For the past three decades, singer/songwriter Kix Brooks has been known as one of the founding members of legendary country duo, Brooks & Dunn. The duo has won multiple Grammy Awards and CMA Awards, and they’ve been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. On top of this, they’ve had numerous #1 country hits and several multi-platinum albums.
This fall, Brooks will be the recipient of another major honor. On October 11 at the Music Center in Nashville, he will be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He will be formally inducted during the 53rd Anniversary Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala along with the other 2023 inductees: Keith Urban, David Lee Murphy, Rafe Van Hoy and Casey Beathard. The five new inductees will join the 235 previously inducted members of this elite organization.
Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Brooks moved to Nashville in the early ‘80s, where he signed a music publishing deal and began writing hits for other artists. Notably, he co-wrote the #1 hits “Golden Ring” (George Jones & Tammy Wynette), “I’m Only In It For Love (John Conlee), “Modern Day Romance” (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and “Who’s Lonely Now” (Highway 101).
In the late ‘80s, Brooks signed with Capitol Records as a solo artist, and he released his album, Kix Brooks. This album contained his song, “Sacred Ground,” which was later recorded by country band McBride & the Ride and became a #2 hit.
It was in 1990 that Brooks was introduced to Ronnie Dunn by music exec & songwriter Tim DuBois. DuBois thought Brooks and Dunn would make an excellent duo, and he encouraged them to team up and collaborate. Soon after, Brooks & Dunn began writing together, and they wrote the songs “Brand New Man” “My Next Broken Heart,” which became #1 hits. Impressively, the duo’s debut album, Brand New Man (released in 1991), sold a massive six million copies.
Over the next 20 years, Brooks & Dunn went on to have many more hit albums and singles. Here’s a list of their other albums that have been certified platinum: Hard Workin’ Man (1993), Waitin’ on Sundown (1994), Borderline (1996), If You See Her (1998), Steers & Stripes (2001), Red Dirt Road (2003) and Hillbilly Deluxe (2005).
As a songwriter, besides “Brand New Man” and “My Next Broken Heart,” Brooks co-wrote many of the duo’s other hits, including “Red Dirt Road,” “Only in America,” “That Ain’t No Way to Go,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” “Why Would I Say Goodbye,” “Lost and Found” and “Whiskey Under the Bridge.”
In 2009, Brooks & Dunn announced that they would be taking a break as a duo, and launched their tour called The Last Rodeo, which concluded in 2010. Both Brooks and Dunn took a hiatus from touring together, and they both released solo albums.
It was a few years later that Brooks & Dunn reunited to perform shows with Reba McEntire in Las Vegas. The shows became so popular, that they ended up playing 105 shows together.
Eventually, Brooks & Dunn resumed touring, and in 2019 they released their latest album, Reboot, which is a collection of 12 songs that feature current country stars singing with Brooks & Dunn on the duo’s classic hits.
Currently, Brooks & Dunn are back in full force. They recently completed a headlining tour of arenas, and this fall they will be playing at several music festivals.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Kix Brooks. He tells how he got started in the music business and how he formed Brooks & Dunn with Ronnie Dunn. He also tells how he wrote several of his hit songs.
DK: This October, you will be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. How does it feel to receive this honor?
Here’s the video of Brooks & Dunn’s hit, “Red Dirt Road.”
Kix Brooks: For me when I first came to Nashville, wanting to be a songwriter more than anything, is the biggest honor I can ever imagine. So it feels surreal, but honestly I’ve got a lot of good friends in there, and so it’s great to be able to join some of my peers. Ronnie (Dunn) and I were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and it’s hard to really think of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams as your peers (laughs). But I do have a lot friends in there, and that phone call from the Hall of Fame pretty much left me speechless that morning.
DK: I read that you’re from Shreveport, Louisiana. How did you get started with music and writing songs?
Brooks: Well, Shreveport is the home of the Louisiana Hayride, and that’s where Hank Williams lived at the end of his life, and Johnny Horton as well. Both of them were married to Billie Jean Horton, and they lived a couple blocks from me when I was a kid, in a very small house. It inspired me to think that being a performer & songwriter was not out of bounds. And by the time I got in college, all my heroes coming up from Austin—Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt—that’s all I wanted to do. And I love the great songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Roger Miller…all those guys who not only sang their songs but wrote them.
DK: Early in your career, you signed a music publishing deal and wrote hit songs for other artists. Can you talk about your early years in Nashville?
Brooks: My first publisher was Don Gant, who was a great music man. He was in a band called the Newbeats back then, and I like the big hit they had, “Bread and Butter.” He was also a publisher and producer. Don gave me my first publishing deal, and I had a couple hits when I was with him: John Conlee’s “I’m Only in It for the Love,” which was my first number one, which I wrote with Rafe Van Hoy, and “Modern Day Romance” with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. After that, I went to Tree (Music Publishing) to join with my longtime best friend, (music exec) Jody Williams. He invited me to come to Tree, so I moved over at that time and I am still with them…they were later purchased by Sony. My songs have now been published there for over 30 years.
Here’s the video of Brooks & Dunn’s hit, “Only In America.”
DK: When you were writing hits for other artists in the ‘80s, were you happy being a pro songwriter, or did you always want to be an artist?
Brooks: It’s funny, because I was proud and happy to make my living as a songwriter. But honestly, I can’t think of a harder way to make a living. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who would argue with that, but Man, it is really tough in the songwriter trenches and still is. So many people in America send songs to Nashville in the hope of making it. But when you write a song and even if it’s a really good one, your work just begins there. You almost have to be here in Nashville to get songs recorded.
So anyway, I was getting in the trenches and doing it everyday and trying to make a living at it. But it wasn’t a great living (laughs). Eventually I had a couple kids, and along the way when you’re singing your own demos, people apparently recognized my voice as being pretty good. And especially at Tree—with Bobby Braddock, Don Cook and a lot of great songwriters having success—they started to get me to sing the demos for their songs. The pay to sing a demo was only $20, but $20 adds up when your rent’s only $150 (laughs). So I was making ends meet singing, and Don Gant produced an album on me way back on Avion Records. But the label went under about the time my record was supposed to come out.
Then I guess some folks at Capitol Records also recognized my singing, and I had a deal on Capitol and an album came out which didn’t turn out to be much. So I went back to writing songs (for other artists). But one day, (music exec) Tim DuBois called me up and said he was interested in me as an artist and introduced me to Ronnie Dunn. Then I met Ronnie on a Tuesday, and we wrote our first two number ones that same week. It just worked out for us.
DK: In 1991, Brooks & Dunn released their first album, Brand New Man, which was huge hit, and you co-wrote three of the hits including the #1 hits “Brand New Man” and “My Next Broken Heart.” Can you talk about this album and writing those songs?
Here’s the video of Brooks & Dunn’s hit, “You’re Gonna Miss
Me When I’m Gone.”
Brooks: Honestly, (at first) we didn’t have a lot of faith in being a duo. We didn’t know each other. Tim DuBois just said, “You don’t have to take this record deal, but I think it’s a cool idea. I think you’re both good songwriters. Just see if you can write a couple songs together.” And “Brand New Man” and “My Next Broken Heart” were the first two songs we wrote. Then we wrote a couple other songs and demoed them, and we took them into Tim. He convinced us and said, “Let’s make an album here and let me see what happens.’ So we took the bait and we kept writing songs for the next 20 years.
DK: On Brooks & Dunn’s third album, Waitin’ On Sundown, you wrote the ballad hit, “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.” What’s the story behind writing this song?
Brooks: Ronnie, me and Don Cook wrote that song. We were riding on a bus one night, and it was song we thought was quirky because it doesn’t have a chorus. It’s just a hook line after three verses, and it didn’t really have a bridge with any lyrics. We thought it was different, but we all thought it would be a nice texture on the album. But radio stations kept calling and said, “Man, people are gravitating to this song.” So it worked out and it was number one for a couple weeks.
DK: I like your hit “Red Dirt Road” (from the Red Dirt Road album). What inspired you and Ronnie to write this song?
Brooks: If I had to pick one song that we’ve written, that would be it. It came on a day when we were sitting and talkin’ about life and things that matter to us, and about where we came from. I’m from North Louisiana, and Ronnie went to high school in South Arkansas. And in North Louisiana, I spent most of my time growing up at my grandparents’ place, because my mom died when I was really young. And it was close to El Dorado, where Ronnie was.
Here’s the video of Brooks & Dunn’s hit, “Brand New Man.”
I told Ronnie about my grandfather, and how we would drive out on those logging roads, looking for timber. He would say, “Man, that dirt is so damn red out there.” Then Ronnie said, “I know, it’s the same way in El Dorado.” We both thought “Red Dirt Road” would be a cool name for an album. Then it was one of those times when we said “We like that,” but then you’ve gotta write a frickin’ song (laughs). So we put it off for quite a while, and we sat down one day and looked at it, and we fiddled around with this song.
Then we flew into San Francisco, and when we got off the plane, Ronnie handed me this cocktail napkin that had a few lines on it. It had lines like “It’s where I drank my first beer, it’s where I found Jesus, and where I wrecked this car and tore it all to pieces.” And the line, “Learned that happiness on Earth ain’t just for high achievers.” And I’m reading these lines, going “This is so frickin’ cool.” Then we jumped on our separate buses like we do, and headed for Sacramento where we had a show. And on the way I wrote the verses and put the music to the lines he had given me in the chorus. When we got to Sacramento, Ronnie knocked on the door and said, “Let’s go get a steak.” But I said, “You’ve gotta hear this song first. I think we’ve really got one.”
DK: Besides the songs we’ve discussed, what are your favorite songs that you’ve written?
Brooks: Probably “Only In America.” It would be up there in the top. It’s not a political song at all. In times like these, it’s a patriotic song. It came out right before 9/11 happened, so it became a bit of a theme song. And since then every president—George W. Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden—have all used that song. And Don Cook wrote that song with us. It’s fun that we wrote something that mattered to us about our country, and it’s been picked up that way.
DK: In 2009, you and Ronnie announced that Brooks & Dunn would be taking a break after 20 years of touring. How did the two of you decide to take a break?
Here’s the video of Brooks & Dunn’s hit, “My Next Broken Heart.”
Brooks: We never said never, but we sure as hell needed a break. We hadn’t stopped touring for 20 straight years. And like I mentioned before, we didn’t even know each other when we met. So it’s not like we were old friends and it was always a dream of ours to be a duo. But regardless, we hung in there and made a lot of music we were proud of.
But after 20 years of doing it without stopping, we got to a point where it was like,
“Crap, I wanna do something else.” And we both did. It was a real healthy break for us. Then a couple years later, we did 105 shows with Reba McEntire out in Vegas. And as far as being spiritually healthy with the music, Ronnie and I have never had this much fun together. Now, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing Brooks & Dunn music.
DK: In 2019, Brooks & Dunn released the album, Reboot. Can you talk about this album and the new collaborations you did?
Brooks: It was really fun; we didn’t have anything to do with picking those acts for the record. Our manager did that, which took us out of the politics of it. We really liked all the acts that he came back with, and everybody got to pick the song they wanted to sing. It made us appreciate how talented a lot of the younger acts that are catching their first wave in this business. And everybody came to the studio without any attitude. A lot of acts like Jon Pardi and Luke Combs, they wanted to do the songs like we did them. They wanted to redo them, and we did. Then a lot of acts like Kacey Musgraves and others wanted to put a completely new spin on stuff and we’re like, “Let’s do it.” It was really fun, and Dann Huff is an amazing producer. People just came in, we had a great band, and we just took a run at this stuff with a fresh attitude. It was a great experience.
DK: Currently with Brooks & Dunn, you’ve just completed an arena concert tour, and you’ll be playing some big festival shows this fall. Can you talk about your tour this year?
Here’s the video of Brooks & Dunn’s hit, “That Ain’t
No Way To Go.”
Brooks: We had a great sold-out run there, playing buildings again. And we have a handful a big outdoor festivals coming up which is always great. I like fresh air, but when you do the inside shows, it’s really loud. You can really feel the fans inside. But for outside shows you can see the fans, which is great too. The main thing is the fans showed up (laughs).
One night out of the blue, I asked the crowd how many were at their first Brooks & Dunn show. I was shocked to see how many hands went up. Then I started asking that every night, and at least half the crowd had never seen us, with a lot of young folks. It makes you feel good that the music we made so long ago is still relevant.
DK: Thank you Kix for doing this interview. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about yet, that you’d like to mention for this article?
Brooks: In reference to the Hall of Fame (and the other new inductees), David Lee Murphy came to Nashville around the same time I did. We swept the floors for Charlie Daniels’ shows. We got to be good friends and we’ve written a lot of songs over the years, and it’s crazy that we’re going into the Hall of Fame at the same time. And I couldn’t be happier that Rafe Van Hoy is going in with us. For a few years, he was getting over 60 cuts per year, and he wrote “What’s Forever For” by himself when he was around 20. And Keith Urban and I have been friends forever…I think he went on his first major tour with us way back when. And Casey Beathard is another friend, so it’s a great class to go in with.