NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Let Us Now Praise Brooks & Dunn

Award-Winning Duo's Breakup Is a Country Shakeup

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Losing Brooks & Dunn from country music after 20 years is like, as a friend said, driving down a familiar street one morning and suddenly noticing that a landmark building has disappeared. Just vanished from the skyline. What happened? It was always there … and now it’s gone. What’s left there in its place? Just a vacant lot.

They were workhorses of country for so many years, faithfully following the established Music Row routine. Assemble the album. Record it. Do the endless radio station tours. Do the press interviews. And then hit the road and do the tour. Do the meet-and-greets. Do it over and over. And then repeat. And they were very good at it.

Now, the announcement that they are calling it quits after a planned farewell tour next year has sparked much regret and fond reminiscing from some friends and acquaintances I’ve heard from that I didn’t realize were such staunch Steerheads, their loyal fans.

But B&D’s body of work will stand. They’ve pretty much done everything you can do in country music. Trad honky-tonk. Lovely ballads. Stones-hard country rock. A rocking CMT Crossroads with ZZ Top . The glory of a cover of B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria.” Lasting songs such as “Only in America” and “Red Dirt Road.” Great work with Reba McEntire. With Ronnie’s song, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” they re-invented country dancing. They’re both very good songwriters and have become proficient entertainers along the way.

B&D are also one of the last few country acts that grown men can publicly admit to really, really liking. Or even love — on a purely musical level. Give me a list of other modern country acts that manly men will own up to actually admiring. I’m not naming names, but you know who I mean.

It’s well-known that Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were two aspiring solo singers who were paired to be a recording duo by producer and Arista Nashville head Tim DuBois, who had a providential brainstorm. He perhaps foresaw it: country duo awards! After all, perennial duo favorites the Judds went out of action in 1991 when Naomi Judd retired. And it paid off handsomely for B&D for many years.

I bought Kix’s 1989 solo Capitol Nashville album on vinyl and still have it. It shows him as a really good songwriter in search of a musical partnership, which he found with Ronnie.

This was one arranged marriage that turned out to be amazingly durable. And fruitful. Their first album, Brand New Man, yielded four No. 1 singles, including “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Neon Moon.” B&D won CMA awards as duo of the year 14 times and were the first duo to be honored as entertainer of the year by both the CMA and ACM awards.

Then along came Sugarland. As a former trio suddenly turned into a winning duo, Sugarland pretty much deposed B&D as duo on the awards shows. Crowns are passed on. History happens. B&D have accomplished, as has been said, about as much as can be expected from two people in this kind of musical partnership. So what’s left for them?

From what I know about them, I think there is much more to come — creatively. Not necessarily as solo artists, but in other areas. But they can pretty much do whatever they want, in many aspects of life. They’re both well-respected men with many interests in life.

In recent years, Kix has been turning out fine, well-reviewed wines at his Arrington Vineyards near Nashville. And, Ronnie has been doing experimental video work, some of which I’ve seen and is quite good.

What happens to The Adventures of Slim & Howdy? Those are the folksy little short stories running as album liner notes that have been part of B&D lore for years. Who gets custody of Slim & Howdy, those two alter egos of Kix and Ronnie? They’ve already starred in one novel.

As for the musical legacy of B&D, I think it’ll be fine. For a long time, they have been making rootsy, rugged, melodic, lasting, sometimes ballsy music that’s been loyal to country music’s traditions and ideals. Can’t ask for much more than that.