When they first came to national attention with “Brand New Man” in 1991, Brooks & Dunn were an unlikely combo — a couple of guys who moved to Nashville with dreams of becoming solo performers who were sort of glued together by a Music Row executive.
By the time Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn wound it down with the Last Rodeo Tour in 2010, they had become the most commercially successful duo in country music history — better known than Country Music Hall of Famers the Louvin Brothers with more hits than Hall of Famers the Everly Brothers.
The Brooks & Dunn breakup ranks No. 5 as GAC counts down the dozen top stories of the past year.
B&D have won more awards from the Academy of Country Music than any other act in history, and they’re No. 2 on the Country Music Association’s career list, trailing only George Strait. How did they make such a huge impact? In part it was the way they’re constructed — there aren’t a whole lot of duos, and Kix and Ronnie beat all the competition for many of the years they were eligible for awards.
But the awards aren’t the whole story. Whether they had been classified as a duo, a group or something else, the fact is they simply did a lot of really good work. Ronnie owns one of the most soulful voices in the business, and Kix is one of the most energetic stage performers in country music. They managed to build on those talents with a string of top-notch, sing-along hits, including “Only In America,” “My Maria,” “Red Dirt Road,” “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “You Can’t Take The Honky Tonk Out Of The Girl.”
Their impact was such that the Rolling Stones asked them to open a show in Omaha on the Bigger Bang Tour in 2006 — a rare opportunity for a country act. Kix attended a Stones show in Memphis a few months earlier, and less than a quarter of the seats were filled for the lead-in band, Los Lobos. Kix warned Ronnie not to expect much when Brooks & Dunn took their turn as openers.
“Sure enough, we got out there and the place was full, and they’re singin’ ‘Neon Moon’ just like ‘Sympathy For The Devil,’” Kix recalls. “We get done, and actually Mick Jagger, all of ‘em came back and gave us a little time in the green room. [He] said, ‘Hey, mate. We’re really impressed. We haven’t seen that type of turn out for any of our opening acts for the entire tour. And they were singing along with your songs.’ [I] said, ‘Yeah, no disrespect, Mr. Jagger, but we played Omaha a lot more than you did.’”
Gary Allan and Jason Aldean split time among the opening acts for Brooks & Dunn’s farewell tour, and Tyler Dickerson played all of the Last Rodeo shows, joining Ronnie for a duet in the final concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Reba McEntire also showed up that night to sing “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” as the dynamic duo brought a historic career to a close.
Not that either of them are done. Kix hosts the national radio show “American Country Countdown” and has a role in an upcoming movie, Thrift Store Cowboy. Ronnie’s been working on a solo album, and he remade Gary Stewart’s 1970s classic “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” for the soundtrack to the movie Country Strong.