Brooks & Dunn Say the Key to Their Legacy Is in the Songs
Brooks & Dunn are set to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday night (Oct. 19), alongside comedian Ray Stevens and record label executive Jerry Bradley. The legendary country duo has made something of a comeback this year, with their Reboot album and a Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit that will run until July, and thanks to the recent interest in '90s country music among younger fans, they've cultivated a new listener base.
"It's a head trip for us," Ronnie Dunn told The Boot in an interview back in March.
"I would argue that [our younger fans] don’t see us as much as traditionalists as, maybe, at the risk of sounding arrogant, this music has just stood the test of time, and it’s songs that they liked. I don’t think they necessarily consider us traditional country music," Kix Brooks says. "They know the history of country music enough to know that we’re not Merle Haggard."
Brooks and Dunn don't consider themselves traditional by the standards of country music history, either. As the genre moves forward, definitions change, however, and compared to the pop-leaning sound that's become popular in the last decade, their songwriting and sound can be viewed as congruent with the long-established understanding of what country music is. At the time, though, it didn't feel that way.
"A bigger reminder was Haggard showing up at the studio when we were recording "Hard Workin’ Man." I was embarrassed: Merle Haggard showing up, and I’m like, 'I’m not doing a traditional country song,'" Dunn says. "That was our perception in the day of what that real stuff was. It’s hard to grasp it. Now, it’s even exponentially blown out there to where there’s so many different types of music coming out of Nashville that it’s confusing at times."
Some of the 1990s' biggest country artists propelled the genre forward by expanding what live shows could be like and how big an audience an act could draw, both in terms of ticket and album sales. During their peak era, Brooks & Dunn were part of that trend, stretching the limits of country music as the sonic tides shifted (for example, by investing money and time into stunts for stadium shows). Nonetheless, and despite that era's lasting impact on how the business operates today, people consider them traditionalists and remain fans because of one thing: the songs.
"There were times throughout our career when we were blowing up inflatables bigger than our stage, blowing confetti out every night, having huge balloon drops night after night on tours, swinging from the ceiling," Brooks recalls. "Even during that time, we would catch ourselves and talk about it a lot, going, 'Is the smoke, the lights, the nonsense, is that getting in the way of our music?'
"Hardly anybody’s talking about those inflatables [today] -- all those hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent shooting ourselves out of cannons. Nobody’s talking about that," he continues. "They’re all talking about the music, here, that many years later, which is pretty freakin’ cool for us."
Brooks & Dunn's legacy is multi-faceted: Twenty No. 1 hits, including "Neon Moon" and "My Maria," two Grammy Awards, 17 CMA Awards and 29 ACM Awards dot their resume. However, the songs are what has put them in the ranks with classic artists and the other Hall of Famers.
"All that [extra] stuff that we did [as] Brooks & Dunn will be forgotten in time," Dunn says, "but the songs, that’s what’ll move it forward. They’ll be alive; we won’t."
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