(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I think in many ways that a lot of people took Brooks & Dunn for granted. Now that they’re gone, a big chunk of country music history goes with them. And I hate to see them go.
Brooks & Dunn will cease to exist as a living, breathing country music organism as of the end of Thursday night’s (Sept. 2) concert at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. R.I.P Brooks & Dunn. Long live Brooks & Dunn.
They have been by turns exciting and disappointing and unpredictable in ways that were themselves unpredictable. And contrarian. And they were always obviously caught up in a difficult arranged marriage. But they were always very human. Their songs and their performances were always firmly grounded in country soil.
When Brooks & Dunn as a union came into being in 1991, the world of country music was vastly different than it is today. The No. 1 country artists with radio hits then included K.T. Oslin, Paul Overstreet, Holly Dunn, Diamond Rio, Dan Seals, Patty Loveless, Alabama, Shenandoah, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Ricky Van Shelton, Eddie Rabbitt and the Oak Ridge Boys.
The only other country artists still charting today from 20 years ago are George Strait, Reba and Alan Jackson. Others who remain active and prominent include Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Randy Travis.
Both Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks had been aspiring solo singer-songwriters and each had released two low-charting singles in the 1980s. Kix Brooks managed to get a self-titled solo album released on Capitol in 1989, which did not chart but had some good songs on it, one of which was later a hit for McBride and the Ride. Tim DuBois, the head of Arista Records and himself a songwriter, noticed both of them and had envisioned a duo of singer-songwriters as a real candidate for the sparsely-populated CMA Awards category of duo of the year. Win a CMA Award? Find the right category.
DuBois turned out to be right on the money. Their music just jumped right out of the box. There were four No. 1 singles from the first album, Brand New Man. They were “Brand New Man,” “My Next Broken Heart,” “Neon Moon” and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” — all of which they wrote or co-wrote. And that was music that was full of life and contagious. Music that was tailor-made for honky tonks and clubs. Line-dancing, anyone?
Interestingly, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” which Ronnie wrote and which indelibly put B&D on the country music map, had been recorded before, by the group Asleep at the Wheel. Arista itself originally released the song as the B-side to “My Next Broken Heart.”
B&D went on to win the CMA duo award every year between 1992 and 2006, except for Montgomery Gentry’s win in 2000. And they’re nominated again this year. They’ve sold more albums than any duo in any music genre in the recent Nielsen SoundScan era.
Their songs dominated the country chart for years, although there were fallow periods, followed by musical revivals. The live concerts were true events that came to take on a circus or sideshow kind of excitement. Their CMT Crossroads show with ZZ Top was hard to top, in terms of wattage and sheer fun.
What can you say about the partnership after all these years? It was obvious from the beginning that Ronnie Dunn has a lovely voice and is a born lead singer. And it was obvious that Kix Brooks is a good backup singer and occasional lead singer and a good guitarist and songwriter. It’s very telling that at the end of their respective careers, such stellar duos as Simon and Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers were no longer on speaking terms with each other. Duos make for an odd professional and personal relationship.
Some marriages, especially an arranged marriage such as this one was, simply fade away. Their sell-by date expires. Make the break cleanly. Remember the good times.View photos of Brooks & Dunn throughout their career.