OFFSTAGE: Ronnie Dunn Knew Keith Urban Would Succeed

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

It’s hard to believe there was a time when Keith Urban was just the guy with a six-song set opening up for the Brooks & Dunn tour. But Ronnie Dunn told me yesterday (Jan. 10) that he remembers that 2001 tour well.

“We took him out with B&D years ago, when he’d just broken away from the Ranch. Keith was one of the few artists I’d actually leave the bus for, to go listen to a few songs. And I’d tell people, ’This guy’s gonna be a big star.'”

Now it’s 10 years later, and Dunn has broken away from Brooks & Dunn. And Urban is telling him how much he loves his new solo stuff, especially “Cost of Livin’.”

“Keith had called me a couple times when the record first came out and said, ’Man, this is hands down song of the year.’ He’ll even text me and say, ’I’m listening to the song.'”

Tim McGraw shared the enthusiasm for that song, too.

“I was in Montana a few months ago, and McGraw called and said he was on his way to the Opry and he said, ’Man, this song just hit me.’ For him to pick up the phone and do that is a big deal. I was speechless. He caught me totally off guard. To get that kind of validation from guys in the business is pretty strong. Especially from those two.”

When I told Dunn that “Cost of Livin'” was on Urban’s best-of list from 2011 , he acted genuinely humbled, then laughed and said, “I like everything Keith does.”

Stay tuned for more from our conversation about what went on behind the scenes of his “Let the Cowboy Rock” video, later this week.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.