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Members include Leon Eric"Kix"Brooks III (born May 12, 1955, Shreveport, LA); married; wife's name, Barbara; children: Molly, Eric; Education: Studied speech and drama at Louisiana State University. Ronnie GeneDunn (born June 1, 1953, in Coleman, TX); married; wife's name, Janine; children: [first marriage] daughter Whitney, son Jesse, [current marriage] daughter Haley); Education:Studied psychology and theology at Abilene Christian College. Addresses: Management-Titley/Spalding & Associates, 900 Division St., Nashville, TN 37203.
Mixing two elements can sometimes cause an explosive reaction that results in something completely new , something greater than the sum of its parts. When Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn teamed up, two little-known solo artists who struggled for decades were transformed into overnight superstars, becoming country's top vocal duo. Their debut album, Brand New Man, remained on Billboard's Top Country Albums charts for more than five years and is the best-selling album by a country duo in music history. Since their 1991 breakthrough, the duo's standout songwriting and performances have continued to win critical acclaim and every major industry award-as well as an enthusiastic audience, evidenced by record-breaking tours and album sales topping 17 million. "There's never been a male pairing that's turned into this kind of sociological phenomenon," Country Music Association director Ed Benson told Entertainment Weekly. "They have an electricity and a camaraderie together that's infectious."
The energetic Kix Brooks-who earned his nickname before he was born -began his musical journey in Shreveport, Lousiana. At six years old, he started playing the ukelele. At age 12, he gave his first performance, during a birthday party for country legend Johnny Horton's daughter, who lived down the street. By the time he began college at Louisiana State University, Brooks was a regular on the club circuit. He recalled a New Orleans joint where flying fists and beer bottles filled the air. "I got a blank pistol," he told People. "When they'd get too wild, I'd pop a cap, and they'd be looking for bullet holes in themselves and running for cover." Dunn added, "It took us about 40 years combined, but we finally got out of those danged bars."
After traveling to Alaska to work on the pipeline and to Maine to work in advertising, Brooks moved to Nashville, where a former classmate worked for Charlie Daniels' publishing company. Brooks became a staff writer at Tree Publishing, where he penned hits for John Conley, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Highway 101, Sawyer Brown, The Oak Ridge Boys and Ricky Van Shelton. He also continued pursuing a solo career, releasing albums on Avion and Capitol, with only minor success.
Meanwhile, Ronnie Dunn grew up performing with his father's band in west Texas. He was later forced to choose between music and the Baptist ministry while at Abilene Christian College. Moonlighting in honkytonks was not an approved part of the curriculum for psychology and theology students.
Confronted with the choice, Dunn quit school and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his parents. After years of playing clubs in Texas and Oklahoma, he won the Marlboro Talent Search. His prizes included recording sessions with producers Barry Beckett and Scott Hendricks. It was Hendricks who later brought Dunn to the attention of Arista executive Tim DuBois. Dunn moved to Nashville and signed with Tree Publishing, where Brooks was also on staff.
DuBois noticed similarities in Brooks' and Dunn's music, introduced the two over lunch in 1990, and suggested they try writing together. Brooks told People, "Ronnie and I were the most unlikely duo candidates. We had always held onto single egos." When they first paired up, Brooks told David Zimmerman of USA Today that,"these songs kept poppin' out," adding that the duo hoped Alan Jackson would include one of their songs in his next project.
DuBois told Zimmerman, "The first song they brought me that they'd written together was 'Brand New Man.' I knew we had something special there. It was obvious I had to convince them that they were an act. They both wanted solo careers very badly and had pursued it for so long. It's not the same thing when you're having to share that spotlight with someone else. I think there was that element of letting go of that dream." Determined to succeed, they cast their chances together. Dunn told Dana Kennedy of Entertainment Weekly the duo's success was a result of "sheer blind determination. Psychotic need. There are a lot of people who make it who don't have a thimbleful of talent. They just want it more than anybody else. That's what it takes."
Their debut album, Brand New Man,was released in 1991.The album proved the duo had what it took. Kennedy wrote, "Their appeal stems from the way they mix styles-the music is part lonesome-hearted country, part stomping rock & roll, overlaid with a '70s singer/songwriter sensibility."
Their sophomore effort, 1993's Hard Workin' Man, left no doubt about the duo's star status. Ted Drozdowski wrote in Rolling Stone, "Hard Workin' Man is a smooth-running machine, fueled by Dunn's burr-edged lead vocals, the duo's strong harmonies and choruses built on hooks heavy enough to pierce even the heartiest Saturday night honky-tonker. And that's what hits are made of on anyone's assembly line." USA Today's Zimmerman wrote, "Leave the weepy ballads to Vince Gill and the message songs to Garth Brooks (no relation to Kix); the duo's sole aim is to scar up those hardwood dance floors with the gotta-dance tug of songs like ... 'Hard Workin' Man' and the career-making 'Boot Scootin' Boogie,' the dance-hall classic that even invaded disco clubs."
In 1996, the release of Borderline marked what Ronnie Dunn called "a little bit of a left turn for us," according to imusic.com. " I felt like it was time for us to kind of veer off the most traveled path. It sure doesn't hurt, in today's climate, to step just a little bit over into what the traditionalists might call 'progressive.'" "Dunn's range and persuasion as a singer have perhaps never been better showcased than on 'My Maria,'" noted imusic.com, "the thrilling remake of a B.W. Stevenson hit of yesteryear that practically jumps out of the grooves at you." Brooks told Tamara Saviano of Country Weekly, "We use everyone's input to decide which songs to cut. And of course, Ronnie has such a great voice and radio is really locked into it. As a result, he sings most of the singles. We keep that in mind when we're making the record."
The duo's 1998 album, If You See Her, included the 1966 Roger Miller classic "Husbands and Wives." "Cutting that was just a whim," Dunn told Saviano. "I was in the studio, and we had a little bit of down time, and I looked at [producer Don] Cook and said, 'Do you remember that Roger Miller song? Does anybody know the lyrics? I want to cut it while we have a minute." The song eventually went to number one.
The album's title track, "'If You See Him/If You See Her,' [sung with Reba McEntire] was the result of an unprecedented alliance between two superstar acts and their label chiefs, managers, producers and promotion and marketing teams," wrote Billboard's Chet Flippo. "One song became a single for two acts on two different labels, as well as a video. The song also anchors the new album for each act, and the albums themselves are named after the song. A joint tour with McEntire and Brooks & Dunn is powering the whole venture." During that co-headlining tour with McEntire, the two acts took turns going on first. At times, the question of who would open in what city was settled by a simple coin toss. "After a month or so," Dunn joked, "the only argument we had was over who'd go on last. We both wanted to be the opening act!"
In 1998, Brooks and Dunn were ranked the fourth highest-grossing tour for joint dates with McEntire, according to Amusement Business magazine, and ninth for the shows they headlined. The duo's performance style has evolved to gain them coveted entertainer of the year awards from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. They are the only duo ever to have achieved this honor. "A dynamo in concert," People noted, "Brooks likes to jump into the audience, while his laid-back foil packs his energies into the vocals." USA Today's Zimmerman wrote, "In concert, ... Dunn is the less flamboyant of the two, but his vocal intensity somehow matches Brooks' manic leaps, duckwalks and near-violent guitar work." "I come from the school where you just stand there and sing," Dunn told USA Today. "I was real shocked when I first saw Kix jumping all over the place and running to the end of the stage."
Their contrasting styles seem to be the secret of the duo's success. "I really don't know why we work so well together," Dunn was quoted in imusic.com. "It must be because we are such opposites, in image and stuff like that and even in our approach to music. ... I think the freedom we give each other has a lot to do with it. We each kind of do our own thing then bring it all together."
In a biography from Arista, Dunn explained, "Kix and I really give each other room to stretch. The two of us are just very different musically, in terms of what we like to hear and write. We accept that. We basically meet in the middle. There's never been a rift, and it keeps things fresh." Brooks told imusic.com, "I'm not much good at analyzing it. We just do what we do and thank God that a lot of folks are into it. I think the public just sees us for what we are: a couple of buddies making music together that obviously has a fun factor to it. We really have fun at what we're doing ... ." But, he explained further in the Arista biography, "I think it's the fear factor that really keeps us going. Our career will have to go on for a lot longer for Ronnie and I to get comfortable with our success or merely take it for granted. We've been scared to death since the day we got together. We know this whole big fun thing that we do all revolves around that next hit. That's a wolf that never stops barking at you."
Brooks summarized on imusic.com: "It goes through your mind sometimes how long all this is going to last.... That tremendous rush we feel when we hit the stage, or when we lay down final vocal tracks in the studio, is still there. It's something I can't imagine losing.... And we hope to keep doing it for a long, long time."
by Shari Garrett
Brooks & Dunn's Career
Partnership suggested by Arista executive Tim DuBois; signed to Arista Records, 1990; recorded Brand New Man, Arista, 1991, Hard Workin' Man, 1993, Waitin' on Sundown, 1994, Borderline, 1996, The Greatest Hits Collection, 1997, If You See Her, 1998; 15 RIAA debut album remained on Billboard's top country album charts for more than five years and is best-selling album by a country duo in music history; highest certified country duo of all time with more than 17 million albums sold.
Brooks & Dunn's Awards
Top vocal duet, Academy of Country Music, 1991-96; top vocal duet or group, Academy of Country Music, 1997; top new vocal duet or group, Academy of Country Music, 1991; album of the year, Academy of Country Music, 1992; single record of the year, Academy of Country Music, 1992, for "Boot Scootin' Boogie;" entertainer of the year, Academy of Country Music, 1995 and 1996; favorite band, duo or group, American Music Awards, 1997; rising star award, A.M.O.A. Jukebox Awards, 1992; songwriter of the year (Ronnie Dunn), Billboard Entertainment Award, 1995; favorite country album by a duo or group, Billboard Entertainment Award, 1998; favorite country duo or group artist, Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, 1995; favorite country album by a duo or group , Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, 1998; songwriter of the year (Ronnie Dunn), BMI Country Awards, 1996 and 1998; vocal duo of the year, Country Music Association, 1992-98; album of the year, Country Music Association, 1994; entertainer of the year, Country Music Association, 1996; video group/duo, Country Music Television, 1997; best country performance by a duo or group with vocal, Grammy Awards, 1993; best country performance by a duo or group with vocal, Grammy Awards, 1997; vocal duo of the year, TNN/Music City News Awards, 1993-98.
- Selected discography
- Brand New Man (includes "Boot Scootin' Boogie"), Arista, 1991.
- Hard Workin' Man , Arista, 1993.
- Waitin' on Sundown , Arista, 1994.
- Borderline (includes "My Maria"), Arista, 1996.
- The Greatest Hits Collection , Arista, 1997.
- If You See Her (includes "Husbands and Wives"), Arista, 1998.
November 9, 2004: Brooks and Dunn won the Country Music Association Award for Vocal Duo of the Year. Source: 38th Annual CMA Awards, www.cmaawards.com, November 9, 2004.
November 14, 2004: Brooks and Dunn won the American Music Award for Favorite Country Duo or Group. Source: ABC.com, abc.go.com/primetime/ama/nominees.html, November 15, 2004.
May 17, 2005: Brooks and Dunn won the Academy of Country Music Award for best vocal duo. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/Music/05/18/music.countryawards.list.ap/index.html, May 19, 2005.
June 2005: Brooks and Dunn were named to host the Thirty-Ninth Annual Country Music Association Awards show. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/digest.htm, June 13, 2005.
November 15, 2005: Brooks and Dunn won the Country Music Association award for vocal duo of the year. Source: CMA Awards, www.cmaawards.com/2005/nomWin/, November 16, 2005.
November 22, 2005: Brooks and Dunn won the American Music Award for favorite country duo. Source: 2005 American Music Awards, http://abc.go.com/primetime/ama05/index.html, November 27, 2005.
- McCloud, Barry, and contributors, Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers, Perigee, 1995.
- Billboard , June 27, 1998, p. 36.
- Country Weekly , January 5, 1999, p. 14.
- Entertainment Weekly , October 21, 1994.
- People , March 29, 1993, p. 51.
- Rolling Stone , May 13, 1993, p. 107.
- USA Today , March 10, 1993, p. 1D.
- "Brooks & Dunn,"Artist showcase, imusic.com.
- Additional information was provided by Arista/Nashville publicity materials, 1998.
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