlin, of course, is sponsored by Coors, and they sponsor our tour as well, so we get to do Coors functions with Sterling here and there, so we’ve gotten to know him. Rusty Wallace has come out and hung out with us on occasion. He spent three days in Vegas one time when we were playing out at the rodeo, and I visited with him around the track a little bit. I see he’s retiring this year.
Dunn: (jokes) I read a big article in USA Today or something at the beginning of the season where the drivers were starting to disenfranchise themselves with country music, wanting to make it what they thought was hipper, so I won’t watch a NASCAR race. I’m over it. I’m through with it until Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets out and clogs at the end of Daytona, square dances or something. Maybe they can all get together and line dance. I’m boycotting. I don’t care.
11. What can we expect from your duties as hosts of the CMA Awards this year?
Dunn: We’ve been kind of boxed in right off the bat. We didn’t ask for it, first of all. I guess we’re glad to be there, but we’re just Band-Aids until they find another host. I think Vince did it for what, 13 years? So as soon as it was announced, the head of our label started calling, e-mailing and said, ‘You need to call Walter.’ [Walter Miller is the producer of the CMA Awards telecast on CBS-TV.] He does lots of awards shows. I called Walter and right off the bat he said, “Don’t try to be a funny guy. Don’t go there.” He said, “Remember Letterman with the stupid pet tricks on … the Oscars? Just don’t do it. You read your lines, you go out there, and be a good little country singer boy and get off, and we’re through with you. We’re moving it to New York next year, and then we’ll pull someone in that can handle it.”
Brooks: It will be fun, we’re looking forward to it. (laughs) We’re no Vince Gill, but … (laughs)
12. What do you think about the CMAs moving to New York City in 2005?
Dunn: (jokes) For the record, I’m dead against it. This is Dunn here speaking, I am dead against it.
Brooks: I think New York is going to be a ball, something different. Something different — like me doing a solo gig. (laughs)
Dunn: (jokes) You can just mail my part in. It’s funny they said the [New York] mayor in the press conference the other day. … Kix tells this story a lot better than I do. … Tell that. … This is funny. He was announcing some of the artists and stuff, and they had phonetically written out the names.
Brooks: “Shun-agua Twain and Tom Ma-Graw.” … And when he said that, I looked at Trace Adkins. We were standing there beside each other. You know, they made the pitch for us to come in the first place, and it’s really a cool deal. They’re giving us the subways and the buses and taxicabs and all this stuff. And he said that, and I was just like “Oh no.” After the press conference, I went over and looked at his notes on the podium, and they had phonetically spelled it for him so he wouldn’t make any mistakes, and I’m sure he was just cruising through on autopilot.
Dunn: They’re going to be ready for us in a year though.
Brooks: I think it will be fun to do something different and, honestly, I always thought [performing in New York City] was cool, even Buck Owens at Carnegie Hall, you know, or when you see Vince or Dolly on the Letterman show. To see the people in our business that are good at what they do shining in the big city always gives me a good feeling.
Dunn: It’s going to turn out to be a really good move. There are certain stigmas that can be overcome in one fell swoop. It will really be fun. It’s a major media center. I think it will be good. Although I’m not going to go. I’m protesting it. But, you know, if there is something positive that comes out of it, that would be it.
13. Any chance a live CD or DVD might be forthcoming? After seeing you over the past few years, I know how much effort you and the band put into live shows.
Dunn: We talk about it every year. We’ve been taping shows for years and have them archived. We may at some point do that.
Brooks: We actually have a special edition of our Greatest Hits album that’s coming out, and it has a few live cuts on it.
14. What would you say is the “Hey, I made it!” moment of your career?
Dunn: I think that changes from day to day. The scenarios and the playing field are always changing.
Brooks: We’ve never celebrated for very long
Dunn: No, I think just sitting here today doing this interview is “Hey, I made it.” There’s no certain day that you step by and go, “Hey, we’re here.” We don’t look at it that way.
15. In all your years of touring, is there a favorite place you like to go?
Brooks: California’s awful good to us. You know, it is hard to pin it down, because you could pull out great moments and great shows and great crowds coast to coast. I think when we go to California it’s different only because …
Dunn: Texas is good, too, but California is over the top … Dallas, Houston, San Antonio happening … sort of specific places.
Brooks: California makes an impression, because it’s the only place we’ll do 12 shows in 14 days, because we’ve got all our junk out there and while you’re there, you do as many shows as you can and as many locations. Everything else is just kind of weekend stuff.
Dunn: We run from San Diego to Vancouver and back.
16. What is your favorite city outside the U.S.?
Brooks: It’s a real cosmopolitan, real pretty city. You know, it’s on the ocean, and it has a real, unworldly vibe to it. I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s different.
17. When you first began to tour, who was the person you opened the show for?
Brooks: The first person we opened for, I believe, was Steve Wariner. I think it was the second show that we did.
Dunn: I believe it was in Oklahoma.
Brooks: It was in Muskogee, Okla. But I’ll tell ya, we opened for everybody. We did a whole Marlboro [sponsored] tour with the Texas Tornadoes and 38 Special. Of course, we did a lot of shows with Reba early on. We grabbed her tour in our first or second year. Alabama, Vince … anybody that was coming close to headlining was nice enough to yank us in there, and it was all good. We were happy to get any crowd we could get at that point — and still are.
18. My husband managed to get me second row seats for your concert in Saginaw, Mich. When you went into “Neon Moon,” something distracted you, and you admitted you forgot the words. Is this something that happens often, or was it the long-haired redhead dressed in denim overalls and pearls in the second row who lost her earring down her shirt and was frantically searching for it at that moment?
Dunn: I’m going to say that in Saginaw it was the redhead.
Brooks: You remember that, don’t you? We could not figure out what she was digging for down there. I thought she was pulling her bra off, but now we know, in fact, it was an earring that had fallen down.
Dunn: But it is not uncommon for me to miss the words on “Neon Moon” every now and then. But on that specific night in Saginaw, I remember it being really cold and she just looked so warm and pink.
Brooks: (laughs a long time) Warm and pink?! (laughs again)
Dunn: She was just voluptuous. I remember thinking, when the sun goes down, man I am, too. Something about that just didn’t work with “Neon Moon.” But when those pearls fell down …
19. I am 60 years old and take care of my 91-year-old mom. How do you keep in touch with your family, as you are on the road so much? We both love you.
Dunn: Ah, that’s nice … that’s so sweet. … My mother smokes me out. We’ll get these long periods of me thinking I’m too busy to call her up or e-mail her, and she’ll send me something. My mom’s a real whiner. I love her to death, but she always sends me these “woe is me” things. I think she might be Jewish. I’m not sure. She’s Baptist-Jewish, which is a double whammy. She’ll e-mail me these things, like you know, the prodigal son with the old or decrepit mother, lonely in the Oklahoma woods or something awful. She’s a guilt-tripper. She’s Southern Baptist/Jewish. I come from a long line of it.
20. Hey, Ronnie, how long does it take to do your hair before a show, and how much hair care stuff do you take on the road with you?
Dunn: I pay less attention to my hair then probably anybody that I know. I get out of the shower, I towel dry it. I, like, blow it off and then I just run my hands through it and away we go. It’s just what it is.
Brooks: Liar! Terrible liar!
Dunn: It really is. I gave up on it a long time ago.
Brooks: I have no idea what his routine is. That’s why we have separate buses. Early on, he said, “I’ve got to do my hair, and you’ve got to get your own bus.” One time I did go in there, and he was like hanging upside down with a hairdryer, one of those things like Richard Gere had in American Gigolo. Some of those gravity boots, and that’s about all I know about it. In terms of the actual products and everything, I don’t go digging through his stuff.
Dunn: I’m from Oklahoma. I mean, you can’t have good hair in Oklahoma. That’s why everyone wears hats. The wind just messes it up.