OFFSTAGE: Ronnie Dunn Captures “Cowboy” Life

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

He let the cowboy rock, all right. In the new video for Ronnie Dunn’s “Let the Cowboy Rock,” he let the cowboys do almost all of the rocking. One in particular, Blake Knowles, a pro steer wrestler who is ranked 10th in the world, was the one doing the riding. They shot most of the video in Pendleton, Ore., to capture the true cowboy culture. Not just in the riding and steer wrestling shots, but in the bar, drinking whiskey and dancing like you never thought a cowboy could dance. (And even though the song says he’s got a “stagger in his step,” you won’t see it here.) As for Dunn’s part, he just plays the country singer there to help those cowboys fight off the lonely. They shot those scenes in Oregon, too, at Crabby’s Underground Saloon, and some at the Stage in Nashville. But some of the best scenes are the ones that bookend the video — of Dunn walking through the desert with his guitar in his hand. “We were in Salt Lake City, out on tour, and the Bonneville Salt Flats are not far from there. So before the gig, we just took off to shoot some pictures of me walking across the flats. We’re just kind of winging it,” he told me, adding with a self-deprecating laugh, “That’s really Clint Eastwood acting, isn’t it?” And even though he was making it up as he went along, he wanted to make sure it looked cool. “We keep everything fairly stylized, like with my guitar down low. That’s kind of my pistol,” he said. And I had to know how it felt for him that day, in the desert, wearing a black shirt, black pants and black cowboy boots. “I’m used to cooking in black,” he laughed. “Looks like it would be scorching, doesn’t it?” That imagery positively captures the ups and downs of cowboy life, but even if you’re not a cowboy — which I am not — you can relate to the song about going out to make the hurting stop. Even Dunn remembers nights like that. “I’ve had those nights, so it was easy to write. I’ve been kicked out of the house a couple times, you know, asked to vacate the premises for a day or two,” he recalled. “But that was back when I was younger. Now I’m just a good observer. I’m into that vibe, and it’s just part of what I do and how I see the world.”

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