Tattooed Heart Inks Permanent Friendship for Ronnie Dunn and Jay DeMarcus

Two Musicians Appear on New CMT Hot 20 Countdown

For Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus, screwing up Ronnie Dunn’s music would mean losing a friendship, and that just wasn’t an option while recording Dunn’s latest album Tattooed Heart.

“Ronnie is one of my favorite singers in country music if not in any genre,” DeMarcus told Katie Cook during his visit with Dunn on CMT Hot 20 Countdown. “So you can screw up a friendship really quick by screwing his music up. It was really fun because he was game for anything. He was like, ‘Let’s try it and if we hate it, we can always undo it.’”

DeMarcus produced 11 of the collection’s 12 tracks, including the lead single “Damn Drunk,” which features a guest appearance by his Brooks & Dunn partner Kix Brooks.

Personally, Dunn thought DeMarcus could do no wrong as the album’s producer.

“He’s real good because he’s an artist himself in that capacity,” Dunn said. “So he understands the neurosis and insecurities that I have, which are plenty walking through the door.”

Dunn especially loves what DeMarcus did with “Damn Drunk,” which was co-written by hit-makers Liz Hengber, Alex Kline and Ben Stennis.

“The demo was what I fell in love with,” Dunn said. “But when we went in, he laid it in there. I thought it was like Sting – ‘Every move you make,’ or ‘I’ll be watching you’ — but he put it right there. At first I was like, ‘This is not the demo,’ which you hear all the time … I think it put it over the fence.”

The only track DeMarcus didn’t have a hand in producing was the Ariana Grande cover, which serves as the collection’s title track.

“My daughter turned me onto her a few years ago,” Dunn said, “and I was astounded by how soulful and what a great singer she was. To my surprise it’s kind of a retro throwback to me to the Sam Cooke days, which is before my time but still appreciated.”

At the end of the day, the ultimate goal was the bring out the best in one of the genre’s most recognizable voices.

“The tunes were so Ronnie in the sense that it’s a great singer, matched with a great lyric and a powerful message,” DeMarcus said. “So if those songs can just stand alone with him singing them with an acoustic, perfect. But if we can find a way to make them a little more modern, put some elements in there that push the envelope just a little bit while still being true to who he was, I figured it would be a perfect marriage. And I feel like that we did that, with a great level of success.”

The interview with DeMarcus and Dunn airs on an all-new episode of CMT Hot 20 Countdown on Saturday (Nov. 12) at 9 a.m. ET/PT and again on Sunday (Nov. 13) at 9 a.m. ET/PT.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.