Ronnie Dunn considered naming his upcoming covers project Dunn for Fun — and truly that’s the spirit that comes through on Re-Dunn, a 24-song album set for release in January 2020. A dozen tracks are country, while the others are classic rock.
Dunn has notched his own bounty of country classics since the ’90s with Brooks & Dunn, the duo that will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year. The powerhouse singer paid a visit to CMT.com to chat about the two country tracks released so far: “That’s How I Got to Memphis” and “Amarillo by Morning.”
CMT: Why did “That’s How I Got to Memphis” grab you for this project?
RD: Deryl Dodd’s version of “That’s How I Got to Memphis” is one of my favorite cuts, just flat out. And when I would talk to people that I knew, they’d all bring it up. There’s no way that I beat that. That wasn’t the intent. I was just out having fun cutting stuff where I thought, “What if that song had been pitched to me?” Or, “I wish I had that one.” And that’s one of them.
Of course, “That’s How I Got to Memphis” is a great Tom T. Hall song. What’s the imagery in your mind when you sing that song?
I see a guy walking the streets in Memphis looking for this girl he’s been in love with. Trying to find her. There’s this one thing where he says, “Thank you for your precious time.” It’s full of imagery like that. Tom T. was like that as a writer. He kept painting pictures with every word of every song he did.
This project could’ve been a couple of singles or an EP, so how did you settle on 24 songs?
I ran out of money. (laughs) Somebody sent me the invoice! I went in to do three, just as an experiment, and see what songs we could do for a streaming initiative. I wanted to see what songs Brooks & Dunn fans would’ve been listening to when they were cheating and sneaking over onto the rock stations.
Do you like using streaming services?
Yeah. I think that’s where it’s at. There’s so much pushback right now, for country fans. They are the last ones to convert when it comes to innovation and things like that. They just want to hold on to what they have. They don’t really like change, for the most part, but this is going to end up being really positive for them.
Once that market opens up to streaming, and you realize, OK, you may not like what you hear on terrestrial radio every day, or someplace else, but you can go streaming and pick your songs. And go as far back as you want to. There’s no limit to that.
I’m sure you sang some of these songs when you were playing clubs in Tulsa. Tell me about how you balanced your set list back then, because you were writing songs, too.
We had to keep people dancing so and you can do that with all country songs, to an extent. But back in the mid and late ‘80s and early ‘90s — right up to the time when Brooks & Dunn took off — we had to play a mixture of traditional and I call it country rock or classic rock. But we would countrify it if we did it, just by virtue of the fact that I would open my mouth and sing it, it’s going to be that way. In my generation, music came together at that point. Country music met rock at that point. And some of those songs do define those moments.
What’s your advice for someone that’s at that club level now?
You can’t give up. If you want it bad enough, you have to push beyond rational. You can’t give up. I was 38 when I got a record deal, and I can’t tell you how many times I thought I had ruined my life. By dropping out of school, and jumping in the middle of all this stuff. Going out booking clubs, beer joints wherever we could play. I just pushed through it and got lucky.
Why did you record “Amarillo by Morning” for this project?
I played that in college. I went to a religious school in West Texas and they wouldn’t allow you to go play clubs so we would sneak off and the musicians and buddies and play VFWs. That’s where people would gather in these small West Texas towns. At the time, “Amarillo by Morning” was a regional hit by the writer, Terry Stafford. We would play that song, so whenever I heard Strait cut it, I was like, “Wow, he’s doing a cover song.” (laughs)
Do you remember when you first met George Strait?
No, I don’t. We’ve become friends over the years. I actually sent “Amarillo” to him the other day just to mess with him. He never texts, he never calls – you know, you’re probably on your boat or your fancy plane. He texted back, sure enough the next morning. He said, “I’m going to give this thing a listen,” and he said, “I’ll get on the boat or something, check it all out.” Then he said, “I just heard ‘Amarillo by Morning. It sounds really good.”
You got George Strait’s approval. I think you’re gonna OK.
That a long text for George Strait, believe me!