Brooks & Dunn: Red Dirt Road

Arguably The Most Daring Duo Of Country Music

Arguably the most artistic, daring duo in the history of country music is Brooks & Dunn. They've had more than 20 No. 1 hits and they've been named "Entertainers of the Year" four times.

In the 12 years they've been together, Kix Brooks, 47, and his partner, Ronnie Dunn, 50, have crowded jukeboxes with lyrics that would make Roy Rogers fall off his horse.

They have sold more than 25 million albums - not bad for two men who traveled very different roads to success. Correspondent Peter Van Sant met with them last fall.

For Ronnie Dunn, it all began with religion and family pain on the dry plains of West Texas.

"I was raised an alcoholic's kid; my mother was very religious. My dad was not religious at all. So I spent my life fighting with, 'I'm either gonna be the pope or I'm gonna be some raging alcoholic that dies out there playing country music,'" says Dunn, who hasn't returned to his hometown since the '70s.

Dunn ended up at Abilene Christian University, where he planned to be a preacher. But there, he discovered country music, which along with dancing, was strictly forbidden at Abilene Christian.

When someone from the school saw Dunn on stage, he says he was called in by the dean, who "in a very diplomatic way suggested I either quit that or stop going to school here."

So Dunn went to Tulsa, Okla., and never came back.

While Dunn was in Texas, Brooks was growing up in a musical family in Louisiana. After college, he played clubs on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Brooks was determined to be a star, so he headed for Nashville and started writing songs. He did some soul searching after the album went lead.

"I distinctly remember one night at 3 o'clock in the morning, staring at the ceiling going, 'I don't think you're gonna be a star, pal,'" recalls Brooks.

But then, a record executive suggested that he team up with a complete stranger, Ronnie Dunn.

"That was fate," says Dunn.

Even though they're side by side on stage, they live very separate lives.

Both men have families who sometimes accompany them on the road. And surprisingly, when Brooks & Dunn are on the road, they rarely see each other, except at showtime.

"We got separate buses, and that's just to kinda clear your head," says Dunn. "If not, you're just in that pressure cooker all the time."

Do they get along? "We have a lot more in common then we don't," says Dunn.

But the one thing the two men share is a shot of whiskey before each concert. And critics are toasting their new album, "Red Dirt Road."

"We had a long bus ride and I had the chorus written," says Dunn.

"I read it and I said, 'It's great, man. It's really cool.' And he said, 'Well, see what you can do with it,'" says Brooks.

"We were going to get together and write again, and on that long bus ride – he wrote it [the chorus]," says Dunn. "I remember walking up and him singing it and going, 'Ohhhhh,' and then we started to arm wrestle as to who was going to get to sing it."

What does Red Dirt Road stand for?

"This is red dirt country," says Dunn. "Red dirt road is just symbolic of those experiences ... there's that end where you start, you end down there and between here and there is life."

Dunn calls it a night after a concert. But for Brooks, the night is still calling.

"It's just fun to go blow off some steam afterwards and remind yourself where you were, not so long ago," says Brooks.

"We both played bars for years. We really do appreciate what a long shot this is and how lucky we are. It's a one-in-a-million shot and we hit the dang lottery!"